So far, the Ohio State's men's basketball team has played eleven games, and won all eleven games by double digit points. Okay, so that's not particularly impressive given who they've played so far. Due to Marquette's struggles against any team with a pulse, and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge matching them up against Maryland, Ohio State comes into this game against Notre Dame largely untested. They may potentially get one against the Fighting Irish, who have been an up-and-down squad this season.
Led by Jerian Grant and Garrick Sherman, the Irish – 8-3 in their first ACC season – boast a win against Indiana and a tough defeat at Iowa, as well as losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State. Grant, brother of potential first round pick Jerami at Syracuse, has re-established his draft value in its own right this season. The redshirt junior is averaging 19.1 points per game on 11.6 shots, for a true shooting percentage of .653, which is good for fourth in ACC. On top of that, he's leading the NCAA in AST% at 33.3 while averaging 6.4 assists per game. Slowing down Grant will be the biggest part of Ohio State's game plan.
Outside of Grant, the Irish feature Sherman – sporting what could be best described as an unkempt monstrosity of a beard – a 6'11 senior center out of Kenton, Ohio that started his college basketball career at Michigan State before moving to South Bend. Sherman tends to play up to competition. His best games last season happened against Marquette and Louisville twice, and this season he's already scored 29 against Iowa and 16 against Indiana. Pat Connaughton will also be an extremely difficult mark. The three-point specialist is averaging 13.9 points per game on 45.6% shooting from beyond the three point line. Overall, Notre Dame's offensive rating of 118.8 is good for 16th in the NCAA.
This is the first test that Ohio State will have faced in a month (again, not counting Maryland as a test. Sorry, Terps). However, the Buckeyes seemingly have taken that month to really improve upon their offensive efficiency. Their true shooting percentage is in the top 20% of the country, and their assist-to-turnover ratio is in the top third. This has led to a points-per-possession rating of 1.15, which is good for 39th in the country and fourth in the Big Ten. I've maintained that Ohio State has the best defense in the country for a while now, but it seems like the offense is finally catching up for the Buckeyes. They'll need both against this Fighting Irish team.
Numbers to Know
Notre Dame's turnover percentage. While the Buckeyes aren't as reliant defensively on turnovers as, say, Louisville is, a big part of their offensive game is getting easy buckets in transition off of steals. The Fighting Irish are in the top 20 in the NCAA in their ability to not turn the ball over
Notre Dame's assist percentage this season. Notre Dame is assisting on 66.6% of their made shots, which is fifth in the NCAA. What these two statistics mean is that Notre Dame is a team that likes to pass the ball around to get open shots, but isn't careless with it. That's the greatest sign of an efficient offense. Luckily Ohio State has the next stat in their favor...
Ohio State's opponents' points-per-possession: Ohio State is holding their opponents to .84 points-per-possession, which is first in the country. Yep, by pretty much every imaginable statistic Ohio State is the best defensive team in the country.
Cast of Characters
I've already spoken at length about him, but here are some more absurd stats. He's become a 40% three-point shooter after hovering in the 34% range his first two seasons. He shoots 88% from the free-throw line. His TOV% is a miniscule 9.6%, which is insane for a PG with a usage of 23%. Yup, this kid can play.
After shooting 42% on threes last season, Atkins has seen his percentage dip to 37% this season. While that's far from bad, they're going to need him against Ohio State. Notre Dame's going to try to shoot Ohio State out of the gym in this game, and it's going to be important for Ohio State to close out on their shooters in spot up situations. The three-pointer matchup is going to be the biggest part of this game. Ohio State is second in the nation, allowing only 24.7% of threes against them. If that continues, Ohio State should win going away.
His lightbulb has firmly been switched into the "on" position, and Ohio State's offense is flourishing because of it. Ross is shooting 57% from the field and 56% from the three point line over his last six games, averaging 17.7 points per game over that time frame.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Smith is actually the man leading the Buckeyes in scoring this season at 13.5 points per game. In fact, sports-reference.com has Smith leading the Big Ten in win shares per 40 minutes. He has a 24.7 PER, a TS% of .689 (2nd in the Big Ten), passes and rebounds well, plus he plays exceptional defense every night. He's been Ohio State's MVP so far this season, and it's incredible to think about given how far he's come.