Ohio State last took the floor on Tuesday night against an overmatched Air Force team. The Buckeyes reeled off their second straight win, a necessary morale booster, and a good sign -- they're finally starting to put away teams that they should clearly beat.
Playing without big man Daniel Giddens for a second straight game thanks to a hamstring issue, the Buckeyes nevertheless took it to the Falcons. Thad Matta's teams have played some unwatchably-bad offensive basketball at times during the last few years, but defense has always been a strong suit, and the Air Force game saw the team exert its best defensive effort of the season. The Falcons mustered just 50 points even without facing Ohio State's best rim protector in Giddens. They had just 16 points at halftime, and were held scoreless for almost the entire final seven minutes of the first.
Marc Loving paced the Buckeyes with 18 points, posting a double-double. He's scored in double figures in all eight games this season. The team shot 47.4% from the floor and forced Air Force into a number of bad shots, with the Falcons totaling just 33.3%.
UConn, Ohio State's next opponent, also tipped off on Tuesday evening. The Huskies are on something of a Big Ten kick this year, having already faced Michigan before hosting Maryland earlier this week. The sixth-ranked Terrapins were the better team in Storrs that night. Melo Trimble and company took care of UConn in the Jimmy V Classic to the tune of 76-66, dropping Kevin Ollie's team to 5-3 on the season.
Things could have gotten really out of hand for the Huskies, who trailed by as much as 20 in the first half and were down 16 at the break. But they came out firing in the second, working to erase the deficit (and looking capable of doing just that) when a technical foul on Ollie killed the momentum and helped create a sequence that brought the Terps' lead from three to eight. It was a tough pill to swallow for UConn, but it did prove that the Huskies can hang with anyone, even a top-10 opponent. A team with as much fire as Ollie's, and as adept at sharing the scoring load, should worry Ohio State fans.
Numbers to know
The Buckeyes aren't exactly a force to be reckoned with from the free throw line: they're shooting just under 64% at the charity stripe through eight games. They'll need to do better than that, especially against a UConn team averaging almost a 75% clip from the line. For the Buckeyes, who are putting up 75 points per game, leaving some on the table is a luxury they can't afford.
Freshman Daniel Giddens has missed the last two games for the Buckeyes, and while they didn't need him to dispatch VMI or Air Force, his presence would be welcome against the Huskies. Giddens was averaging 3.3 blocks per game before his injury, showing off just how good he can be as a rim protector. (For reference, no other Buckeye is even close -- Keita Bates-Diop is second on the team, with 1.1 blocks per game.) Giddens is a baaaaaaad free throw shooter, but if he's healthy enough to play against UConn, his defense could more than make up for it.
UConn turns the ball over an even 10 times per game. That's four fewer than the Buckeyes. It's understandable that a team with no seniors and just one junior would struggle with ball control, so there's no need to hit the panic button just yet. But Ohio State could find itself down early if the Huskies can create points off of the mistakes, mistakes which Ollie's players don't make nearly as often.
Cast of characters
Ohio State's sophomore center has done an admirable job filling in for the injured Daniel Giddens. If Giddens still can't go against the Huskies, Thompson will have to keep up his solid-if-unspectacular run of play. Like Giddens, Thompson doesn't rack up a ton of points -- he's at 5.5 per game on the season so far. But he's still a valuable asset on a young team, and he'll be needed to shut down 7'0 Huskies center Amida Brimah if Giddens remains on the bench.
Loving has come into his own this season after a streaky first few years with the Buckeyes. He's almost doubled his shot attempts and points per game, no surprise given that he is now the most experienced player on the team, and is no longer playing with guys like D'Angelo Russell. Loving still struggles with consistency, evidenced by his performance in the upset loss to UT-Arlington, his worst game of the year, but he has also showed up big in tight spots for Ohio State. In a hard-fought game against then-No. 10 Virginia, Loving notched 19 points and shot almost 64% from the floor, his best showing of the year in that category.
The 6'8 junior leads the Buckeyes in scoring in 2015. They'll need him at his best if they want to beat UConn, a team that edges the Buckeyes in almost every major offensive category.
Much in the same way that Loving has put in his best work against the Buckeyes' best competition, Daniel Hamilton has acquitted himself well against the Huskies' tough schedule. No one on Kevin Ollie's team is lighting up the scoring sheet this season -- they do a masterful job of sharing the load, with four scorers coming in at 11.9 PPG or better -- but Hamilton is on top of the list, and it became most apparent in the Huskies' loss to Maryland earlier this week.
Hamilton, a 13.9 PPG scorer, notched 23 points against the Terrapins, ranked no. 6 in the country heading into that contest. The Huskies fell short, though not from a lack of effort on his part. Hamilton also showed up big in UConn's overtime loss to Syracuse earlier this season, playing 43 minutes and recording 18 points against the Orange. If there's one player the Buckeyes need to neutralize to take control of this game, it'll be Hamilton.
Miller, a senior forward, might be the Huskies' most versatile player. To get to his 12.1 points per game, he's shooting 60.7%, good for second-best of the starters. He also pulls down 4.9 boards per game, along with 1.3 blocks. Miller is a veteran who could be a tough matchup for the Buckeyes -- he's a robust 6'7, 210 pounds, and could exploit a Giddens-less defense near the hoop. Miller also hails from Euclid, Ohio, adding some in-state fuel to the fire.
How to watch
Game time: 12 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 FM