The Ohio State Buckeyes are set to face the Florida Gators in Columbus after coming off of a first-round NIT game against the Akron Zips that took an overtime to decide the winner. The Buckeyes saw good scoring nights from Marc Loving, JaQuan Lyle, and Kam Williams, who made his first career start, pouring in 18 points. The Buckeyes are hoping to have forward Keita Bates-Diop back from an illness, but Thad Matta would not promise that Bates-Diop would be available for the game. "(He's) OK," Matta said via the Columbus Dispatch. "Still don't know if he'll be able to go on Sunday. Hasn't done a whole lot with us, so who knows."
If Bates-Diop is not able to go again for the Buckeyes, expect Kam Williams to make another start. As previously mentioned, the trio of Loving, Lyle, and Williams was strong for the Buckeyes, especially down the stretch in overtime against the Zips. Williams came up with huge buckets, and Lyle sealed the deal at the free throw line.
Loving has been strong of late, scoring at least 18 points in four of the past five games for the Buckeyes. If he's able to have another solid performance, it would be monumental for the Buckeyes, who played just seven players against Akron. Loving will undoubtedly need help from the likes of Williams and Lyle.
The Florida Gators head to Columbus fresh off of a first-round NIT win against the in-state North Florida Ospreys. The Gators had a much easier time with their in-state foe than the Buckeyes did, knocking off the Ospreys 97-68 in Jacksonville. This game should have been a home court advantage for the Gators, but thanks to renovations at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, the higher-seeded Gators will be the visitors Saturday evening.
Florida had a pretty balanced game scoring wise against the Ospreys, with six players in double figures. They shot 16-of-32 from three-point range, assisted on 23 of 35 made baskets, and came up with 13 steals. North Florida is 190 in the KenPom rankings, whereas Ohio State is 71, so don't expect necessarily the same results in this one. This is not like the Florida teams that Ohio State has faced in the past.
That's not to say that they aren't good, though. The Gators are 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, which could be a huge advantage for them considering how Ohio State could be playing just seven players, and has offensive struggles already as it is.
The Gators similar to that of the Buckeyes, had their ups and downs this season. They came away with a win against No. 9 West Virginia at the end of January, just as the Buckeyes came away with a win against No. 4 Kentucky in mid-December. So what we have is a pair of teams that showed they can compete at a high level, but it just doesn't come every night. Hopefully we see those highs Sunday afternoon.
Numbers to know
The Buckeyes and Gators have faced each other 12 other times since 1949-50. Of course, the Gators got the one that mattered most (not that we'd like to discuss), but the Buckeyes hold an 8-4 advantage. They will look to make it nine, and advance in the NIT, where they already have 19 wins.
Ohio State is 1-3 on the year in games that start at noon. Those three losses came to UConn, Maryland, and Michigan State. While Florida is certainly not up to the standards of those three teams, maybe there's something to the Buckeyes and noon games. Florida is 1-1 in their two noon games this season, with one of those wins coming over then-No. 9 West Virginia.
The Gators boast a 2-9 record when their opposition scores 72 points. The Buckeyes have scored 72 in 16 of their 34 games this year, a pair of those coming against Michigan State and Kentucky. That might be hard to come across if they're going to be shorthanded, but all it takes is a complete game from the Buckeyes. It just might come a little bit tougher this time around.
Cast of characters
Simply put, the Buckeyes are better when Lyle is on his game. The freshman from Evansville, Indiana, has had a rollercoaster of a season, but is one of the most important players on the Buckeyes squad. His 18 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists were key in the Buckeyes win over the Akron Zips. The 14 rebounds were probably more important than any other stat, with Keita Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate sidelined. Lyle can do it all, and if he has a big game against the Gators, the Buckeyes have a great chance Sunday of coming away with a win.
Williams could be making his second-career start for the Buckeyes Sunday. His first came against Akron in the Buckeyes first-round NIT game, and he certainly made the most of it. Williams took plenty of shots early, and knocked down some bigs ones in overtime. They'll need a similar performance from him against Florida, since they are likely to be shorthanded once again. His 18 points were just four off of his season-high. With a little confidence boost against Akron, there's not a terrible chance Williams can top that performance against Florida.
Finney-Smith is the senior leader for the Gators. He leads in the stats sheet for the Gators as well, averaging 14.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. Standing at 6'8, he will have to carry the load on the boards with 6'11 sophomore center John Egbunu out for the season after undergoing thumb surgery. So expect to see Thad Matta make good use of Daniel Giddens to counter the size difference for the Buckeyes down low. Fortunately for them, Egbunu won't be able to crash the boards.
The sophomore guard is the best distributor of the basketball for the Gators. Standing at 6'0, the Memphis, Tennessee, native won't kill you with his scoring, but will be a piece that the Buckeyes certainly need to focus on if they want to stop Florida's offense. Outside of Chiozza, nobody on the Gators is going to kill you with their passing ability. Kasey Hill used to be that guy, but he's seen less playing time this season. Chiozza will be one of the defensive focuses of the Buckeyes early on, who should be able to counter him well with the help of JaQuan Lyle.
How to watch
Game time: 12 p.m. ET
Radio: WBNS-FM 97.1