Wednesday's win over Northern Illinois wasn't pretty, but it allowed the Buckeyes to get back to .500 on the season. After enduring a stretch in which they lost four straight games early on, Ohio State has now won three of their last four games. The Buckeyes were paced by double-doubles from Jae'Sean Tate and Keita Bates-Diop, who each registered their second double-double of the young season. Along with Tate and Bates-Diop, Virginia Tech transfer Trevor Thompson was the other Buckeye who reached double figures on the score sheet, adding 10 points to go along with his eight rebounds.
A player whose shots weren't falling on Wednesday night was junior Marc Loving. After hitting double figures in scoring in the first nine games of the year, Loving was only able to score eight points against the Huskies, missing nine of the 12 shots he took from the field. Along with Loving, another player who had a forgettable performance on Wednesday night was Daniel Giddens, who racked up five fouls and two turnovers in just six minutes of action.
There also has been plenty of action off the court for Ohio State these last few days. On Thursday it was announced that freshman Austin Grandstaff intends to transfer. Grandstaff did give Ohio State a bit of pop from behind the three-point line, but his minutes were sporadic during the 10 games he played for the Buckeyes. Then on Friday Mickey Mitchell was finally cleared to play by the NCAA. While it remains to be seen how much Mitchell will play going forward, it does give Ohio State another body off the bench. With losing Grandstaff, the most obvious player who should see an uptick in playing time is Kam Williams.
Now Ohio State will see a serious step up in competition when they face a Kentucky team that is 9-1 so far this season. This is the second year of the CBS Sports Classic, which saw Ohio State take on North Carolina in Chicago last season. Next year the location shifts to Las Vegas, where Ohio State will take on UCLA, who is the only team to defeat Kentucky this season.
Buckeye fans might still have a bit of a bad taste in their mouth from the last time Ohio State and Kentucky played. In the 2011 Sweet 16, Kentucky upset Ohio State, who was the number one overall seed in the tournament, 62-60 in Newark. The Buckeyes were able to tie the game at 60 late in the game on a three-pointer from Jon Diebler, but a floater from Brandon Knight in the closing seconds was the difference in the game.
As young as Ohio State is this year, the Wildcats are even younger. The biggest difference though is Kentucky has a considerable advantage in talent to make up for their youth. Kentucky will likely start three freshmen, a sophomore, and a senior against the Buckeyes. Freshmen Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe, and Skal Labissiere have all earned at least a share of a SEC Freshman of the Week award so far this season.
Youth is nothing new for John Calipari, who has seen many freshmen make a pit stop in Lexington for just a year before moving on to the NBA. Calipari is just one win shy of 200 wins during his time at Kentucky, and during that time he has only lost 39 games. Should Calipari earn another win, he'll become the second quickest Division I men's basketball coach to reach 200 wins at a school, with Clair Bee accomplishing the feat with LIU-Brooklyn in just 231 games in the 1930s.
What really has made Kentucky go so far this season though has been the play of sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis. While Ulis might be undersized at just 5'9, he certainly has been playing big for the Wildcats this year. Ulis is the first Kentucky player since John Wall to dish out at least five assists in seven of the first nine games of the season, and is leading Kentucky with 5.4 assists per game. At times Ulis has struggled to find his shot, but he has been able to make his way to the free throw line 43 times in 10 games, which has helped him average 12.1 points per game.
Numbers to know
Through 10 games Ohio State has only had 16 of their 555 field goal attempts blocked, which is the fifth fewest in the country. On the flip side, the Buckeyes have blocked 59 of their opponents 573 field goal attempts. At 10.3% the Ohio State shot blocking rate ranks 17th best in the country. The 5.9 shots Ohio State is blocking per game ranks third best in the Big Ten.
Ohio State has amassed a 71-2 record under Thad Matta when their opponents have shot less than 35% from the field. On Wednesday night Northern Illinois only hit 26.8% of their field goal attempts, which is the lowest percentage an Ohio State opponent has shot this year. The last time an Ohio State opponent had shot less than 30% was when the Buckeyes held Rutgers to 29% in February.
Ohio State could be in for a long day if they don't find an answer to neutralize Kentucky's size down low. So far this season, 44.5% of Kentucky's points this year are coming on layups or dunks. Against Duke earlier this season, 48 of Kentucky's 74 points came on layups or dunks. Last week against Eastern Kentucky the first 16 points of the game came from inside the paint, and finished the game with 58 of their 88 points coming in the paint.
Cast of characters
After failing to reach double figures in scoring in games against Air Force and UConn, Bates-Diop found a bit of his scoring touch against Northern Illinois, putting in 14 points for the victory. Along with those 14 points, the sophomore also grabbed 10 rebounds which gave him his second double-double of the season, with the first coming in the season-opening win against Mount St. Mary's. Ohio State is going to need a similar strong effort from Bates-Diop against this talented Kentucky team.
After starting off the season slow, failing to reach double figures in three of the first five games, Tate has hit double digits in scoring in the last five games. The 17 points Tate put in against Northern Illinois was his third-best total on the season, with his season high being the 21 points he scored in the season-opener against Mount St. Mary's. Tate brought down 10 rebounds in the game as well, giving him his second double-double of the season, but this being the first in a winning effort since the first in a loss to Louisiana Tech.
While Kentucky has a number of talented freshmen on their roster, Murray has been the best of the bunch so far. The freshman from Ontario is the first player in Kentucky history to hit at least one three-pointer in his first 10 games, and is currently leading the Wildcats with 15.5 points per game. For his performances against Eastern Kentucky and Arizona State last week, Murray was named the SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday.
The second leading scorer for Kentucky so far this year is Isaiah Briscoe, who is averaging 12.2 points per game. Briscoe notched a double-double in his first game for Kentucky against NJIT, scoring 11 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in the victory. Briscoe's high point total of his young Kentucky career came in the loss to UCLA when he scored 20 points. The freshman from New Jersey has basketball in his blood, as his cousin is Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving.
How to watch
Game time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: WBNS-FM 97.1