Ohio State enters its matchup with No. 5 Louisville Tuesday night not having been tested much in its first five games of the season. With that said, coach Thad Matta has to be pleased with the progression of his team infused with veteran leadership and freshman fire power.
Freshman guard D'Angelo Russell and senior guard Shannon Scott have directed the Ohio State offense to heights even Matta could not have predicted this early in the season. The Buckeyes have scored 90-plus points in three-of-five games so far this season -- a staunch contrast to the offensively challenged squad the Buckeyes put on the floor in 2013-14.
Scott's play has him looking like one of the best two-way players going into the Big Ten season. The 6-foot-1 guard's defensive prowess was well documented a season ago when he and former Buckeye Aaron Craft would often terrorize opposing backcourts. This season Scott is stepping into his shot with confidence and finding his new teammates on a consistent basis.
Scott's 10.4 assists per game leads the Big Ten by almost five full assists. His unselfish play has opened things up for Russell to show his uncanny ability to fill up the basket and it has given players like forward Marc Loving the ability to progress.
Russell has come right into Matta's system and flourished with and without the ball. He leads the team in scoring at 18.0 points per game and appears to be one of the most dangerous guards in the conference as a freshman.
The Buckeyes will have to bring their A-game against the fifth-ranked Cardinals on the road Tuesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Cardinals have won 30 consecutive non-conference home games, which is the eighth longest streak in the country.
Coach Rick Pitino brings a team that will trap and use its tempo to run an opposition into submission. Russell and Scott have to take care of the basketball and continue to find bigs rolling to the basket. If the Buckeyes -- who have been playing up-tempo all season -- get into a running game with Louisville, it could favor the Cardinals in the end.
Matta on UL: They come at you in waves. They can really get on runs. Taking care of the ball; that's the thing we have to do a great job of.— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) December 1, 2014
The Cardinals have not been challenged much on the season either, despite their season-opening victory against Minnesota and Rick Pitino's son -- Richard Pitino -- in Puerto Rico.
Louisville is winning by an average of 30.6 points per game and it leads the country in rebounding with 48.8 rebounds per game as a team.
Junior forward Montrezl Harrell leads the way for Louisville with 17.4 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game in his first five contests. The Buckeyes' front court is going to have to work hard to keep Harrell and freshman Chinanu Onuaku off the offensive boards and hold the Cardinals to one shot on each possession.
Numbers to know:
Rick Pitino picked up his 700th career victory in a 45-33 victory against Cleveland State Nov. 26. He is one of five active coaches in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. This will be one of the few times Thad Matta might be out matched on the coaching end this season.
Louisville is 25-5 in December games over the last four seasons and 13-1 in such games the last two seasons. Pitino knows how to get his team ready for early season games and normally has them clicking at home against top competition.
With Scott leading the country in assists, the Buckeyes are ranked 6th nationally in helpers with 19.4 assists per game. It remains a key for Ohio State to share the ball and control tempo against Louisville. The Buckeyes want to run, but they must get set and run half court offense if the opportunities are not there. They cannot get careless and turn the ball over.
Cast of characters:
With the backcourt playing with such poise, the game has opened up for the sophomore forward from Toledo, Ohio. Loving's game has matured and he's shooting the ball at an outstanding clip from the field (.581). His 12.0 points per game is tied for second on the team and Matta has to be ecstatic with the way he's shooting from the perimeter as well.
The highlights continue to roll on for Thompson. The senior forward from Chicago is having a stellar early season -- also averaging 12.0 points per game -- and continues to bring a spark to Ohio State's offense. When ever the Buckeyes need some energy Thompson brings it with his high flying dunks and defensive pressure. There should be plenty of opportunities to see him in the open floor against Louisville's press.
Jones has been the spark plug for Louisville so far this season. The former junior college transfer has been active on both ends of the floor and leads the team in steals with 2.4 per game. Jones' defensive pressure could cause a lot of problems for the Buckeyes and he's trouble if left open on offense. He leads the team with a 30.4 percent clip from three-point range.
Harrell's biggest advantage is his ability to crash the glass and get the opponent into foul trouble. He leads the team in scoring (17.4 ppg) and rebounding (8.8 rpg) and often helps clean up the back end of the defense when opponents occasionally break the Louisville press. It will be interesting to see if the Buckeyes can contain Harrell enough on the glass to hold the Cardinals to one shot each time down the floor.
How to watch, listen, and stream
Game time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Vegas: Louisville opened as a 10-point favorite. The line is now 8, per our partners, OddsShark.