Ohio State Looks To Bounce Back

Coming off an embarrassing 86-60 loss to the Florida Gators last week, Ohio State is looking to rebound against Fang Mitchell's struggling Coppin State Eagles. More important than the win itself, the thrashing by the defending champion Gators in Gainesville may have exposed several more problem areas for the Buckeyes. We have a preview of tonight's game.

There's no coach in America that wants to settle for moral victories. Mere seconds after Ohio State's 86-60 beatdown to the defending National Champion Florida Gators last Saturday, Ohio State head coach Thad Matta might not have had any choice but to find one.

Since not much, if anything at all, went right for Matta's Buckeyes last week in a nationally televised 26-point loss, he's forced to take solace in the hope that the defeat was so humbling, so humiliating, so embarrassing that perhaps his players will have no choice but to improve.

After that game, one would think it couldn't get much worse.

Tonight at 8 PM, Fang Mitchell and the Coppin State Eagles land in Columbus also hoping it can't get any worse for their team. Coppin State is just 2-10 on the season with wins against Winston-Salem State and LaSalle against a customary brutal schedule that has featured the likes of Oklahoma, Alabama, Connecticut, Iowa, Tennessee and Kansas State among others.

In the last two games - Alabama and Connecticut, the Eagles have suffered 50 and 43-point losses at the hands of the Crimson Tide and Huskies. Coppin State has just one player (Tywain McKee) averaging in double-figures at 17.8 points a game. The Eagles are shooting just 37 percent from the field while their opponents are shooting 49.3 percent.

Defense will be at a premium for Matta's club Saturday night. Ohio State allowed Florida to shoot 59 percent (35-of-59) from the field including 9-of-18 from three-point range. In the second half alone, Florida may as well have been shooting uncontested in the gym as Florida shot 71 percent, missing just eight shots (20-of-28) from the field.

Saturday's game against Coppin State will be Ohio State's last non-conference test before the start of Big Ten play Tuesday against Indiana. The Buckeyes will then take to the road for games against Illinois and Wisconsin before returning home for a final non-conference clash with Tennessee.

In tuning up for the Big Ten, Ohio State must begin to play more consistent basketball offensively.

Since the return of Greg Oden, the Buckeyes have shot 47 percent (128-of-271), down from the 50.4 percent they've shot on the season. Most of that difference has been from the three-point line, where Ohio State is shooting just 35 percent from behind the arc (36-of-103) - where they have shot 40.3 percent for the season.

On the surface, the Buckeyes are still finding their way with the 7-1 freshman in the lineup. Ohio State is averaging 72.6 points a game in those five games. They are still averaging 81.2 points a game for the entire season but until the last five, they were well over 84 points a game.

Matta can probably live with a temporary decrease in offensive production under the assumption his team is better defensively with Oden on the floor. If last Saturday is any indication, Ohio State is not yet there.

Not only was his team porous defensively, they seemingly quit. Down 15-17 points midway through the second half, Ohio State stopped giving effort and allowed the game instead to turn into an onslaught.

The Buckeyes were out of rhythm offensively, slow to react defensively and looked much more like an inexperienced club playing in a hostile environment than they did in Chapel Hill against North Carolina, where Ohio State played like a National Championship contender.

Ohio State's opponent Saturday night, Coppin State, has been searching for some kind - any kind of solution. Eleven different players have started for Mitchell this season. Through 12 games, Coppin State has yet to settle on a similar starting lineup.

Coppin State is giving up plenty of size to the Buckeyes. The Eagles' tallest players are just 6-7, including junior forward Robert Pressey who is the team's second-leading rebounder, pulling down 4.3 a game. McKee averages 4.6 rebounds a game as a 6-2 point guard to lead the Eagles.

It's a chance for the Buckeyes to get healthy offensively against a team being out-rebounded 45-31 a game this season. It's also a chance for Oden to have a bounce-back game from the worst showing of his young collegiate career - scoring just 7 points in the loss to Florida.

Although Ohio State enters the game ranked No. 6 nationally, it's going to need to play like a team with much more to prove. Expectations after last Saturday have been tempered in Columbus and rightfully so.

The Buckeyes have plenty of room for improvement and Saturday night is a perfect place to start - at least on paper.

That would be a welcome moral victory for Matta.


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