Ohio State head coach Thad Matta has addressed these weaknesses in the past two weeks. The team has responded by outrebounding their first two PNIT opponents by an average of 40 to 31 and limiting them to 29.3% shooting from beyond the arc. Nevertheless, Syracuse will look to exploit Ohio State's perimeter defense and go head-to-head on the glass in Wednesday's game.
Without question this will be Syracuse's toughest test to date. Ohio State has 4 double digit scorers, good overall size, and returns several players with Final Four experience. 6-1 SR PG Jamar Butler is the team's catalyst after taking over for the departed Michael Conley Jr. Butler is a steady, patient player who isn't likely to make a lot of unforced errors. He's scoring the ball well this year and has posted a 6.5:1 assist to turnover ratio through 2 games.
Butler is joined in the backcourt by former SU recruiting target David Lighty and 6-6 FR Jon Diebler. Lighty is an excellent swingman who complements Butler very well with his heady and patient play. He does a little bit of everything, including scoring, rebounding (6.0 rbg) and passing (4.0 apg). He also takes good shots (>60% FG) and will beat you down the floor in transition if you're not ready for his speed. Simply put, he's versatile and gives all-out effort whenever he's on the court.
Diebler, on the other hand, has not been remotely as productive. He was very effective shooting the ball in the exhibition games, but since the regular season started, he has scored only 6 points, hitting a dreadful 10% from the field. That said, he had a reputation of being a good shooter coming into college, so he fits the bill of the classic ‘Cuse killer – the overlooked kid who breaks out of his shooting slump against the SU zone.
The Ohio State frontcourt is anchored by McDonald's All-American Kosta Koufos, an enormous 7-0 FR center. While Koufos isn't likely to be confused with the departed Greg Oden, he's an excellent offensive player who has already taken over the role of go-to guy for the Buckeyes. He's putting up 18.5 ppg in roughly 25 minutes of playing time. Koufos has very good footwork around the basket, is quicker than he first appears, and has good range facing the hoop.
The other starting forward is 6-8 SR Othello Hunter. He's not going to wow you with incredible stats, but he's Ohio State's best rebounder and brings a blue-collar work ethic to the team.
Game Outlook: This type of game is remarkably difficult to forecast given the fact that both teams have played so few games and have yet to really establish a rhythm. On paper, the Orange appear to have more offensive firepower but Ohio State has an inside presence the likes of which SU has not yet encountered. It will be very important for Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson to stay out of foul trouble today. The good news is that Koufos hasn't been particularly effective at getting to the free throw line; he's shot only 5 FT in the first two games.
Look for both teams to play a lot of zone defense. It will be interesting to see how FR PG Jonny Flynn responds to his first zone. Will he attempt to beat it with ball reversal or dribble penetration? The Orange could be deadly against a zone with Donte Greene shooting over it and Eric Devendorf knifing through it, but it could be equally problematic if the wrong players take the shots (see: Harris, Paul) or the team regresses to the type of ballhandling they showed against Siena.
One of the most important match-ups in this game will be Jonny Flynn vs. Jamar Butler. Butler has a serious edge in experience and could be just the type of defender to give our youngster his first taste of trouble. While Flynn has responded to every challenge so far, Butler represents the first challenge of a guard on par with the top Big East backcourt players.
Overall, this looks like the type of game that is won by the team that "gels" the fastest. The Orange have already made impressive strides in this category, showing great team balance and marked improvement in terms of taking care of the ball. If they can continue on that track, stay out of foul trouble on the interior, and prevent Lighty and company from scoring in transition, this should turn into an SU victory. If they fail at any of these aspects, expect a close game that goes down to the wire.