And just like that, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team has made it to a sneaky, 6-0 start--a far cry from last year’s 2-4 mark to open the season. Most recently, the Buckeyes broke 100 in their 41-point victory over Marshall, which is the first time that an Ohio State team has done so since 2014 as they handed the Thundering Herd their first loss of the season. The offense, led by JaQuan Lyle and Jae’Sean Tate, finally seems to have clicked. And Marc Loving, the only senior on the squad, is finally finding his rhythm.
While the wins have been decisive, the Buckeyes have certainly not slain any giants this season. And yet, the teams that Ohio State has beaten so far this year--North Carolina Central, Western Carolina, Jackson State--are the types of teams that the Buckeyes lost to early on last year in their non-conference schedule. The fact that the team has managed to win decisively over teams that they are supposed to beat is at least an indication of more consistency to come this season.
It was a good, six-game stretch of preparation for the inevitable powerhouses the Buckeyes would have to face down the road, and now, they have their first true test of the season. In fact, the stakes become suddenly higher for the Big Ten as a whole as the conference enters the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and the Buckeyes face far-and-above their fiercest competition of the season in the No. 6 Virginia Cavaliers. Ohio State has dropped its past two matchups in the challenge, including last year’s 64-58 loss to the Cavaliers in Columbus.
Things are not likely to get any easier for Ohio State. Not only are they travelling to Charlottesville for the matchup, but they will have to face what is, if possible, an even more stifling defense than what they faced last season. Points will be hard to come by, with Virginia boasting the best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 41.3 points per game--a whopping 13.1 points less per game than number two on the list.
Numbers to know
It has been 25 years since Ohio State scored 61 points in a half, dating all the way back to Randy Ayers’s team in 1991 in the days of Chris Jent (as a player) and Jim Jackson. Friday’s display of explosive offense against Marshall was refreshing for fans who had barely seen the Buckeyes break 80 in an entire game in the last two seasons. Led by Marc Loving, Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams, the offense is finally catching up to a strong defense. While such a staggering figure is unlikely against Virginia, Ohio State should be able to put up a good portion of those numbers with a core group of consistent shooters who can attack from anywhere on the court.
Thus far this season, six Buckeyes have averaged double-digit points in their 6-0 run, including Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle, Keita Bates-Diop and Trevor Thompson. Even more impressive, two of these--Thompson and Bates-Diop--have not started consistently this season, giving an indication of the strength of the bench for Ohio State. And while center Micah Potter didn’t start the season with strong scoring performances, he recorded 12 points against Marshall to go along with a dozen rebounds. The ability to spread the ball around will be important against Virginia’s scoring defense, enabling the Buckeyes to rely on multiple shooters to score points.
The number of opponents the Buckeyes have faced who are ranked in the AP top-25 since Thad Matta took over the program in 2005--the third-most matchups faced by any team in Division I. Overall, Ohio State holds a 54-66 record in such games, which places them at No. 10 nationally for winning percentage in these high-stakes matchups over that time period. In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Buckeyes have faced 10 ranked opponents out of their 15 matchups--including five top-five opponents who are usually named Duke--with a 7-8 overall record in the challenge. Virginia sits at 10-6 overall in the annual inter-conference event.
Cast of characters
The senior forward led the Buckeyes in points and rebounds against Marshall with 20 and 14 respectively. He also managed 19 points against Jackson State earlier in the week in what came as a bit of a shocker, having only scored 17 points combined in the three preceding games. Loving came into the matchup against Marshall leading the team in turnovers and fouls (which he still does), but he cleaned things up somewhat against the Thundering Herd. Loving will need to play mistake-free basketball against Virginia, whose turnover margin is one of the best in the nation.
The true freshman got a hot hand shooting against Marshall. But he also pulled down 12 rebounds--second on the team behind Loving--and has finally given the Buckeyes a presence at center when Trevor Thompson is not on the court. While Potter had a good game against North Carolina Central early in the season, scoring 13 points, he had gone cold since, scoring a total of three points in three games. His performance against Marshall was indicative of what having two strong centers could mean for Ohio State--especially against a balanced Virginia attack.
The senior point guard did not play against Ohio State last year, missing the ACC/Big Ten Challenge after undergoing an appendectomy. One of three returning starters from last year’s squad, which made it to the Sweet 16 before being defeated by Syracuse, Perrantes is one of just two seniors on the roster and the only one with significant playing time under his belt. While his numbers are not staggering this season--he averages just 9.2 points per game, good for fourth on the team--he is the epicenter of perhaps the most balanced team in the NCAA. He was tournament MVP of the Emerald Coast Classic last week, which saw the Cavaliers hold both Providence and Iowa to 93 points--collectively.
The 6’7 sophomore forward scored a team-high 14 points off the bench against Iowa last week. Even with limited minutes, Reuter leads the team in rebounds with 5.2 per game. He is shooting 63 percent from the field this season, including making 7-of-9 field goals against Iowa down low. But while Reuter was the Cavaliers’ hero against Iowa, there have been five different leading scorers in six different games this season for Virginia. Again, with such a balanced attack, the Buckeyes will need to look out for more than just one player who could be a difference maker for Virginia.
How to watch
Game time: 9:15 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 FM