Leader of the team
Its a big week for the basketball Buckeyes, as they travel to Gainesville on Tuesday to take on Billy Donovan's Gators, followed by a home game against UNC-Wilmington on Saturday. Tuesday night's contest will be televised on ESPN, and tips off at 6:00 p.m., instead of the usual 7:00. The game Saturday will be at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available for Saturday, and with high quality games coming up in Big Ten play, this might be one of your few chances to see the Bucks in person. Also, we will be running a live chat here at Inside The Shoe during the Florida game, for those who don't have the luxury of watching the games with other Buckeye fans. Now let's take a closer look at the games:
#5 Ohio State @ #10 Florida
The Buckeyes dismantled North Carolina A&T last Friday, getting huge games from Deshaun Thomas and (are you ready for this?!) Aaron Craft. The starting lineup for the season opener was pretty much what we expected, with Sully and Lauderdale manning the low post, and Buford, Diebler, and Lighty as guards. Craft played 22 minutes, netting eight points and nine assists, without any turnovers. He did, however, have five fouls. Thomas came off the bench and lit up the scoreboard, going 10-16 from the floor (2-3 from beyond the arc) and grabbed eight rebounds. As a whole, the Buckeyes committed 22 fouls, so that is one area they will have to clean up if they want to beat Florida.
Florida starts Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker at the guard spots, and plays three big men in Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin. The Buckeyes will have a significant size advantage over Florida's guards (Boynton is 6'2", Walker is 5'8"), and would be wise to try and exploit that with Buford and Diebler. Obviously, Diebler isn't going to post anybody up, as 100% of his eight shots against North Carolina A&T came from downtown. But he can certainly rise up and shoot over a smaller opponent. Buford can post up a smaller guard, or shoot over him.
I know that basing match up advantages solely on size is not very accurate, but having played only one game I can't say I know that much about the Gators (or even how the Buckeyes will play together this year). But I think the Buckeyes combination of size and athleticism at all positions, and off the bench, make them such a difficult match up for almost any team.
My key to this game: Rebounding.
In the past, we have seen Ohio State's zone defense get burned, badly, on the glass. The zone defense is prone to that, it isn't all on the players. But now, with Lauderdale and Sullinger starting, and Thomas playing significant minutes off the bench, there is no reason the Buckeyes should not have the edge in rebounding, or at least close to it, in every game this year. Against UNC A&T, Ohio State held a 55-17 advantage on the boards, with 28 offensive rebounds. Now, as I stated earlier, Florida has a big front line, and I don't expect the edge to be anywhere near what it was Friday. But this game will be a test to show how strong the new Buckeyes really are on the glass.
Tyus, Parsons, and Macklin are all seniors, and we have seen what a team of seniors led by Billy Donovan can do, like win back-to-back championships. This is a game that pits experienced teams, coached by great coaches, in a prime time, national TV game. In the end, I think the Buckeyes depth makes the difference. The starting lineups are very even, but Ohio State can bring in five fresh bodies of the bench, as they did last Friday, and not see much of a drop off at any position. It will be a close game, and playing a true road game against such a quality opponent this early in the year won't be easy, but I see the Buckeyes prevailing by single digits in this one.
#5 Ohio State vs. UNC-Wilmington
Clearly, one game is much more hyped this week than the other. Interesting bonus stat: UNC-W opened their season at Florida, with the Gators winning 77-60, and play North Carolina A&T the game after the Buckeyes. Small world. I really don't see the Buckeyes tripping up against this team. Yes, if they have a tiring game against Florida, this could be a trap game. But UNC-W is a team that went only 9-22 last seasons, and has only one player above 6'7'" on the roster (starter Matt Wilson). The Buckeyes should be able to dominate the paint in this game and win 20. I look to see the young guys get big minutes again and continue to mature. It is important not to come out flat in games like these so that the freshman that might not see important minutes every night (J.D. Weatherspoon, Sibert, Smith, Jr.) get valuable in game experience for the conference slate.