Ohio State brings its new, high-powered offense to the United Center in Chicago for a showdown with No. 24 North Carolina 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Buckeyes (9-1) bounced back nicely after a poor showing in their first contest against a nationally ranked opponent. Ohio State is averaging 15 more points per game this season than a year ago, and yet looked like that same offensively inept team against fourth-ranked Louisville.
Since its 64-55 loss on the road against the Cardinals, Ohio State has outscored its overmatched opponents, 351-219, and its ball movement has been impeccable. The Buckeyes are third in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in assists per game with 17.4. Senior point guard Shannon Scott leads the way for the Buckeyes with a Big Ten best 7.8 assists per game.
Scott's play has been electric early in the season. His court vision has been sensational and he's finding his cutting teammates at a tremendous rate. However, it remains to be seen if Scott can keep up his early season pace against top competition, especially when conference play rolls around. Scott struggled mightily against Louisville, after all.
Louisville was able to stymie Scott's penetration and make the Buckeyes look putrid offensively. Against a struggling, but athletic North Carolina team, Ohio State must do a better job of getting into the teeth of the defense and knocking down open shots when they are presented.
The Tar Heels (7-3) are reeling after losing a pair of early season games against unranked opponents. Butler blitzed then-fifth-ranked North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, 74-66, and made people wonder if the Tar Heels were really worthy of the top five ranking they possessed to start the season.
After Iowa came into the Dean Smith Center and took out the Tar Heels with a hard fought 60-55 victory, the Tar Heels plummeted down the rankings.
There is no surprise that the Tar Heels' struggles have coincided with the struggles preseason All-American Marcus Paige. The junior guard is shooting below 35 percent from the floor and is only averaging 3.5 assists per game. In a match up of teams that want to get out and run, it will be interesting to which starting point guard does a better job of running the show.
Scott, whose father Charlie played at North Carolina in the late 1960s, has a chance to show his vast improvement on a national stage against one of the best point guards in the country. If he can cause trouble for Paige on the defensive end and get his team involved offensively, the Buckeyes will have a solid chance of defeating the Tar Heels in the Windy City.
Despite looking overmatched against Kentucky's front line, the Tar Heels are still one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Ohio State's new zone defense has shown its worth by forcing its opponents to settle for jump shots and make careless passes, but Ohio State has struggled to protect the defensive boards.
The Buckeyes must make an extra effort to box out and keep North Carolina off the glass, or it will be a long afternoon for Ohio State's front court.
Numbers to Know:
This is the number of rebounds North Carolina averages on the season thus far, which is good for fourth in the country. The Tar Heels are bound to get a lot of opportunities to shoot long threes against Ohio State's zone, and the Buckeyes have to keep them off the glass in order to get into transition offense.
Ohio State is shooting a whopping 53.7 percent from the floor, which is good for third nationally. This number could be due to the competition, which hasn't been too heavy besides Ohio State's matchup against Louisville. The shots will be high-pressure and the lay-ups will be heavily contested against North Carolina. Ohio State has to be ready.
The Buckeyes average 9.7 steals per game as a team, continuing Ohio State's great pressure defense that Aaron Craft made famous in his four seasons in Columbus. Ohio State has to continue to force turnovers so they can get easy buckets against the Tar Heels in transition.
Cast of Characters:
The freshman from Pickerington, Ohio, has been the ultimate spark plug for the Buckeyes this season. He's seemingly everywhere on the court and the ball always seems to find him. Tate is averaging almost five rebounds per game in just 19.2 minutes of action. He's going to be a huge factor when Big Ten play starts.
Russell's impact has been huge for Ohio State's offense. Finally the Buckeyes have a guy who can take and make contested shots. He's the second highest freshman scorer in the country, averaging 18.0 points per game and he's shooting 43.1 percent from long range. Russell will have a chance to show NBA scouts his talents this weekend in Chicago.
As mentioned before, Paige has struggled from the field this season, but he's due for a big game. Big players tend to step up on the big stages and this is a great time for the junior to come out of his slump. The Buckeyes still have to make sure they don't leave Paige open or let him gain any confidence early in the game.
The sophomore from Charlotte, N.C., has improved greatly since his first season at Chapel Hill. In 22.5 minutes per game, Meeks is averaging 9.1 rebounds. He uses his size well to push defenders out of the way, much like Jared Sullinger once did at Ohio State. Meeks could be a huge factor Saturday if he can get on the offensive glass.
How to Watch:
TV: 1:00 p.m., CBS (Channel 1010 on Time Warner Columbus/Delaware)
Radio: 97.1 The Fan