Ohio State's warm up rounds roll on when as they host the UT Arlington Mavericks from the Sun Belt conference.
Ohio State has handled its early competition with ease so far, topping 75 points in their games against Mount St. Mary's and Grambling State and beating each team by at least 20. Ten Buckeyes have logged double-digit minutes through two games as Thad Matta rotates through different lineups to find this team's groove. Expect more of the same tonight against another lesser opponent. New Buckeyes Daniel Giddens, JaQuan Lyle, Trevor Thompson, Austin Grandstaff, A.J. Harris, and David Bell all have another opportunity to show their coaches they're ready for the big stage.
So far, only Lyle and Giddens from this freshman class have impressed. Grandstaff in particular has looked lethargic and outmatched, but that's to be expected to some degree for a true freshman. Grandstaff is from the Dallas area originally, near UT Arlington, so we'll see if his game steps up when his hometown college team comes calling.
The Mavericks visit Columbus coming off a 12-point loss to Louisiana Tech. Although leading by 10 through the first half, UT Arlington allowed Louisiana Tech to rally back. UT Arlington won their first game against Fordham.
Interestingly, UT Arlington's next game is against Memphis, who is also looming large on Ohio State's schedule. After playing the team in real life, Ohio State coaches and staff will have the unique opportunity to watch players they know square off against a big-time opponent. It will be an excellent scouting opportunity.
Numbers to know
Four Ohio State players are averaging double digit points per game, which is a good sign early on. This team is missing a true star (No, I don't count Marc Loving as a star...) and must rely instead on reliable team ball and maximizing every player's scoring opportunities. Past Ohio State teams have run through one or two players - LaQuinton Ross, Jared Sullinger, etc. This team has no scoring machine, and so far its borne out that points are coming from multiple sources. Look for Matta to continue spreading the ball out to give all players the chance to score.
That would be UT Arlington's KenPom ranking. It's not as bad as Grambling State, who is dead last in Ken Pom, and only slightly worse than Mount St. Mary's at 194, but it's a pretty bad mismatch for 38th ranked Ohio State. These awful opponents are one reason why Ohio State is ranked 210th in strength of schedule this year, per CBS Sports, which is particularly bad considering powerhouses like Memphis, Virginia, UConn and Kentucky are on the Buckeyes' out of conference schedule before brutal Big Ten play even begins. Tuneups are nice, but Ohio State may need to find some sturdier punching bags.
As in, 6 dollars, the cheapest ticket available on Stubhub for this game. Yes, its in the nosebleed section and yes, parking is a bear at Ohio State, but for 6 dollars, if you're not busy tomorrow night, go to this game! The Schottenstein Center serves beer now, so you can even combine your bar night with a basketball game. If you're feeling flush, $16 gets you into the second level behind the baskets. There's really no excuse for not seeing this team play in person.
Cast of characters
I'll admit that Williams is my favorite player to watch on this team. He's got a bottomless supply of energy, and is always buzzing around the court, annoying opponents, dribbling through defenses, and taking awful shots only to get his own rebound. His dribbling is just mesmerizing:
The best part is that Williams is stepping up his game, statistically, as well. Although he went without a score in the Mount St. Mary's game, Williams poured on 22 in the Grambling State game, adding in 5 rebounds and 4 steals. Williams has the energy and talent to be a spark for this team, and I'm betting that he'll become a leader for this young Buckeye squad.
Another sophomore already starting out strong in his second campaign, Bates-Diop has turned in reliable numbers through two games. Most notably, Bates-Diop gathered in 8 rebounds against Grambling and 10 versus Mount St. Mary's, demonstrating his nose for the ball and ability to use every inch of his 6-7 height. Bates-Diop has notched 3 blocks and 24 points across those two games. If he can keep that pace consistently, he'll be precisely the type of reliable, high-floor scorer that this Ohio State team needs.
Sophomore Erick Neal is the stat leader for the Mavericks, averaging 15 points, 4.5 assists and 4 rebounds through two games. Neal is just 5-11, and a waifish 160 lbs, so he must be fooling teams into underestimating him to put up these kinds of numbers with those physical attributes. Ohio State's defense should be able to shut Neal down, but he's shown a knack for getting buckets so far this year.
First, Junior Faith Pope is worth calling out just for his fantastic name. Second, Pope is statistically on fire this season from long-range, making 67% of his three point attempts. It's a small sample size (2 games) and he's only shot three attempts, but, in the venerable words of NBA Jam, "He's heating up!" Ohio State needs to watch out for the flaming ball, or Faith Pope will burn the Buckeyes from outside.
How to watch
Game time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 The Fan