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Ohio State fans can be forgiven for having an immediately negative visceral to the University of Delaware, given that their football uniforms look this this, but the basketball team on the court tomorrow won't be confused with Michigan by anybody.
Last year's Blue Hen squad was pretty competitive, finishing with a 19-14 record, a win over Virginia, and very close losses against Kansas State and Temple. This year's edition looks to be a step or two behind. Delaware sits at a 5-5 record, and hasn't beaten a single team with a winning record. The Blue Hens have a few close losses to what should be good teams (two point loss at Richmond, four point loss at Villanova, five point loss at Notre Dame), and losses to not so great teams (19 point loss at NDSU, two point loss to something called a Charleston Southern). The Blue Hens haven't been run out of the gym that often, but their resume so far does little to inspire confidence.
The good news for Delaware is they have a few winnable games left before league play starts (Cal Poly, Liberty), and with the relative weakness of the once formidable CAA, (thanks to league defections and some general program declines), the Blue Hens could still grab an NCAA bid if they get hot at the right time.
Like Bryant, if Delaware is going to be successful, it's because they were able to push the tempo and turn a game into a track meet. The Blue Hens are 44th nationwide in points per game, averaging 81.3 per contest. For comparison's sake, Ohio State has only scored 82 points or more in a game three times this season.
The Buckeyes, will try to continue their streak, not just of undefeated play, but of particularly efficient offense. The team has shot above 50% for five games in a row, the program’s longest such streak in 22 years. They should be able to find quality looks against the Blue Hens, so that streak could potentially carry one more game. If the undefeated streak ends though, it would be a major surprise.
Numbers to Know
You've probably read about how balanced Ohio State's scoring as been, but Delaware's may be even better. Five Blue Hens average double digits in scoring, with senior guard Devon Saddler leading the way with an impressive 23.3 points per contest. Everybody on this team can shoot, which should be a good test for Ohio State's well regarded defense.
Sure, Ohio State's schedule hasn't been the most challenging so far (okay, it's right out of the Minnesota Football playbook), but good teams are expected to crush bad teams, and that's exactly what Ohio State has been doing. The Buckeyes have been beating squads by an average of 21.6 points, good for 5th best in the country.
Cue the "HE'S HEATING UP" voice. LaQuinton Ross was expected to take a major step forward in shouldering the scoring load for the Buckeyes this season, and after averaging only 6.2 ppg over his first five games, many Buckeye fans were worried. Ross has now averaged 17.4 ppg over his last five games, and is shooting 12-23 (52.1%) from downtown over that span. That kind of hot hand will open things up a lot for his other teammates.
Cast of Characters
There are lots of Blue Hens who can score the basketball, but nobody does it more than Delaware's 6-2 senior guard. Delaware's early season struggles could on some level be pointed to the month-long absence of Saddler, who was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. Saddler can score inside and outside, and may finish as the school's all-time scoring leader. Craft, Scott and the rest of the Buckeyes will need to make sure Saddler can't be efficient from the floor, and can't drive to the basket.
Not to be confused with Devon, Davon brings a little size to the Blue Hen lineup, and can also score in bunches, as he's second on the team with 18.1 ppg, while also grabbing 6.4 rebounds a game. Usher has hit double digits in all but two of this games, one of which was his most recent, an eight point clunker against NDSU on 2-13 shooting. Usher leads the team in three point attempts, with 71 (7.1 a game), but isn't afraid to go to the basket, or get into passing lanes (1.9 steals per game). Usher has occasionally struggled with fouls, and the Blue Hens really need his size and scoring on the court as much as possible.
The freshman forward has improved every game, and may prove himself to be a valuable shooter off the bench. Loving scored a season high 12 points in his last game against NDSU, and has scored at least seven in half of the games this year. Loving is one of the few Buckeyes who has proven to be a great free throw shooter (82.8%), and with his height (6-7), he may find himself able to create more scoring opportunities for himself against the Blue Hens. A confident Loving could be a dangerous weapon in Big Ten play.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
After a slower start to season, Lenzelle is the leading scorer for the Buckeyes, adding 13.4 ppg. Lenzelle has been consistent (six consecutive games in double figures), efficient, (53.7 FG%) and dangerous behind the arc (48.9% from three on 4.5 attempts per game), while also rebounding well for his position (5.4 boards a game). Lenzelle might not necessarily be the guy Buckeye fans may count on to carry the top scoring burden, but he's lighting it up from long range and brings a lot to the table now.