Is there a better way to overwrite the memory of Sunday's embarrassing 25 point loss to Indiana than a home matchup against the conference's worst team? Of course, the Buckeyes have had their issues with lesser teams this year already, but Rutgers may be arguably worse than both UT Arlington and Louisiana Tech. This team is the definition of cupcake.
Things are bad in New Jersey. Sitting at 6-11, Rutgers is 0-4 in Big Ten play, tied for last place with Minnesota. The Scarlet Knights lost their last three games by a combined 81 points. Yes, the 44 point loss to Nebraska last week skews the numbers a bit, but the last three matches all ended in at least 20 point losses. See, Buckeye faithful, things could be worse! (And Rutgers students have to live in Jersey, to boot.)
Ohio State, meanwhile, was on a roll until derailing at Assembly Hall on Sunday, winning 7 in a row since upsetting Kentucky. The Buckeyes actually looked like they were going to find a way to meld into a feasible basketball squad, cobbling together wins even when things didn't have much flow or finesse. Things aren't too far gone yet, though. Ohio State is still just a game out of first place in the Big Ten (it's early, relax...), and holding onto a 61st place ranking via KenPom. The Buckeyes need every win they can get to offset a mediocre out of conference showing, and could use a tuneup before facing down ranked opponents Maryland and Purdue after Wednesday's game.
Numbers to know
Nine Buckeyes are averaging double-digit minutes so far this year, an uncharacteristic stat for Thad Matta who usually doesn't go that deep into the bench. What does this suggest? Well, either Matta hasn't settled on a core 7 players who can rotate reliably, or the play so far has been so random that Matta has to throw different lineups up to find one that works. (Yes, those ideas aren't mutually exclusive.) My money is on the former, though - there's a lot of young talent on this team and it's not clear yet what lineups produce the intangible synergies that this team needs. Against Indiana Ohio State played a lot of two PG lineups with both JaQuan Lyle and A.J. Harris, but that's the first time we've seen the two of them used so heavily. As conference play continues and the real stars on this team emerge, it will be interesting to see who's playing time decreases.
Jae'Sean Tate is shooting 47% from the free throw line. That number is inexcusable. Shaquille O'Neal, by comparison, shot 52% over his career, and he was notoriously bad (Hack-a-Shaq, anyone?). This team desperately needs points and cannot afford to have a free throw shooting liability like Tate to give opponents an avenue to victory during tight games. I love Tate as much as the next fan, and I think his energy, shot creation and rebounding are excellent, but that free throw percentage has to rise above 50/50.
Greg Lewis, the 6'9, 240 lb beast of a forward for Rutgers, has 17 blocks so far this season. Rutgers has played 17 games. So that's....pretty good. But Ohio State's Daniel Giddens has 24 and Trevor Thompson has 35. So, nice try Rutgers, but the Buckeyes' big men are going to get 3 blocks for every 1 Lewis bats around. Your best just isn't good enough.
Cast of characters
Harris needs to find a way to score more points. He's averaging 2.2 points on the season, which is way too low for a player as talented as Harris is. It's true he's only averaging 12.5 points per game, but he's so blindingly fast that he should be beating his matchup to shooting spots and beating opposing defenses down the lane. It seems that Matta hasn't found the right way to play Harris yet, and he may be stuck in the training wheels portion of the Thad Matta school of defense, but to my eyes, he needs more playing time and he needs to use his physical skills to score.
Williams has been hot and cold over the last few games. He's got the ability to be an absolute dagger of a shooter, proving the point when he dropped 21 on Northwestern, but he seems to be unable to keep up his production consistently. He's still a nice spark off the bench, and his on the floor demeanor indicates that he knows how to run the Buckeye offense very well. Williams seems to be maturing into the Sam Thompson role - mature, leader, OK offensive producer and solid team member. But, like Thompson, the potential is there for Williams to unlock some next level abilities and become a powerful member of this team. Against a poor Rutgers opponent, maybe Williams can find his groove.
Rutger's best player is guard Corey Sanders. He plays the most minutes, scores the most points ,and deals out the most assists (by a lot) on the whole team. Still, though, Sanders is averaging just 13 points a game, and there's only two other players in double digit averages this year on the Rutgers roster, so watch for the Buckeyes to hone in on Sanders and shut his scoring down. Sanders is dangerous from long, which is an area that bit Ohio State pretty hard last Sunday, so he provides a good test of the adjustments the Buckeyes have made to their defensive schemes.
At 6'10, 240 lbs, Diallo is another big forward on this Rutgers team. He's been a rebounding machine in his 15 minutes per game this year, gathering in nearly four per game, and he's shooting 48% from the field, which is pretty nice for a player his size. While ordinarily we use this section to highlight players to keep an eye on, Diallo's *absence* due to injury could be a big void on an already struggling Scarlet Knights team.
How to watch
Game time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 The Fan
TV: Big Ten Network