You wouldn't go as far as to say the Ohio State basketball team is reeling. After all, Thad Matta admitted to the press Friday that he didn't think by any stretch of the imagination were his guys not ready to play Wednesday night during the team's bitter pill to swallow 73-68 loss to Duke. The Blue Devils enacted a great second half game plan, and simply put, they executed. The Buckeyes didn't adapt, stopped making their shots, and with Deshaun Thomas out of rhythm and effectively neutralized by a pesky Blue Devil defense switching to prevent him from even getting touches, Ohio State's lack of a well defined second option offensively doomed them. The chance to work on the latter comes in the form of the Northern Kentucky Norse.
The Norse are new to division one hoops, having just make their formal debut at the level a month back against San Diego. In fact, the Norse (from a sheer conditioning standpoint) may be more NCAA tournament ready (though they aren't eligible for post season competition until 2016 per the terms of their transition from D2 to the sport's highest level) than the Buckeyes at this point, having played a crazy four games in five days from November 14th to November 18th in the USD hosted NUCDF Basketball Challenge. NKU led at various points in the second half of all four, but despite close games against both the host team and former Buckeye tournament dream killers, Siena, the Norse find themselves 0-4 on the year.
Having had almost two whole weeks off between that break neck pace to now, when the Norse have two games and then another two weeks off, is certainly not customary in the world of college basketball. But as a transitional team making the move to D1 full-time, the Norse won't see the rigors of a more ordinary slate for a few seasons. Realitstically, Ohio State should have nothing to worry about in terms of an upset; NKU last took down a D1 side in 1984 when they beat Tennessee State, 66-64, in a neutral court game. The Bucks actually have a history with NKU, however, having played a preseason exhibition game against the Bucks in 2004 and falling, 77-67. Still, given the infamous Chaminade-Virginia type games that exist in the lore of the sport, vigilance will unquestionably be something Matta, top assistant Jeff Boals, and company preach.
The most dangerous weapon for the Norse is senior Eshaunte "Bear" Jones. Jones is averaging 15.8 points per game and put up a season high 24 in their 69-58 loss to Cal State Northridge in their last game. Joining Jones in the back court are fellow senior, 6'1" point guard Ethan Faulkner (7.5 points per game, 3.0 assists per, and 5.3 boards per game, the latter of which inexplicably leads the team) and junior Chad Jackson. Jackson is the team's fourth leading scorer averaging 6.8 points per game while shooting 50% from the field. The Norse routinely go 9-10 deep, and freshman guard Todd Johnson actually opened the season putting up 11 (9 on 3 pointers). Fellow frosh Nate Snodgrass is also an asset at guard and was NKU's lone player to put up double figures in their loss to Tulsa.
Comprising the NKU front court is 6-7 senior forward, Ernest Watson (6.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg) and sophomore center, Jalen Billups. Billups is the team's second leading scorer, averaging 8.3 points per game, abutd despite playing the 5, is actually not only shorter than Watson, but extremely undersized relative to what's more customary at the high D1 level at only 6'6". His numbers reflect the disproportionate match ups he's inclined to face pretty regularly, averaging but 3 rebounds a contest. To Billups' credit, he does have the distinction of having scored the Norse's first ever basket as a D1 program with a layup in the first minute in the loss to San Diego.
The matchup issues both Watson and Billups will encounter having to body up the likes of Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams could be just what the doctor ordered for those two players' confidence, which while inconsistent through the first four games, looked especially shaky in the second half of a Duke game which saw them struggle immensely with the Blue Devil's more athletic interior players. 6-6 freshman forward Jack Flournoy is the only other front court player to have played in all four games. Averaging only 8.3 minutes per game, he's managed but 2.0 points per game and .3 rebounds. It's probably safe to assume he won't have too terribly much of an impact on this one.
If Ohio State ever needed a shot in the arm, this game (and the match ups there in) have all the makings of one. Head coach Dave Bezold's bunch don't have an answer for Deshaun Thomas or Aaron Craft and should the Bucks want to work Sam Thompson and/or LaQuinton Ross into what they do offensively, they shouldn't have any problem executing such a plan. The biggest thing to gain from this one is experience and repetition. Even if the Buckeyes come up hungover as all get out from Wednesday's loss, the talent differential should more than account for even the worst case lethargy you could imagine.
Holy diver. The Buckeyes are just too much for NKU, 82-55.