Are Buckeyes Ready For Test No. 2?

Ohio State lost in it's first test this season, looking timid against Louisville Dec. 2. The Buckeyes get a chance to prove they've learned from that defeat Saturday against North Carolina.

In its first test of the season, Ohio State didn’t look ready. The Buckeyes looked timid, unprepared and unfocussed when the ball was tipped in Louisville over two weeks ago. While they recovered in the second half to make the contest competitive, the shaky start proved costly as the Buckeyes fell 64-55 in their only loss of the season.

“Our minds weren’t where they needed to be, we didn’t have the pace, we didn’t have the execution, we didn’t have the precision in our cuts,” senior Sam Thompson said after the loss.

“We’ve got to learn from it, we have to. We’ve got to come out more focused, we’ve got to come out with better execution, our minds have to be in the game from the jump.”

Ohio State has won every game since the loss in Louisville, but they haven’t truly been tested. That changes Saturday when the No. 12 Buckeyes (9-1) will be on the national stage for the second time this season, facing no. 24 North Carolina (7-3) at the United Center in Chicago as part of the CBS Sports Classic.

It’s a chance for the Buckeyes to earn their first Top 25 win of the season, but more importantly, it’s a chance for the young roster to prove they’re ready for the big stage.

Against Louisville, they weren’t. The Buckeyes struggled to run their offense against the Cardinals, especially in the first half. They missed three jumpers to open play, none of which came out of an offensive action, and struggled to finish around the rim in the first twenty minutes.

Point guard Shannon Scott particularly struggled in that game, not scoring and registering just one assist, but said things will be different this time.

“We're a smarter team now and we've been in big games before,” he said. “We know what we did that we shouldn't do next game and I think that can help us out. I think we'll be ready.”

“We can't treat North Carolina like a team, like they're better than us or anything we just gotta play our game and hope we get a win out of that.”

Ohio State enters their contest with the Tar Heels the higher ranked team and should be favored in the United Center.

Still, UNC will be only the second time the Buckeyes are tested this year. Head coach Thad Matta has been using the Louisville game to continue to teach his team in the more than two weeks since it happened, and the coach thinks it’s working.

“We’ve gone back to that game a lot and for whatever reason we weren’t as focused as we needed to be going in to the start of the basketball game,” he said. “You miss a couple dunks, you miss a couple point-blank layups at the beginning of that game. We get down, but I give our guys credit, they did a nice job of fighting back and getting in position to have a chance.

“We’ve probably talked about that game every day in practice since it was played.”

Scouting Carolina

Year in and year out, North Carolina is expected to challenge for the national championship as one of the top teams in the country. From an expectation standpoint, this year is no different, but the Tar Heels have not been dominant through 10 games this season.

North Carolina has suffered three losses this season, two to unranked teams in Butler and Iowa, and one to top-ranked Kentucky. Still, talent abounds on the Tar Heel roster.

UNC is led by Marcus Paige at point guard, a junior who is averaging 13.1 points and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 35 percent from three, but just 34.8 percent from the floor. Aside from the 6-1 guard, no Tar Heel starter is below 6-6.

“What I see on tape is a very big, long basketball team,” Matta said. “Obviously well coached, I have the utmost respect for coach Williams. You look at their depth. Their Paige kid is really a solid point guard who makes those kids go and the bigs do a tremendous job of playing off one another.”

While the Tar Heels have length throughout the roster, they don’t have a dominant center that can challenge the Buckeyes. No starter is above 6-9, though North Carolina does haul in 44.3 rebounds per game adn are second in the country in offensive rebounding rate.

“North Carolina's a very athletic team, they crash the offensive glass very hard and rebounding will be a key part to the game,” forward Marc Loving said.

UNC is deep as well with nine players who average over 10 minutes per game while a 10th averages 8.2 minutes a contest. The Buckeyes have been using a deep bench as well, so those factors may cancel one another out.

According to KenPom, the Tar Heels put up 108.8 points per 100 possessions, 25th in the country, and hold opponents to 90 points per 100 possessions, the 15th best defense in that regard. Ohio State, meanwhile, is the 22nd best offense when adjusting for pace of play and the 18th best defense.

“Obviously every time we play them they have tremendous talent,” said Matta, who is 0-3 against UNC coach Roy Williams. “What sticks out the most is just their system. They have a change a ton over time in terms of what they want to do. They are going to push the ball offensively and they are going to pressure deny, change things up a little bit defensively. They’re the type of team, what you see is what you get. And obviously the caliber of players they have always helps.”

CBS Sports Classic

The game between the Buckeyes and the Tar Heels is part of the CBS Sports Classic, the first game of a doubleheader that will close with Kentucky vs. UCLA.

Those four teams meet up in Brooklyn next season with Ohio State facing Kentucky, while the Buckeyes get UCLA in Las Vegas in 2016.

“I think the elite are the programs that have stood the test of time, that have done it for a long, long period,” Williams said. “You are talking about four of the programs that we have in the CBS Sports Classic. They’ve all done it for a long, long time. Making Final Fours and having opportunities to win a national championship and putting yourself in position every year is the way I look at great programs.”

All four coaches involved in the classic have a winning percentage of above 67 percent for their career, Williams at 79.2 percent (729-191), Matta at 76.4 percent (377-114), Kentucky’s John Calipari at 76.4 percent (566-174) and UCLA’s Steve Alford at 67.7 percent (491-243).

All four teams in the classic have made at least two final fours since 2007.

While Ohio State has been on the same, or in UCLA’s case perhaps a higher level since Thad Matta came to Columbus, the Buckeyes trail the other three teams historically. The Bruins are first all time with 11 national titles while Kentucky has eight and UNC has five. Ohio State’s lone title came in 1960.

Projected Starting Lineups

Ohio State

  • Point guard Shannon Scott: 8.1 points per game, 7.8 assists per game, 1.7 steals per game.
  • Guard D’Angelo Russell: 18.0 ppg, 5.2 apg, 4.4 rebounds per game.
  • Forward Sam Thompson: 10.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.1 apg.
  • Forward Marc Loving: 11.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg.
  • Center Amir Williams: 7.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 blocks per game.

North Carolina

  • Guard Marcus Paige: 13. 1 ppg, 3.5 apg, 35.0 percent 3FG
  • Guard Justin Jackson: 9.4 ppg, 2.2 apg, 3 rpg
  • Forward J.P. Tokoto: 9.2 ppg, 4.1 apg, 4.8 rpg
  • Forward Brice Johnson: 11.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg
  • Forward Kennedy Meeks: 13.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 65 percent FG

Prediction The Buckeyes seem to be in the better position entering this game. They have the better record and the better ranking, but after what happened in Louisville, it feels like Ohio State needs this one. They are getting a struggling Tar Heels team, but North Carolina can match them in talent. I’m trusting what they Buckeyes have been saying, that they are prepared for this game and know its importance. I think Ohio State starts strong and holds on for a hard-fought win.

Ohio State 79, North Carolina 67

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