After a 4-0 start to the season, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team dropped two of its three games in the PK80 Invitational in Portland last weekend. The Buckeyes lost against No. 15 Gonzaga and Butler (both of whom, coincidentally, are the Bulldogs) while defeating Stanford. While the loss to the Zags was pretty thorough, the defeat by Chris Holtmann’s former team came by one point in overtime after the Buckeyes blew a 15-point lead. Now, the 5-2 Buckeyes face Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge tonight at 7:15 p.m.
The challenge has been going strong since 1999 and is the gold standard for inter-conference matchups. The ACC leads the all-time series 11-5-2, having won the first 10 consecutive challenges. While the Big Ten made a strong comeback over the years, the ACC took last year’s meeting 9-5. This season, the series is scheduled over four days and features 14 matchups, headlined by No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Notre Dame on Thursday night.
Ohio State is 7-9 in the challenge, having most recently lost to then-No. 6 Virginia 63-61 in Charlottesville, but the Buckeyes hold a 4-3 record at home. The Buckeyes are on a three-game skid in the series, with their most recent win coming in 2013 against then-ACC member Maryland. Clemson holds a 10-7 record in the challenge and is on a one-game win streak, having defeated Nebraska last year.
Clemson, meanwhile, hasn’t played a game since last Friday when they defeated Texas Southern 84-77. The Tigers are 5-1 on the season, with their only loss coming to Temple, a KenPom top-50 team. The squad is averaging 79 points per game en route to its best start since the 2013-14 season, when the Tigers started 5-0.
Head coach Brad Brownell is now in his eighth season with the Tigers, who were projected to finish 13th among 15 teams in the ACC during media days in October, ahead of only Boston College and Pitt. Clemson finished last season with a 17-16 record, including a 6-12 mark in conference play, and lost their leading scorer, Jaron Blossomgame, to the NBA Draft. Still, Clemson boasts an experienced squad, with all upperclassmen starters, including seniors Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham, who have already begun to play breakout roles this season.
Ohio State has only faced Clemson once before, also in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, back in 2004 when the Buckeyes fell 80-73 in South Carolina. Overall, Ohio State holds a 67-47 advantage over teams from the ACC.
After the challenge is over, things won’t get any easier for Holtmann’s squad over the next couple weeks. Saturday, Ohio State travels to Madison to face Wisconsin ahead of the Big Ten football championship between the same schools. The Buckeyes will come home to face Michigan Monday and will have a relative respite before taking on the 13th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in Columbus on December 23rd.
Numbers to know
This stat is seriously depressing. The Buckeyes have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.92. That mark is 234th in the NCAA. They are averaging more than 15 turnovers per game, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Ohio State was plagued by a season-high 24 turnovers against Butler, but against Texas Southern--the same opponent against whom Clemson gave up 19 turnovers--the Buckeyes hiccuped the ball up just 10 times. The Tigers, meanwhile, have averaged 13.7 turnovers per game and a much better 1.13 assist to turnover ratio. While the numbers aren’t great for Clemson, the Buckeyes have been woefully inconsistent this season and will need to protect the ball versus the Tigers.
Senior forward Jae’Sean Tate, who led the Buckeyes in scoring last season, has fouled out of two-straight games against Stanford and Butler. He also recorded four personal fouls against Gonzaga over the weekend. Tate brings consistent shooting down low, and though fouls come with the territory, he and the Buckeyes will need to find a balance between his aggressive play and the need for Tate to actually be on the court at the end of games. Overall, Ohio State is averaging 18 personal fouls per game this season.
Keita Bates-Diop leads the Big Ten in defensive rebounds, pulling down more than eight boards per game. He’s second in the conference in overall rebounds behind Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy, and 22nd in the nation in the same category. Unfortunately, Bates-Diop hasn’t done as well cracking the offensive glass, pulling in just two per game.
Cast of characters
The redshirt junior has been the Buckeyes most consistent and best player in the short season. He has averaged 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds--both team highs--and has recorded a double-double in all but two matchups. Through seven games, he has also led his team from behind the arc, hitting 44 percent of his shots from three-point range. The Buckeyes greatly missed Bates-Diop’s presence last season, when the then-true junior missed most of the season with a series of nagging injuries. Now, in his fourth year with the program, Bates-Diop has emerged as a leader that could help to turn the Buckeyes’ fortunes around after a series of lackluster seasons, and has already shown sparks of what his talent could bring to the team.
The spitfire point guard brought a surge of much-needed energy that was not quite enough to overcome Butler’s second-half antics Sunday. Still, he finished the game with a team-high 19 points, and is averaging 14 points and four assists per game. Jackson is also shooting just under 90 percent from the free throw line, and hit all eight of his shots from the line Sunday. Previously versus Stanford, Jackson led his team in scoring once again with 23 points on the day, including hitting 4-of-6 from behind the arc. Jackson will need to continue to bring this type of energy against a closely-matched Clemson squad.
The junior forward from Dallas, a transfer from Texas A&M, scored a career-high 23 points against Texas Southern to go with 16 rebounds--both team highs. Thomas is also among the best shooters in the nation, with a 70.5 field goal percentage, which is good for 10th in the NCAA. Even so, Thomas has been somewhat inconsistent, scoring under 10 points in two games this season. Texas Southern was a breakout game for the forward, who shot 91 percent from the field.
The senior is prepping for his 100th career start against Ohio State tonight, Widely regarded as one of the leaders of this Clemson team heading into the season, especially given the loss of Jaron Blossomgame to the NBA, the forward leads the Tigers in scoring through six games, averaging 16 points per outing. Even more impressive, Grantham is shooting nearly 70 percent from the field and 48 percent from behind the arc. Those numbers place the senior just behind Thomas with the 11th-best field goal percentage in the country. Ohio State will need to find a way to guard the forward who, at up to this point, has not been held below 54 percent shooting on the season. L
How to watch
Game time: 7:15 p.m. EST
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM