#21 Golden Gophers vs. #23 Ohio State Buckeyes
11:00 am (CST) at Williams Arena
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
Tv: Big Ten Network
Tickets: A few obstructed seats scattered around
Chatroom: Yes. Check in a couple of hours before the game.
About two weeks ago, a game that seemed to be a standard early Big Ten match-up suddenly took on national significance. The Gophers had just beaten Louisville, and Ohio State looked like it would bring an undefeated record to Williams Arena to play the Gophers. Instead of two teams battling back into the upper division of the Big Ten, the Gophers and Buckeyes are both in need of some expectation adjustments.
At this stage in the season, it is difficult to tell who is in more trouble, and whose problems will last the longest. The Gophers have been exposed as poor rebounders with limited offensive options. Ohio State was blown out at home, lost their third leading scorer (David Lighty) for 12 weeks, and had a highly touted freshman (Anthony Crater) believe his own hype and promptly leave for greener pastures (NBDL? The Turkmenistan pro-league?). Despite the turmoil though, Ohio State is in better shape for the long run. They still have their star (Evan Turner) and plenty of size. The Gophers don’t know what they have.
A season that had everything go right is on the verge of taking a very bad turn. Tubby Smith doesn’t trust his new players but is ready to bench everyone with experience, and the Gophers who were out-rebounded by 20 in their last game face one of the biggest teams in the Big Ten. The Gophers never really recovered from a rough home start to the Big Ten season which saw them lose three of their first four home games until they beat Ohio State in the home finale last year. It was the first time the Gophers performed above expectations in a win. If the Gophers do not beat Ohio State, it could be damaging enough to their confidence to keep them from a big win for several games at least.
Fortunately for the Gophers, they shouldn’t get run off the court on Saturday. Ohio State plays much slower than Michigan State, and even slower than the Gophers. They average three fewer possessions than the Gophers, and average three fewer points per 100 possessions. They turn the ball over less than the Gophers, but are also one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country. The Gophers are even worse at giving up offensive rebounds, so offensive rebounding should not be much of a factor. They are also a poorer shooting team than Minnesota, but not enough to produce a major impact.
On defense, the Buckeyes are known for their zone defense which produces an inordinate number of three pointers, and at least lately, some gaudy shooting numbers by their opponents. Ohio State’s opponents only make 32% of their three pointers, but in their first Big Ten game against Iowa they gave up 14-28 shooting from the outside. In their blow out loss to West Virginia, the Mountaineers attempted twenty, but only made four, though Ohio State still lost by 28, showing that they can beat with or without outside shooting success. Other than their zone, the Buckeyes are best known for their shot blocking prowess in the form of Dallas Lauderdale, who blocks 15% of two point attempts taken against the Buckeyes. The Gophers block the third most attempts in the country.
Keys for the Gophers
- Establish an inside presence. The Gopher interior players scored only 9 points in their last game, and only four came from the field.
- Bring back the press. Ohio State is still trying to find a reliable back up point guard, and there should plenty of opportunities to force turnovers.
- Play aggressive half court offense. All too often, and especially when facing a zone, the Gophers have resorted to casual passing around the perimeter. This would be disastrous against the Buckeyes.
Keys for the Buckeyes
- Jump out to an early lead. The Gophers don’t appear well equipped to handle adversity, and an early deficit could cripple them.
- Shut down Iverson and Sampson III. Dallas Lauderdale will dominate Jonathan Williams.
- Crash the offensive boards. Its the easiest way to beat the Gophers, and the Gophers haven’t demonstrated much ability to produce break away baskets off anything other than steals.
Key Players for the Gophers
- Damian Johnson was no where against Michigan State. If he plays like he did last year against Ohio State at home (one point) the Gophers are in trouble. He should have plenty of chances to find gaps in the zone for mid-range shots and slashes to the rim.
- Blake Hoffarber took a career high ten three pointers last year against Ohio State, and made only one. If he gets hot, and after watching Ohio State give up 14 three pointers to Iowa he could, he could should the Gophers to a win.
- Ralph Sampson needs to regain confidence after playing only ten minutes and not scoring, though it could be difficult to find his spots against the zone.
Key Players for the Buckeyes
- P.J. Hill, the Minneapolis native, has been thrust into the limelight as the Buckeyes back up point guard. He provided a defensive spark against Iowa, but will face a much bigger challenge on the offensive end.
- Evan Turner is Ohio State’s best player, but could be facing fatigue issues already. He has scored only 10 and 11 points in his last two games, and has already played 36 or more minutes five times and fewer than 30 minutes three times.
- B.J. Mullens will need to step up to help Ohio State handle the Gophers’ interior size advantage. Like the Gopher freshmen, he has looked much more ordinary as the season has gone on.
Prediction: Iowa is much better than they were last year, but their narrow loss did more to show Ohio State’s weaknesses amidst their early season turmoil than any Hawkeye improvement. The Buckeyes’ offensive rebounding problems should help the Gopher immensely, but it still won’t be enough. Buckeyes win 71-67.
Your Prediction: [poll id=”16″]