7:00 Tuesday. The Breslin Center. ESPN2.
Ohio State started the season very efficiently, getting out to a 9-0 start. Included in those nine wins were a road victory over Miami of Florida and a neutral-court defeat of Notre Dame (in Indianapolis). The Buckeyes held eight of their first nine opponents under a point per possession.
Since then, the results have been less impressive:
- A 28-point loss to West Virginia at home.
- A win by just 3 points against Iowa at home.
- A 9-point loss to Minnesota on the road.
Depth is a major issue for the Buckeyes at this point. Junior swingman David Lighty has been out for the last five games with a foot injury that will likely sideline him until next month. And freshman point guard Anthony Crater transferred to South Florida this week after complaining of not starting over juco transfer Jeremie Simmons. Those developments have left Thad Matta with only six players who had been averaging 10 minutes or more prior to the Lighty injury. And, ironically, the departure of Crater leaves Ohio State without a true point guard, as Simmons is more of a combo guard.
The issues for the Buckeyes in their two losses have been (1) shooting the ball (eFG%s of 32.8% and 41.4%) and (2) rebounding (DefReb%s of just 56.6% and 50.0%). The load that sophomore forward Evan Turner is carrying on offense (usage rate of 28.6%) may finally be catching up with him. He’s made just 15 of 46 FG attempts in his last three games.
In terms of Ohio State’s overall tempo-free profile, the strength, like last year, is on defense. They rank 25th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Their stats reflect the 2-3 zone Matta prefers: they force tough shots and they don’t foul, but they also don’t create a ton of turnovers or rebound the ball well defensively. Creating good shots has been particularly tough for Buckeye opponents this season due to the play of 6’8″ sophomore forward Dallas Lauderdale. Lauderdale ranks 3rd nationally in block percentage, blocking 2.9 shots per game.
MSU’s approach to scoring efficiently will likely be to continue to do two things they’ve done well over their recent streak of wins: shoot the ball well from beyond the arc (where Ohio State’s opponents have taken 38.8% of their shots) and create second chances on the boards. One significant advantage for MSU relative to last season’s match-ups between these two teams is that Ohio State probably won’t be able to use its 2-2-1 full-court press much due to its lack of depth.
On offense, Evan Turner leads the way for Ohio State. He’s averaging 16.2 points per game and also leads the team in assists with 2.6 per game. The only other double-digit scorer for the Buckeyes has been sophomore guard Jon Diebler, who averages 11.8 points per game on 41.8% three-point shooting. Diebler is a streak shooter, so expect to see MSU place an emphasis on not letting him get good looks early to get on a roll.
Beyond Turner and Diebler, this team doesn’t have much offensive punch. Freshman center B.J. Mullens is still adjusting to the college game; he’s scored a total of 14 points in his last three games, after breaking out for 19 points vs. UNC-Ashville. Tom Izzo excels at creating defensive game plans to take away the other team’s top scorers. And Ohio State only pulls down 30.7% of offensive rebounding opportunities, so, if MSU can force tough shots, the Buckeyes are very likely to struggle offensively.
Kenpom predicts a 70-65 MSU in a 67-possession game. I think we’re catching this team at a good time, as the Lighty injury and Crater transfer clearly have them trying to regroup on the fly. If MSU plays the way it has been the last two weeks, Ohio State will be still trying to regroup Wednesday morning.
P.S. The latest blog post by Ohio State walk-on Mark Titus will tell you absolutely nothing about what to expect on the court tomorrow night, but will provide you with approximately five minutes of elevator-related amusement.