The 2013-14 Ohio State men’s basketball season is only two games old, but already the Buckeyes face an opponent that will test the merits of the No. 10 Associated Press poll ranking. Ohio State (2-0) heads to Milwaukee to face Marquette in the BMO Harris Bradley Center for a battle of top-20 opponents; Marquette plays host to the Buckeyes ranked No. 17 in the nation, sporting a matching 2-0 record.
The showdown, which pits a team from the Big East, a conference that Ohio State is 62-29 against in its current alignment, is one that has been more than a year in the making. Ohio State and Marquette were set to meet to open the 2012 on Nov. 9, 2012 in the second annual Carrier Classic in Charleston, S.C., aboard the USS Yorktown. But the outdoor game was cancelled due to weather conditions that led to a playing surface deemed to be too slippery for a game to safely be played. The cancelled game did little to hinder a successful season for both as the 29-7 Buckeyes and 26-9 Marquette both played well into March, respective Elite Eight finishes.
Advancing into March’s second weekend, both teams saw multiple veterans return for the 2013-14 season which produced top-20 rankings. And two games in for each, both outfits look the part.
Led by senior point guard Aaron Craft’s 18-point, four-assist, four-rebound performance, Ohio State defeated in-state foe Ohio on Tuesday, 79-69. Three other Buckeyes reached double-digits, Amir Williams, 14; Sam Thompson, 12; LaQuinton Ross, 10; as eight Buckeyes in total scored for a balance scoring attack. The Bobcats provided a stauncher opponent than the one Ohio State faced in their season opening campaign when Ohio State rolled over Morgan State, 89-50.
Through two games Ohio State is shooting .450 from the field, averaging 54.5 shots, connecting on 24.5. On three-point shots Ohio State is shooting 37.2%, while knocking them down at a .740 clip from the free-throw line. The game against Ohio is true to the Buckeye way, without a premier scorer as prior seasons have seen in the likes of DeShaun Thomas, Jared Sullinger five Buckeyes have average at least 11.5 points through the first two games, led by senior shooting guard Lenzelle Smith Jr.’s 13.5 and Thompson’s 13 ppg. Atop other statistical categories are the eight and one-half and seven rebounds per game Williams and Ross are respectively grabbing, Craft leads the team with 10 assists over the two games and four steals.
Where Ohio State starts three seniors and two juniors, Marquette’s starting five is composed of three seniors, a junior and a sophomore. Also not unlike the Bucks, the Golden Eagles distribute the scoring load across the board with six players scoring on average at least eight points through their first two games.
Leading the charge for Buzz Williams’ charge is senior forward Davante Garnder, a sixth-man off the bench that has poured in 35 points through two games. Shooting .492 from the field as a team, Marquette has seen junior guard Todd Mayo, 14 ppg, sophomore guard Steve Taylor Jr., 8 ppg, and senior forward Jamil Wilson, 10.5 ppg, each attempt 14 shots over the first two games.
While he only has one point to date, a free-throw in a 63-56 win over Southern in the season opener, senior guard Derrick Wilson has distributed 13 assists, 10 in the Golden Eagles’ 114-71 win over Grambling State on Tuesday. Marquette has connected on only nine three pointers on 31 attempts, a .290 percentage, but have made 84 trips to the free throw line, nailing 52.
Marquette’s rebounding edge of 45.5-39.5, led in per-game efforts by Taylor, eight, and Wilson, five, trails Ohio State’s 44.5-33.5 edge, but Marquette has the edge in steals-per-game, six to three and one-half, and have four fewer turnovers, 21 to 25. The meeting is the tenth all-time between the two. Marquette has a 5-4 edge in the series, which has not pitted the teams against each other since Nov. 30, 1994, including wins in three of the last four contests.
Numbers to Know
Marquette and Ohio State are two of only four teams in the nation to reach the Sweet Sixteen in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments.
Senior guard Aaron Craft needs only five points to become the first Ohio State player ever with 200 steals, 500 assists and 1,000 points.
The Golden Eagles finished 16-0 at home in 2012-13 helping lead to a split regular season Big East crown.
Cast of Characters
It was LaQuinton Ross, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Williams Jr. that were expected to step up the offensive contributions following the departure of leading scoring DeShaun Thomas. While they have, it has been Thompson off the bench that has been critical to Ohio State’s success, his 55.6% shooting percentage shows he is more than a highlight reel.
Little needs said of his defensive game. Viewed as one of, if not the best perimeter defender in the nation, Craft has a well-established reputation as a lockdown guard. With the 18-point game against the Bobcats, after revamping his shooting stroke, already Craft has showed a completeness to his game that may make him the nation’s best guard, no modifiers necessary.
The big’s 9.5 ppg and 4.5 ppg may seem pedestrian, he presents an inside force. The senior is currently fifth all-time in Marquette annuals in blocked shots with 116. Otule is a sixth-year senior that received an additional year of eligibility after injuries limited him to eight games in 2011.
Steve Taylor Jr.
Taylor is a 6’7 explosive swingman that drives and crashes the boards. His range and athleticism will present the Buckeyes with a tough challenge, especially on the offensive glass as he has seven boards on that end.