VALUE CITY ARENA
Before the Ohio State football team kicks off against Michigan State in Indianapolis at the Big Ten Championship Game tonight, the Ohio State men's basketball team will tip off at 4:30 p.m. back in Columbus against Central Connecticut State University. These two teams last met back in 2007 in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Lexington. That year the Buckeyes were a one-seed in the tournament and jumped out to a 38-17 halftime lead on their way to a 78-57 win. The only time that these two squads have met in the regular season was back in 1995 when the Buckeys squeaked out a 79-72 win in Columbus.
The Buckeyes are coming off a 76-60 win over Maryland on Wednesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, in which the Ohio State held a healthy lead over the Terps for most of the game on their way to victory. LaQuinton Ross paced Ohio State with 17 points in the first half on his way to 20 points for the game. A big reason as to why the Buckeyes won on Wednesday night was because of their 3-point shooting. The Buckeyes went 8-18 from behind the arc, while Maryland was only able to go 2-18 from long range. If there was one area of concern that could come from the victory, it is that Maryland was able to out-rebound Ohio State 44-30 in the game.
The offense of the Buckeyes has struggled at times, but it is a very balanced offense. On the season the Buckeyes have six players averaging between 9.0 and 11.4 points per game, with Lenzelle Smith Jr currently being the scoring leader on the season. It looked like Ross was on his way to a big game with his 17 points in the first half on Wednesday night, but the Buckeyes didn't need much from him in the second half. The 20 points he finished with tied the 20 points that Lenzelle Smith Jr put against Wyoming for highest scoring game by a Buckeye so far this season. Five Buckeyes are shooting at least 48% from the field this season, but the big surprise has been that LaQuinton Ross is only hitting a 34.8% clip from the field.
While the shooting of the Buckeyes has been streaky so far this season, the one constant for this team has been the stellar defense that they have been playing. No team has scored 70 points in a game so far this season against the Buckeyes, and that shouldn't change today against a CCSU team that looks to be overmatched by their major conference foe. Opponents are only shooting 35.9% from the field against the Buckeyes this season, and are turning the ball over 16 times a game against the suffocating Buckeye defense. Currently the Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in scoring defense (54.3), 3-point defense (22.4%), field goal defense, and turnover margin (+4.9).
Central Connecticut State's coach Howie Dickenman is in his 18th season as Blue Devil head coach, compiling a 264-246 record to go along with three NCAA Tournament appearances. Dickenman also played at CCSU from 1966-1969, and was actually taken with the 17th overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns. While Dickenman never played in the NBA he did go on to a lengthy career as a coaching assistant, most notably serving 14 season under Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, before getting the head coaching job at his alma mater.
The Northeast Conference team has struggled out of the gates to a 2-5 record, including a 109-73 loss to Purdue in their second game of the season back on November 13th. The Blue Devils do use a lot of bodies in their games, with 10 players averaging at least 14 minutes per game so far this season. While the Blue Devils do go deep into their bench in games, they don't have a terribly tall team. 6'8" junior Juwan Newmen is the tallest player that will see the court for CCSU, which should allow for the Buckeyes to make up for the rebounding deficit that they saw against Maryland. Even though Newmen is the tallest Blue Devil, the majority of the rebounds come from 6'5" guard Matt Hunter (6.3 RPG) and 6'7" forward Faronte Drakeford (6.1 RPG).
Ohio State's defense will have to focus on shutting down guard Kyle Vinales, who is leading the Blue Devils with 19.3 points per game on the season. While CCSU has struggled so far this season, Vinales has been the lone bright spot, scoring 30 points in the season-opening loss to Yale and 29 points in the win over NJIT last Tuesday. Aside from Vinales the only other Blue Devil player that is averaging double figures in scoring on the young season is Faronte Drakeford, who is averaging 10.9 points per game through seven games.
Numbers to Know
The Buckeyes perimeter defense has paid massive dividends so far this season with the team averaging 7.3 steals per game through seven games this season.
The number of steals that Aaron Craft needs to move into fifth place all-time in the Big Ten in steals. Currently Craft has accumulated 268 steals in his Ohio State career, sitting just behind Northwestern's Pat Baldwin who notched 272 steals from 1991-94.
Ohio State's record against teams that are currently in the Northeast Conference. The Buckeyes will have a chance to run this to 10-0 in the next week as the next game Ohio State plays will be against another NEC team, Bryant University on December 11th.
Cast of Characters
The 6'1" junior guard from Detroit became the fastest player in CCSU history to reach 1,000 points last year and was named First Team All-Northeast Conference. His 21.6 PPG last year ranked in the top-10 nationally. He is one of two Blue Devils that is averaging double-figures scoring so far this season.
Also from Detroit, the 6'5" senior guard does a lot for the Blue Devils. Last year he averaged 15.7 points per game but that number has slipped to 9.3 points per game so far this season. To make up for the dip in scoring Hunter leads the team in rebounding at 6.3 rebounds per game and also is a ballhawk, grabbing 2.5 steals per game.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
In the last three games Smith has scored 10 points or more in the last three games and also pulled down at least 6 rebounds during that same span. The senior is currently leading Ohio State in scoring with 11.4 points per game.
The four alley-oop dunks that Thompson skied for against Maryland left Ohio State fans thirsting for more rim-rattling from Slam. Buckeye faithful might just get their wish against a CCSU team that isn't terribly long.