Thad Matta's Buckeyes dismissed Rhode Island Saturday night, 69-58, in a game that was concurrently both not as close as the score indicated and closer than it appeared. I know, I know; bear with me here. Ohio State had stretches where they looked every bit like the fourth best team in the country. They also, rather unfortunately for a team of their clout, had sequences where they looked anything but. A team of Ohio State's talent should never find themselves out rebounded by the likes of Rhode Island much less Albany, and yet the 2012-2013 Buckeyes have already seen this be a reality at several different moments on the young season. The good news is, two games is hardly statistically significant or otherwise. It's not even at the point where can meaningfully talk about it being a trend. And if the Ohio State men's basketball team's early season parallels to their football counterparts are any indication, they should have every bit the opportunity to rise to the occasion (see: playing up, playing down) as the Washington Huskies await in the final game of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off classic.
While Lorenzo Romar's group hasn't appeared to be the Sweet 16 caliber team they were three short seasons ago (having just lost to the very same Albany team at home that Ohio State summarily dismissed by 22 points), they do bring in a team completely capable of playing some post season basketball. Much like Ohio State's unevenness Saturday evening against Rhode Island, the Huskies had alternating moments of competence and ones in which it looked completely outclassed against a very game Seton Hall side. Washington senior guard Scott Suggs may just determine if U Dub can put together 40 minutes of consecutive basketball and do so in such a way that they emerge victorious against the basketball Bucks.
Suggs, a 6-6 195 pound Washington, Missouri product, redshirted last season after suffering a broken foot in preseason. His return has been charmed to point. He hit two 3-pointers late in overtime to finish the Huskies' 84-73 overtime win over the Pirates with 15 points. Suggs could be a tough matchup for Lenzelle Smith Jr. due to his length and ability to score from both the inside and out. He was unavailable for most of the loss to Albany due to a reported concussion, but instantly added a spark on the defensive end of things upon his return Saturday.
Joining Suggs in the backcourt is the 6-5 junior C.J. Wilcox. Wilcox is a year removed from being an honorable mention All-Pac 12 in 2011-2012 and is fifth in Washington history all time for three point makes. His 73 a year ago were the fifth most in single season Huskies basketball history. Wilcox didn't quite have his stroke against Seton Hall, making just 3 of 10 attempts from the field (and 0 of his 5 three point tries), but did finish the evening with 11 points and 5 rebounds. He scored 22 in Washington's season opener against Ohio State's 2012 NCAA tournament opener, Loyola (Maryland).
The final piece of the Huskies three guard attack is the quarterback on the court, Abdul Gaddy. Gaddy, a 6'3" point guard from neighboring Tacoma, comes into the Ohio State game averaging 16.5 points per game and 2.5 assists per. Gaddy was shutdown his sophomore year with a torn ACL, but returned last season to play alongside two future NBA first round draft picks in Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten. The hope for Gaddy going into this year was a return to form offensively that saw him once be selected as a McDonald's All-American as a prep player. If the first three games are any indication, the senior could well be in the process of addressing those concerns. He should give Aaron Craft a handful the majority of the afternoon, though doesn't quite have the explosiveness to frustrate Craft too terribly much.
Washington's front court begins with New Orleans, LA product freshman Jernard Jarreau. The 6'10" forward hasn't been much of a scoring threat, but has increased his point per game production from 4 to 5 to 6 in each of Washington's first three games. If the pattern continues, Ohio State could totally be burned for 7 points. LOOK OUT, DESHAUN THOMAS. Jarreau hasn't been a terror on either ends of the glass yet, but is averaging more than 3 boards per contest. It was expected that Shawn Kemp Jr would man the power forward-ish role for the Huskies, but a non-surgical patella tendon tear forced Jarreau into the lineup faster than would've been desired. Another front court player absent for the Huskies is Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who's name you might recognize as being arguably the best tight end in college football. He won't be available for the Huskies due to his commitments for Steve Sarkisian's 'Dawgs.
The lone remaining starter for Romar & co. is senior center Aziz N'Diaye. N'Diaye, a one time transfer from the College of Southern Idaho, quickly established himself upon his arrival as a sophomore in 2010-11 as a defensive force to be reckoned with. By last season, N'Diaye was a member of the Pac-12 All-Defense Team. While he's never averaged more than 8 points in his career, the 7-0 Senegal native is averaging 11.5 through three contests this year. He recorded double doubles in each of Washington's first two games and just narrowly missed doing so (even including the overtime session) against Seton Hall Saturday night. Given how relatively paltry Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams have looked in each of the Buckeyes' first two, this match up could be one of the real deciding factors in this one.
In terms of a bench, the Huskies intentionally went short against Seton Hall, limiting themselves to only guard Andrew Andrews and forward Desmond SImmons. Simmons in particular found his shooting touch, stroking 4-for-6 attempts from the field en route to 14 points. The two have alternated which would be the Huskies' spark off the bench during the first three games, but it's possible (especially in the event that this game somehow gets ugly either way) for Martin Breunig, a forward, or Hikeem Stewart, a guard, to see playing time. If Dion Overstreet, who was a child star in series such as "Malcolm in the Middle" and "The Bernie Mac Show", finds his way into the game, you'll know that it's really over, regardless of who's pulled away from whom.
While Lorenzo Romar has kept the cupboard stocked during the majority of his tenure in Seattle, this is probably a bit removed from his best team. Ohio State hasn't played very consistent basketball through their 80 minutes on the year, but with Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State can play with just about anyone in the country. It'd be short sighted to dismiss Washington, particularly given the run they put together to rally after blowing the lead against Seton Hall in the second half of their game last night. It's also worth pointing out, however, that they blew that lead and found themselves behind in the first place.
Holy war (though only barely). Ohio State 73 - Washington 67. The Buckeyes get the challenge Marquette was supposed to have been before that one was moisture-d out but ultimately prevail against a quality Pac-12 opponent.