The Buckeyes sit at 5-0. They are second in the country in field goal percentage, connecting on 56.7 percent of their shots. Starting point guard Shannon Scott is leading the country with 10.4 assists per game and shooting guard D’Angelo Russell scored 32 points against Sacred Heart, tying the second most points ever by a freshman at Ohio State.
Given the poor competition the No. 14 Buckeyes have faced, however, there are plenty of unknowns. A lot will be learned at No. 5 Louisville tonight at 9:30 p.m.
“We’re going to walk out of there and know a lot more about our basketball team,” head coach Thad Matta said. “That’s the special thing for me.”
Louisville will by far be the toughest test for the young Buckeyes this season. Ohio State’s five opponents are just 16-14 on the season and the Buckeyes have bettered their foes by an average of 30 points per game.
While Matta admitted it’s tough to know exactly what he has with the current version of the Buckeyes given the competition, he has seen a number of positives early this year.
“You try to hang your hat on certain things,” the coach said. “I like the understanding we’ve had defensively. I think we’ve grown defensively in terms of adjustments, in terms of getting better at things we want to get better at.
“Then our unselfishness offensively. Both D’Angelo and Shannon have had great command of our offense.”
The Cardinals (5-0) will be facing their first ranked team when the Buckeyes come to town. Louisville returns eight players who helped the team advance to the Sweet 16 last year, including Montrezl Harrell, who is averaging 17.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
First Road Game For Freshmen
Tonight marks the first time the freshman-laden Buckeyes roster hits the road. Ohio State has four freshmen in their 10-man rotation and those players first road game will be in the 22,000-seat KFC Yum! Center.
Matta admitted he didn’t know how the young team would handle the test.
“Honestly there is nothing you can do,” the coach said. “It’s experience. People understand that unless you’ve gone through it you don’t know what it’s like and it takes some time. Most of these guys have played in high powered games throughout the course of their lives and you hope they just sort of lose themselves in the moment and realize the court’s the same, the basket is the same and you’ve got a job to do and just focus on your job. That’s the biggest thing that we talk about is just zoning your mind in on what specific things you have to do and doing them well.”
Scott understands what his young teammates are going through. The senior played his first road game as a Buckeye against Kansas in 2011. The four freshmen that will likely play against Louisville have one thing going for them that Scott didn’t have: an exhibition trip to the Bahamas this summer.
“We had a chance to travel and go through our whole little routine that we go through every game day that we are on the road,” Scott said. “I think that’s going to help out a lot.
“Just knowing that it’s another game, really, at the end of the day somebody is going to have a win and somebody is going to have a loss.”
Cardinals Play ‘Big Ball’
En route to their five wins, Ohio State has played undersized teams through their first five games, but the size of the Cardinals may force them to play two of their three big men at the same time.
Louisville has three players who are at least 6-8 and play over 20 minutes a game, including Harrell.
“He’s special,” Matta said. “He plays at a high level, a high motor and very energetic, he’s got a lot of different ways that he scores. It’s the sign of a great player with all of the different things that they do.
“They’ve got three big guys. They’ve shown to play big-ball the majority of the time.”
Matta was unsure if he will match up with Louisville’s bigs by playing two of his own or force a power forward to guard one of the Buckeyes wing players. The coach has said that the team works on lineups featuring two of Amir Williams, Trey McDonald and Anthony Lee at the same time in practice.
Scott is confident those lineups can work if the team uses them.
“I think that the bigs that we have, have a great understanding of the game,” he said. “They know how to play multiple positions. We want to play the same game, but we also feel like that might help us with our rebounding a lot. We know that Louisville is one of the best rebounding teams in the country so we’re going to have to try to find a way to keep them off the boards.”
As Scott said, rebounding will be a concern against Louisville. The Cardinals lead the country with 48.8 rebounds per game. The Buckeyes are 141st with just 36.4 rebounds per game, and while that number is somewhat lower because of the high percentage of shots the team makes, crashing the boards is still a serious concern.
“They do a tremendous job of getting on the glass and getting not only put backs, but keeping balls alive and knocking them out and those types of things,” Matta said. “They’re big and they’re a very unique team in terms of how they play.”
Even with the big lineups the Cardinals will play, the Buckeyes will still utilize their smaller lineups, the ones that feature players like Sam Thompson and Marc Loving at the nominal power forward position. When those units are on the floor, rebounding may be difficult, but Ohio State may have their own advantage.
“We just want to keep them moving really,” Scott said of Louisville’s bigs. “We know they have a lot of big players, a lot of shot blockers, so as long as everybody is in motion we’re going to make it hard for them to stay down there the whole time.”
Louisville Bringing The Pressure
Other than rebounding, the biggest concern for Ohio State tonight is turnovers. Louisville records 11 steals per game and forces nearly 20 turnovers per contest.
The Buckeyes have been sloppy at times this season, committing 18 turnovers against Marquette, and have averaged 11.8 giveaways per contest. They haven’t faced anything like the pressure defense that Louisville will use tonight.
“They do a great job because they come at you in waves and they just sort of keep coming,” Matta said. “They’re’ a team that can really get on runs. I think taking care of the ball, limiting the errant pass that leads to a layup at the other end or dribbling into the trap, easier said than done because they do a great job of it.”
The majority of the Buckeyes turnovers have been of the unforced or dead ball variety as opponents are averaging just 3.6 steals per game. Scott will be the one largely tasked with navigating the Cardinals pressure and the point guard said that he and the rest of the back court will be up to the challenge.
“Just staying in control, really,” the senior said of dealing with the pressure. “We’ve played against pressure guards before, D’Angelo has in high school as well. They’re great players. We’re going to have to have a great game if we are going to win the game.”
Russell said that playing against the Buckeyes three quarters court press in practice will help with preparation for the Cardinals.
Projected Starting Lineups
- Point guard Shannon Scott: 9.2 points per game, 10.4 assists per game, 2.8 steals per game.
- Guard D’Angelo Russell: 18.0 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.0 rebounds per game.
- Forward Sam Thompson: 12 .0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.2 apg.
- Forward Marc Loving: 12.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg.
- Center Amir Williams: 8.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 blocks per game.
- Guard Terry Rozier: 13.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.2 apg.
- Guard Chris Jones: 12.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.4 apg.
- Forward Wayne Blackshear: 11.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.8 apg.
- Forward Montrezl Harrell: 17.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg.
- Center Mangok Mathiang: 4.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg.
Louisville enters the game an eight-point favorite, and honestly that feels about right. It’s a tough game to pick given the uncertainties that surround Ohio State and it’s young roster. The Buckeyes are certainly capable of winning this game, and if I were a betting man I would stay away from this game completely. Forced to make a pick, it feels like the type of game that the Buckeyes will be in until the last five minutes, but the Cardinals rebounding edge and dominating front court will prove to be too much. Ohio State can win if they shoot lights out, but that’s a tall order for the first road game of the season. The good news is, win or lose, Ohio State will be a better team for the experience, and in December, that’s all that matters.Louisville 74, Ohio State 68