The Ohio State Buckeyes open their 2015-16 regular season basketball campaign Sunday at noon against Mount St. Mary's. It will be the second all-time meeting between the schools, the first one coming in 1989, a 102-63 victory for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State enters this game fresh off of a 92-82 exhibition win from a week ago against Division II Walsh, and while it's nothing to take too strongly, our first glimpse of the new Buckeyes was promising. JaQuan Lyle nearly had a triple double with 16 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Marc Loving and Keita Bates-Diop filled the roles that the Buckeyes were hoping out of them, as they also provided plenty of scoring.
How the rotation is handled in this game is going to be much more telling than the exhibition was. It is common for coaches to experiment with rotations early in the season, as well as playing some guys that might not otherwise get time in the season, as they get a feel for who is really going to produce for the team.
Mount St. Mary's comes into this game fresh off of an early test against the favorite to win the Big Ten in No. 3 Maryland. The Mountaineers lost by a score of 80-56. Guard BK Ashe had 18 points for the Mountaineers, and tied a career high with seven rebounds. The Mountaineers are no strangers to these early tests against major schools, so to take them lightly might not be the best idea.
The aforementioned Ashe is one of Mount St. Mary's best players, and will be key to their success in this game. Him, along with forward Gregory Graves, and sophomore guard Junior Robinson will be the names to look for on the Mount St. Mary's side. The three carried the load offensively for the Mountaineers last season, and will be at the head of any upset that they might have in mind.
While not the most experienced player on the roster, Robinson may be a guy to really watch for in this game. His freshman season last year, he averaged over eight points, and over three assists, the best assist per game average on the team. He also had the best assist to turnover ratio among ball-handling players on his team. Expect the offense to run through the young man's hands.
The most fun thing to watch for in this game though will be to see how the young talent on Ohio State plays. We know what we expect out of the returning players, but to see the potential in one of Thad Matta's best recruiting classes will absolutely be something to keep an eye on. We saw flashes of greatness from JaQuan Lyle in the first game, but would love to see more out of Daniel Giddens underneath the basket. Both will be key for the Buckeyes moving forward this season.
Numbers to know
The Buckeyes are 11-0 under Thad Matta in season openers at home. That record doesn't seem to be in jeopardy Sunday, but the way the college basketball season has started with major programs falling to much lesser opponents, sometimes you just never know. Though, it wouldn't be a safe bet to bet against the Buckeyes in this one.
With a win on Sunday, Thad Matta would collect his 300th win as the coach of the Buckeyes. Matta is already the all-time wins leader for basketball coaches at Ohio State, after he passed Fred Taylor, who had 297 last season after the Buckeyes win over VCU in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. A 300th win in Columbus would be a great way to start his 12th season at the helm.
The Buckeyes scored 102 points in their only meeting against the Mountaineers, and while it would be ideal for them to score that many in this one, for them not to would not be a surprise. The Buckeyes still need time to get game experience with each other, but if they are able to cross the triple-digit threshold, it would absolutely be welcomed.
Cast of characters
Bates-Diop had a great game for the Buckeyes in their exhibition win against Walsh. While an exhibition game against a Divison II team is nothing to put a lot of weight into, to see him have a high scoring game like he did with 26 points and 8 rebounds is a good sign. He is one of the returning guys on this team as a sophomore, and leadership and production from him along the course of the season could go a long way for this year's Buckeyes.
Loving is one of the older guys on this team, but only a junior. He too had a good performance in the exhibition, and needs to not only be a leader for the Buckeyes in the locker room, but also on the court. His stroke from behind the arc is deadly, and a good season for him from deep would be a great contributing factor, as it seems all great college basketball teams in recent memory have at least one great 3-point shooter.
Mount St. Mary's
The senior forward Graves was named to the preseason All-Northeast Conference team this season. Last season, he averaged 10.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Based on his minutes per game and shooting percentage, Graves is one of Mount St. Mary's best 3-point shooters returning from last season. His team will largely go as far as he carries them with his performance.
Ashe was the leading scorer last season for Mount St. Mary's in his sophomore season, averaging almost 12 points per game at the guard position. He, like Gregory Graves, was named to the preseason All-NEC team. He isn't going to kill you with his passing ability, as he didn't have a ton of assists last year and had quite a low average. His entire game is revolved around his scoring, and if that isn't going well for him, Mount St. Mary's is easily disadvantaged because of it.
How to watch
Game time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 The Fan