Golden Gophers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

2:30 pm (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Radio: WCCO 830 AM

TV: Big Ten Network

Tickets: Best available- Row 11, upper deck, baseline (obstructed)

Evan Turner has had this game circled for a while. As early as December 19th, 2009, only two weeks after an ugly and scary back injury that easily could have been career ending, the do everything Ohio State guard/forward/occasional center said he would be back for the Minnesota game. Turner had never won at Williams Arena, and with an NBA career beckoning, this would likely be his last chance. Against all odds, Turner is back, and this won’t even be his first game since the injury. He played twenty minutes against Indiana, and while he wasn’t moving as smoothly as he did before the injury and looked a little tentative, he still managed eight points, five assists, and four rebounds.

The Buckeyes struggled in Turner’s absence, going only 3-3, and they find themselves in a position similar to Minnesota. They have only one impressive win, against California, and like the Gopher win over Butler, that victory is not nearly as impressive several weeks later. California was ranked #12 at the time, and now they are only 9-5. Ohio State did also play Butler, but they lost by 8 on the road.

Minnesota looks like they will have their own health issues to deal with. Ralph Sampson III re-tweaked his already injured ankle, and his availability this afternoon will be a game time decision. Fortunately, Ohio State is not a tall team, and his absence won’t be as detrimental as it could be. The Buckeyes start a four guard line-up, and only Turner at 6’7” and Dallas Lauderdale at 6’8” have the ability play inside. Kyle Madsen at 6’9” comes of the bench, and is their only other post player. Tubby Smith recognized their height disadvantage last year at the barn and played his “Twin Towers” line-up; it was a real failure.  Sampson and Colton Iverson combined for only eight points and eight rebounds. On defense Sampson was often stuck trying to guard Evan Turner on the perimeter, and only Turner’s inexplicable inability to make open lay-ups allowed the Gophers to win.

Though he gets all the news, Evan Turner is not a one man team. David Lightly has returned from a foot injury that kept him out of both games against the Gophers last year, and is averaging better than 13 points and 5 rebounds per game. John Diebler, still very much a one dimensional spot up shooter, is making nearly half of his three point shots. William Buford, reigning freshman of the year in the conference, is also averaging around 13 points per game. The aforementioned Dallas Lauderdale is a dangerous shot blocker but limited offensively. He can score only inside of three feet, but he is making almost 72% of his shots, so he knows what he is good at.

The per game numbers of Ohio State’s player’s are more impressive than the Gophers, but they also mislead. The Buckeye bench is almost non-existent, and Dallas Lauderdale is the only starter playing less than 30 minutes per game. P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons have played 17 and 19 minutes per game respectively, but the bulk of that playing time occurred while Turner was out. They should play much less today.

Statistically the Buckeyes are a very good team. They rank in the top 35 in the country in both offense and defense. Their offensive success stems from being one of the best shooting teams in the country, making 40% of their three pointers and 56% of their two point shots. They also take care of the ball, ranking 39th in the country in turnovers committed. Their lack of height catches up to them on the offensive glass where they are #236 in the country.  They also shoot free throws poorly at only 66.5%, but that is likely artificially low due to Dallas Lauderdale making only 48% of his free throws.

After a year in the 3-2 zone wilderness, Thad Matta has his team playing mostly man to man. Last year’s zone defenses were out of necessity, because he had few players willing or able to play any sort of defense. The switch back to man to man has cut down on open three pointers and is forcing more turnovers. Buckeye opponents are making only 33% of their three pointer and 44% of their interior shots. They rank #41 in forcing turnovers and are #24 in blocked shots and #74 in forced steals.

Keys for the Gophers

  • Wear down Turner. He has played only twenty minutes in the last few weeks, and fatigue could be an issue. Damian Johnson will be key to keeping Turner from having a big game on both ends of the court.
  • Speaking of Johnson, he needs to have another big rebounding game.  Last year he averaged 8 rebounds per game against the Buckeyes, using his length against the shorter Buckeyes.
  • Blake Hoffarber needs to get back on track. He picked up two quick fouls against Purdue, and never played his way into the flow of the game. Last season in Colombus he scored 19 second half points off of 6 three pointers. He shouldn’t have a confidence problem today.

Keys for the Buckeyes

  • Find an inside game.  Unless the Buckeyes can get some points near the basket, the Gophers can play small and won’t miss Sampson.
  • Take care of the ball. Ohio State hasn’t faced a defense like the Gophers, and early turnovers will get the crowd into the game.
  • Evan Turner, Evan Turner, Evan Turner