The Buckeyes are reeling, having lost two straight - on the road at Michigan State and at home to Iowa. With some coaches/teams you might say that this is a great time to play them, when they might not be sure what's going on with them and perhaps their confidence is shot. But this is Ohio State and Thad Matta, a team that's 15-2 and has won at least 29 games each of the last four seasons, and a team made up mostly of upperclassmen. They're going to be mighty pissed.
Iowa managed to score 84 points against Ohio State, which is pretty incredible considering how good Ohio State is when it comes to defense, ranking 7th in overall defensive efficiency. That's the first time the Buckeyes have given up that many points in almost two full seasons, and Iowa's 1.14 points per possession would rank Ohio State as a bottom 20 defense in the entire NCAA if that was a full season number. Iowa was able to turn a Buckeye team over quite, a feat considering Ohio State takes pretty good care of the basketball, and convert a lot of those turnovers into points. They also got into the paint and attacked the rim, shooting 55% from two (Ohio State allows just 43% shooting from two on the year). The Gophers have a chance at replicating the turnovers, but Ohio State's incredible perimeter defense has me concerned that they won't be able to score enough points to keep up with the Buckeyes.
Ohio State absolutely shuts down the three-point line, both by limiting looks overall and by playing tough enough defense that opponents only make 26.9% of their attempts (7th in the country). IOwa doesn't rely on the three and didn't against Ohio State, shredding them at the rim instead. The Gophers, as we know, are heavily reliant on the three pointer. Basically their offense matches up horribly against Ohio State. Additionally, the Gopher offense is heavily predicated on the guards making things happen with their three highest usage players (Draustin Hollins and the Honey Gopher) creating off penetration. Once again, Ohio State's defense is set up perfectly to defend against this with Aaron Craft (not overrated, despite how often you have to hear about him) and Shannon Scott (nearly as good as Craft, if not as fundamentally sound) guarding a team's main ballhandlers and Sam Thompson and Amir Williams in the middle to block shots. The Gophers are going to need to get transition opportunities and take advantage of them in order to score.
They should be able to get them, because offensively Ohio State is good but not great. They're very efficient on two pointers (54%), but struggle a bit from three (34%) despite taking a big percentage of their shots from behind the arc (36%, 91st in NCAA). If the Gophers play mainly zone, and I expect they will and they probably should, the hope would be the Buckeyes get into chucker mode and don't get hot. If so, the Gophers need to run and run fast on every miss, because that will be their best opportunity for transition offense and the Buckeyes don't hit the offensive glass all that well. Turnovers will likely be limited since Minnesota relies on steals quite a bit and Ohio State is the #1 team in the country at avoiding steals.
Personnel wise Ohio State is loaded with former high ranking recruits, and although none of them have become an offensive star they have seven guys who score between 7 and 13.6 points per game, and they play more like an NBA team when they have the ball, eschewing 2-point jump shots and either taking 3s or getting the ball to the rim. 6-8 swingman LaQuinton Ross is the closest thing they have to a go-to #1 option (leading scorer at 13.6ppg and only player with a real high shot %), and he's also the most likely to get lured into taking bad shots so hopefully that happens. 6-4 shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the only other double digit scorer (12.2ppg) and he's one of the most efficient players in the conference because he avoids those two point jumpers (just 13% of his shots) choosing instead to shoot 3s (37% accuracy) or drive (61% on twos). Despite only hitting 20 points once this year, he's probably the guy who scares me the most.
The rest of the team kind of takes their offense where they can get it. Craft generally only shoots when he has either a wide open 3-pointer or can take it to the basket (9.1ppg), which he does often. Scott (8.3ppg) is really fast, and although he's more likely to force up an outside shot he also excels at getting to the rim. Amir Williams (9.6ppg) is pretty much the team's only post player and pretty much scores in the post and on offensive putbacks. He's also the team's best rebounder (6.7rpg) although Ohio State really rebounds by committee with all 6 players who play 20 or more minutes averaging 3+ boards per game. Sam Thompson (7.6ppg) will spend time in the paint as well, he's a Rodney Williams-like athlete with a better mid-range game. 6-7 freshman Marc Loving looks like he could be the next DeShaun Thomas with 7.0ppg in just 13 minutes per, and Amedeo Della Valle plays limited minutes (13mpg) but he's the closest thing Ohio State has to a shooter (37% from three, 68% of attempts from there) and against the Gophers zone we're certain to see him come in.
Vegas will likely have Ohio State as a 3-point favorite, and that seems about right to me. Iowa showed that Ohio State is beatable and the Gophers the ability to beat them. Run, attack the rim, hit the three when it's there, and limit dribble penetration by the Buckeyes and force them to become a jump shooting team. Maybe easier said than done, but Iowa was able to do these things and come away with a huge win, and the Gophers have shown against Syracuse and Michigan State that they can compete with some of the nation's best. Unfortunately, they've also shown against Syracuse and Michigan State that they can't close, and until they do I can't quite believe in them against a top tier opponent.
Ohio State 68, Minnesota 64