SCOUTING THE BUCKEYES
OSU, unbeaten at home, is among the most balanced teams West Virginia will face. Forward Evan Turner's 17 points and seven rebounds per game. The 6-7, 205-pound power forward finishes well and can shoot it from the outside if needed. He also converts from the line (77.2 percent), is good on the offensive glass and has a team-best 26 steals. His length helps, and his skills and ability make this a difficult match-up. The Chicago native isn't totally honed, however, and is prone to turnovers as well as playmaking. West Virginia will initially guard the sophomore with Wellington Smith and Da'Sean Butler, though it will take a team effort to slow Turner. The Mountaineers won't have to worry about another major interior threat, as center Kyle Madsen averages just one point and 2.4 boards per game. At 6-9, 240 pounds, Madsen is a load, but has just one other start this year. The Vanderbilt transfer has taken only eight shots, and remains somewhat of an unknown in that he could click into the three-guard offense at any time.
The trio of Jeremie Simmons, Jon Diebler and William Buford all have widely varying games. Simmons, 6-2, 170 pounds, is the worst shooter of the three (30 percent from the floor, 34.1 from three point range), but distributes well and has 24 assists against nine turnovers. The junior, also out of Chicago, was the Junior College Division II Player of the Year in 2008. Diebler, 6-6, 205 pounds, is the biggest of OSU's starting guards and has a much better touch than Simmons, especially inside the three-point arc. The sophomore has made 20 of 51 threes this year after finishing his freshman season as with the third-most treys in school history for a first-year player. He isn't a great rebounder or defender, though he is averaging 10 points and three rebounds. Buford, who is slated to make just his second start this season, is averaging 7.5 points and three boards. The 6-5, 190-pound freshman, attacks the rim well and is solid in blocking out and creating second chances for the Buckeyes. WVU will need to get a body on Buford, who was named Mr. Ohio in basketball in 2008.
Backups Anthony Crater, David Lighty, and Dallas Lauderdale gave head coach Thad Matta a solid eight-deep before Lighty broke his left foot. With the guard/forward – who was averaging a team-best 32.9 minutes per game – out for six to 12 weeks, Matta is searching for fillers. Lauderdale, a 6-8, 255 pounds, has started eight of nine games, playing almost 23 minutes in each outing, a number that figures to increase. He is hitting for eight points and five rebounds per game. A decent shooter and an above-average rebounder, the 6-5, 220-pound junior was the first OSU rookie to start a game since 1997 when he did so during his freshman season.
Crater, a 6-1, 170-pound guard, is struggling to find his shooting touch. He passes well and has good quickness, however, and should certainly see time against West Virginia. Top recruit B.J. Mullens, a 7-0, 275-pound freshman, is also getting added chances after Matta tried to ease him in. The coach is torn about putting Lauderdale and Mullens, who is shooting well in his limited time, on the floor together because of a lack of quickness and ability to play or defend in the transition game.
Ohio State is in the midst of discovering what it can do without a major player and how it will transition into perhaps playing a slower style, one that increasingly focuses on the interior. West Virginia has an edge here in that it has found, if not total answers to the absence of Joe Mazzulla, then at least a foundation of what fits it best when the junior is out of the line-up – as he is expected to be again. The Buckeyes have more overall talent and the edge of playing at home, but that flux could aid the Mountaineers because of a lack of jelling. Neither team is complete at this point in the year, and whichever one can exploit the other in its weakest areas will have an advantage.
|Sat. Dec. 27
4 p.m. EST
Value City Arena
Ohio State 9-0
Ohio State 9-5
WVU - 37
OSU - 11
West Virginia must get back in transition defense, shoot decently and hold their own on the boards. The emergence of freshman Devin Ebanks in recent weeks will help here, but this could be the most challenging aspect of the game for WVU. Ohio State has some length, and even minus a starter has more depth than the majority of other clubs. If the Mountaineers defense correctly and forced the right players to shoot, OSU is vulnerable. Most of Ohio State's points come from its guard/forward style players, so Truck Bryant might not be pressed as much as anticipated. The key is getting a few misses and staying hot itself.
OSU's opponents have not shot well – just 36.4 percent from the floor and 30.9 from three-point range – and with the rebounding and turnover deficits per game, have not had chances to press the Buckeyes with leads. Ohio State could show panic if behind, something unlikely for WVU. The Mountaineers probably have more control in close game situations, and their raw physicality should help around the rim and in rebounding – which can keep a team in games regardless of touch. There's no question West Virginia wants this one, and a win would be a marquee one come NCAA selection time.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla, doubtful (shoulder). Jonnie West, out (broken foot).
Ohio St.: David Lighty, out (broken foot).
West Virginia has won 10 of its last 13 games televised by CBS. All of its recent NCAA Tournament wins were televised by the network, which owns all rights to those broadcasts.
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Huggins was an assistant at Ohio State under Eldon Miller from 1978-80. Huggins is now the 28th winningest coach in NCAA history. Only three active coaches have won more games. Matta has never faced WVU. He is 1-2 versus Huggins. All games came when Matta was at Xavier and Huggins at Cincinnati.
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The Mountaineers are 30-0 under Huggins when outshooting foes. It has won 34 of its last 39 non-conference games. Ohio State is 7-0 at home this year. This will be OSU's first home game of the year against a major conference foe. It is 2-0 against major conference foes this season.
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The WVU-OSU series began in 1940. Eight of 14 contests have been held in Columbus. The Mountaineers last won on Dec. 30, 1994. West Virginia is 78-76 against current Big Ten members. It is just 16-39 all-time in games played in the state of Ohio, having lost the first 15. It split the last dozen contests.