Sure, the biggest lights will be shining on the Buckeye football team as they tussle with Wisconsin on Saturday, but the #4 ranked Basketball Buckeyes have a game too. Casual basketball fans might look at the Rhode Island name and think "hey, that's not a terrible team. I vaguely remember them being on the tournament bubble, it could be a nice game for Ohio State". That was true in recent memory, but not for last year's Rhode Island squad, and early returns are not promising for the A-10's Rams.
After 4 years of winning at least 20 games, Rhode Island finally fell apart last year, winning only 7 games. They managed to sneak up and upset a few decent A 10 teams (Dayton, NCAA tourney participant Saint Louis and Umass), but were mostly blown out forcing the departure of head coach Jim Baron, who has been replaced by former Wagner headman Dan Hurley.
Right now, the Rams are sitting at a Pomeroy ranking of 273 (just behind Sam Houston State, which is CLEARLY not a real state), and an 0-2 ranking after dropping a home game to Norfolk State by 12, and a road game to Virgina Tech by 19. The Rams also have non conference matchups with NCAA tourney participant Loyola Maryland, George Mason, Providence and Saint Mary's later on, so they'll need to grow up in a hurry or find themselves in a big hole.
The Rams' best player is probably Senior forward Nikola Malesevic, who can both rebound and shoot from distance. After shooting 45% from three his sophomore year, his percentage fell to 30% last year. He's 3-5 from long range in his first two games, and without many dependable scoring options, Rhode Island will need a big, and efficient game from him if they have any hope of competing. 6-8 senior Ryan Brooks is the other big man in the starting lineup. Brooks is not much for a scoring threat, but is capable of rebounding and blocking shots (8 board and 4 blocks against Norfolk State). Freshman Jordan Hare will also get minutes out of the frontcourt. He's the tallest of the three (6'10), but isn't a polished rebounder or a scorer yet. Freshman forward Mike Aaman may also see burn if Rhode Island needs extra fouls or rebounding reinforcements.
The bulk of Rhode Island's scoring is going to come from their backcourt, manned by sophomore Mike Powell and JUCO transfer Xavier Munford. Powell showed some explosiveness near the end of his freshman campaign, especially against St.Bonaventure, when he dropped 20 points, but his first two games this season have been awful, where he has shot a combined 2-16 from the floor. Munford was a high regarded player at Iowa Western, where he averaged 16.6 ppg, but has also started a little slow. Munford led the Rams with 24 points and 6 assists against Virgina Tech, but has been very inefficient, mostly because of his staggering 3-19 start from 3 point land. Ohio State will be perfectly content to watch Munford lay brick after brick from downtown should he so chose, but he's capable of doing some damage if he's a little more selective with his shot. Senior Andre Malone fills out the 3rd guard slot in the starting rotation. He had a rough season last year, derailed by injuries and inconsistency, and will also need to step up if Rhode Island is going to do well this year. At 6'6, he provides needed size for a smaller Rams squad.
On paper, this looks like it should be a bit of a mismatch. Rhode Island's small guard duo (Powell is only 5'11, Munford 6'2) will be pressured into poor decisions and turnovers by the Buckeye's tenacious Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. Should they venture into the paint, they'll find themselves at a bigger size disadvantage. Over their first two games, Rhode Island has averaged a paltry 5 assists a game, against two squads that are not nearly as ballhawking as the Buckeyes, and poor ball movement often leads to contested shots. The Rams have really struggled with shooting as a team, not just because Powell and Munford have missed a gazillion three pointers, and it's hard to envision a situation where that doesn't continue against Matta's strong team defense.
There are a few interesting things to watch here as a Buckeyes fan. First, can Ohio State improve on the glass? Amir Williams and Evan Ravenel were at times passive, out of position, or both, letting an undersized Albany team get second chance opportunities, and ultimately outrebound Ohio State 29-28. Rhode Island only has one guy on the roster taller than 6-8 (a freshman) and with the way they've been shooting, there will be plenty of missed shots to be swallowed up. Look for Williams, Ravenel, and even Thomas to improve with their glass cleaning efforts on Saturday, or look for Matta to send them back to the bench.
The other interesting to watch should be Ohio State's three point shooting. Coming into the season, outside shooting was certainly not expected to be a strength of the team, but the Bucks shot 12-20 against Albany, lead by Aaron Craft's 5 three pointers. Craft had apparently spend quite a bit of time in the gym over the summer working on his shot, and it'll be interesting to see if his hot hand can continue into another game. A Craft that can shoot 40% from downtown would really open up the office for Ohio State, and give them another dangerous weapon to complement Deshaun Thomas.
Holy Diver. It doesn't look like the Rams will match up well with Ohio State at all. Look for them to send the defensive pressure get the Ram guards out of synch early, and then empty the bench a little later in the game, as the Buckeyes coast to a comfortable win, 82-57.