#19  Golden Gophers vs.  Ohio State Buckeyes

7:00 pm (CST) at Value City Arena

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

Tv: Big Ten Network

Chatroom: Yup

When  Minnesota last played Ohio State, the Buckeyes were reeling after the loss of David Lighty, and the Gophers had just suffered a drubbing at the hands of Michigan State. Coming into today’s game, the Gophers once again face the unpleasant reality that they are not yet among the Big Ten elite. Ohio State on the other hand has found their footing after a rocky stretchy, and while they have not quite lived up to pre-season expectations, their season is surely going in the right direction. The winner of tonight’s game will at worst have a share of third place while the loser will slip on to the dreaded bubble.

Since their loss to Minnesota, Ohio State has gone 5-2 in the conference play in addition to a win over Houston Baptist. Their wins have come against Michigan and Indiana, each twice, and an overtime win at home over the Robbie Hummel-less Purdue Boiler Makers.  A win tonight would be Ohio State’s most impressive conference win of the season.

The Gophers, of course, are coming off an embarrassing loss at Michigan State that was more reminiscent of the darkest days of the Dan Monson era. Minnesota was not ready to play, was intimidated, and ultimately did not stand a chance. It is still unclear if that game revealed more about Michigan State, an elite team ready to make a statement, or the Gophers, a young team not mature enough to be competitive with even good teams on the road. The Gophers have proven to be resilient, winning four in a row after the first lost to Michigan State and dismantling Illinois after back to back losses to Northwestern and Purdue. After the embarrassment in East Lansing, we will learn tonight whether that blow out loss was demoralizing or whether it taught the team a lesson in toughness.

Ohio State has the third best offense in the Big Ten, scoring 1.1 points per possession almost exclusively because of their shooting.  They are the 15th best two point shooting team in the country, making 54% of their shots inside the three point arch, and are a respectable 36.1% shooting team behind the three point line. It is a good thing, for them at least, that they shoot so well because they are a horrible offensive rebounding team. When their shots don’t fall, they don’t stand a chance, as they collect a meager 29.6% of offensive rebound opportunities, and rank 279th in the country. Only Iowa and Northwestern are worse. Ohio States shooting success doesn’t translate to the free throw line, where they shoot slightly worse than 70%. They turn the ball over about 20% of their time.

On defense the Buckeyes still play their match-up zone which forces teams to shoot from the outside. They give up .92 points per possession, mostly from behind the three point line. Only two teams give up a larger percentage of their opponents points from three point range. Given Minnesota’s shooting woes lately, this isn’t exactly good news. This is especially true considering that the Buckeyes only allow opponents to make 44% of their two point shots. Ohio State doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, but they do block a ton of shots, mostly due to Dallas Lauderdale, the fifth best shot blocker in the country. Ohio State’s rebounding woes aren’t quite as bad on the defensive end, but they still tend to give up more than their share of offensive rebounds, mostly due to poor positioning because of their zone defense.

Keys for the Gophers

  1. Keep it close early. The Gophers have an alarming pattern of getting down big early, mainly due to horrible offense. Their best chance to start fast is to shake up the starting line up.
  2. Make outside shots. The openings will be there. They just have to execute.
  3. Force turnovers. P.J. Hill is not a reliable ball handler, and good defense should create some easy baskets.

Keys for the Buckeyes

  1. Jump out to an early lead. It has worked for almost everyone else. Why not the Buckeyes?
  2. Stay even on the offensive glass. They don’t need to out rebound the Gophers, but they do need to at least limit second chance points.
  3. Force the Gophers to shoot from the outside.

Key Players for the Gophers

  1. Lawrence Westbrook needs to get off to a hot start and keep the Gophers in the game early.
  2. Damian Johnson needs to contain Evan Turner
  3. Ralph Sampson III needs to play B.J. Mullens even and hit the glass hard.

Key Players for the Buckeyes

  1. B.J . Mullens made two spectacular shots at Williams Arena, but they were his only two shots of the game. Since then the Buckeyes are finally utilizing the #1 recruit in the country, and he has scored in double figures in all but one game including 17 points on 8-9 shooting in their win over Purdue.
  2. Evan Turner leads Ohio State in every offensive category.
  3. William Buford has scored more than twenty points in his last two games.

Prediction: If the Gophers come out scared it will be ugly early and not get much better. I don’t think they will though. They know they can beat Ohio State and should have at least a little confidence. However, they still don’t have the ability to shoot consistently, and that is a necessity against Ohio State’s zone defense. Minnesota won’t win, but not painfully. Ohio State 67 Minnesota 62.

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