Ohio State vs. Marquette: Breaking Down Saturday's Matchup
This time last year, the Marquette Golden Eagles and Ohio State Buckeyes were all set to play in the Carrier Classic aboard the USS Yorktown in Charleston, S.C. The starting lineups had been announced and the players and referees had already taken the court when everyone noticed condensation on the hardwood.
Unable to dry the court, the game was eventually called, leaving disappointment for two teams that advanced to the Elite Eight last March. On Saturday, the two teams will get the chance to face off again, this time indoors at the BMO Harris Bradley Center—the home of Marquette and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Marquette and Ohio State each have plenty of talent back from last year's squad and both have added some depth with talented freshmen. It should be a hard-fought and physical contest, as both teams have an opportunity for a quality early-season win.
Here's a look at the on-court matchups by position.
Aaron Craft vs. Derrick Wilson
Edge: Craft (Ohio State)
Wilson assumes the ballhandling duties for Buzz Williams' Marquette squad following Junior Cadougan's graduation. Wilson is a natural point guard, though he struggles to score. Through two games, the junior has only scored one point, but had dished out 13 assists, with 10 of those coming against Grambling State on Tuesday. Wilson is also a lockdown defender who rarely turns the ball over.
Despite being a steady hand at the point, Craft may be able to cause some turnovers by Wilson. Craft is arguably the nation's best on-ball defender and has improved offensively each season. The senior is averaging 11.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals through the first two games. Despite having similar games, Craft will outduel Wilson on both ends of the court.
Shannon Scott vs. Jake Thomas
Edge: Scott (Ohio State)
After flirting with the idea of transferring for his final collegiate season, Thomas decided to come back to Marquette for his senior season. He went scoreless in his season debut, but scored 13 points Tuesday night, connecting on three three-point field goals—his specialty. Thomas came to Marquette from South Dakota, where he was a big-time scorer. Look for a more-confident and ready-to-shoot Thomas as a starter.
After coming off the Buckeye bench during his underclassmen years, Scott is being given the chance to start as a junior. Scott and Craft are incredibly similar players. Both are natural point guards, who are All-Big Ten defenders but sometimes struggle on offense. That's not the case thus far in 2013-14, as Scott is averaging 12.0 points, 5.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Look for Scott to limit Thomas' long-range looks.
Lenzelle Smith Jr. vs. Jamil Wilson
Edge: Wilson (Marquette)
After playing power forward the past two seasons, Wilson has been inserted back into the starting lineup, this time as a senior small forward. Besides being the Golden Eagles' best long-distance shooter, Wilson has the ability to slash towards the hoop. Wilson is very athletic, although sometimes becomes complacent offensively. Without Vander Blue, Wilson cannot afford to play timid or take plays off as a redshirt senior.
A three-year starter, Smith Jr. has been a consistent force for Matta. The senior currently leads Ohio State in scoring at 13.5 points per game and is averaging five boards a night. Smith is interchangeable as a wing player who is a capable three-point shooter. Smith won't be "out-toughed," even against the taller Wilson. Still, Wilson's play last March proved he is a big-game player. Saturday's showdown certainly falls into that same category.
LaQuinton Ross vs. Steve Taylor Jr.
Edge: Ross (Ohio State)
The lone underclassmen in either team's starting lineup, Taylor Jr. had a career night on Tuesday. The sophomore from Chicago powerhouse Simeon Career Academy, where he played with Jabari Parker, scored 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and distributed four assists. Jameel McKay's decision to leave Marquette will certainly lead to more playing time for Taylor, after he had logged only spot minutes in 2012-13 as a freshman.
Ross had his coming out party last March, nailing a game-winning three-pointer against Arizona in the Sweet 16. Now a junior, Ross steps into the starting stretch-four role, following Deshaun Thomas' departure from Columbus. In two games, Ross has scored 24 points and gathered 14 rebounds. Ross is a pure scorer, so look for Marquette to platoon both perimeter and interior defenders on him.
Amir Williams vs. Chris Otule
Edge: Otule (Marquette)
As a sixth-year senior, Otule certainly brings plenty of experience to Marquette. In fact, he's been at Marquette during Buzz Williams' entire six-year tenure as head coach. Otule is on the court to rebound and defend, though he showed flashes of scoring late last season, as well as in his 17-point effort on Tuesday. At 6'11" and 275 pounds, Otule should be able to impose his force on a Buckeyes' frontcourt that is lacking.
After serving as Jared Sullinger's backup in 2011-12, Williams was disappointing as a starter last season. Like Otule, Williams' primary focus is to take up space, grab rebounds and block shots. Two games into his junior season, Williams is averaging 9.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots against inferior competition. Unfortunately for Williams, Marquette's strength in the frontcourt happens to be Ohio State's weakness.
Edge: Davante Gardner (Marquette)
Despite being Marquette's best player, the wide-bodied Gardner is again coming off the bench. Gardner scored 25 points, including making 15 free throws, in 23 minutes. Gardner and Otule will split time at center, with a possibility of the two playing on the court together in an attempt to expose OSU's lack of size. Gardner has embraced his role of sixth man and I expect him to be the difference-maker on Saturday afternoon.
Both Thad Matta and Buzz Williams are excellent coaches. Matta has reached Final Fours, something that Williams has yet to accomplish, though Marquette's program is actually in a much better place now than it was with Tom Crean before he left for Indiana. Ohio State gets the edge, 3-2, on starting lineups, although Marquette's bench of Gardner, Todd Mayo, JaJuan Johnson, Juan Anderson and Deonte Burton is deeper.
Sam Thompson, a former starter and last year's top three-point shooter for Ohio State, will see plenty of starter's minutes on Saturday from both forward positions. Marc Loving and Amedeo Della Valle will also see minutes in a short rotation for Matta's squad. The two teams match up quite evenly, with similar grinding playing styles. Marquette, which holds the nation's second-longest home winning streak, wants to keep that streak alive.
Final score: Marquette 73, Ohio State 71