Ohio State, fresh off of back-to-back Big Ten wins, will play out of conference for the next three weeks. On Saturday they'll tip off against William & Mary to start that stretch, looking to build on a positive early season that's seen the Buckeyes get out to a 7-3 record under new coach Chris Holtmann.
A throttling of Wisconsin a week ago and a come-from-behind win over Michigan two days later were just what the doctor ordered for the Buckeyes. They'd previously blown second-half leads in consecutive games, eventually falling to Butler (Holtmann's last school) in overtime and Clemson in regulation.
Now, Ohio State gets a brief respite before facing No. 11 North Carolina on Dec. 23. The Buckeyes' mid-December schedule resembles a late-season SEC football powerhouse's: William & Mary, Appalachian State, and The Citadel are next up for Holtmann's promising young squad. (Who are we kidding—an SEC football team would never schedule a program as good as Appalachian State in November.)
Meanwhile, the William & Mary Tribe sit at 6-2, having faced down a slate of opponents that most people would be hard-pressed to find on a map. They lost their opener to High Point—seems fitting, IMO—but have since only stumbled against UCF. Along the way, the Tribe have racked up wins over the likes of Hampton, Shenandoah, and Savannah State.
They'll face a much taller task on Saturday, as they head to Value City Arena in Columbus to try to knock off a storied major-conference program and gain a signature win for coach Tony Shaver.
Numbers to know
They may not be a powerhouse, but the Tribe can shoot from deep with the best of them. They're shooting threes at a 47.3 percent clip this season, and it's not as though they've got the benefit of a small sample size here: they've attempted a whopping 207 three-pointers this season, good for more than 25 attempts per game. The Buckeyes, by comparison, have attempted 15 fewer threes in two more games, and are also only hitting 34.4 percent of them.
Keita Bates-Diop, far and away the most prolific rebounder on either team, has 99 of them on the year so far. That's 37 more than the next-closest Buckeye (Jae'Sean Tate) and 30 more than William & Mary's best rebounder, Nathan Knight. If the Buckeyes can clean up the glass at their normal clip behind KBD's efforts, they should have little trouble controlling this game.
It's been a tale of two teams for the Tribe so far this season. In their two losses, they averaged just 65 points; that number jumps all the way up to 94 PPG for their wins. This is a team with a ton of explosive scoring potential, but they haven't fared well when they've been dragged down into defensive showdowns. Look for KBD (14 blocks) and Tate (12 steals) to try to force William & Mary closer to 65 than 94.
Cast of Characters
The junior forward from Normal, Ill., has been Ohio State's MVP through the first quarter of the season, and it isn't particularly close. Bates-Diop leads the team in minutes, points, and blocks per game, shoots free throws at an 80 percent clip, and turns the ball over fewer than two times a game despite his high usage rate. He's the best two-way player on Chris Holtmann's team, and he should have no trouble eating against a team that's 301st nationally in scoring defense.
Jackson, a junior guard hailing from North Carolina, has really come into his own as Ohio State's primary ball-handler this season. He's dishing out close to four assists to go with his 13.2 points per game. He's also nearly automatic from the line, making just shy of 85 percent of his free throws. Jackson's about as solid a contributor as the Buckeyes could ask for—look for him to make a big impact against the Tribe.
William & Mary
Remember those absurd three-point stats up above? Senior guard Connor Burchfield is the best of the bunch at putting them up from deep. He hits threes at a 54.7 percent clip, making 29 out of his 53 attempts through eight games. Burchfield has been a key contributor in multiple Tribe wins, putting up a cool 30 points to help sink Marshall and adding another 27 to help put away Savannah State a week ago. If the Buckeyes can limit him, they'll likely cruise, but if Burchfield gets hot, this one might get too close for comfort.
Burchfield might be the team's guy from distance, but Knight is the most complete offensive player the Tribe have. He leads William & Mary in scoring, averaging 20.3 PPG, and gets to the free throw line at a rate three times higher than any of his teammates. He makes the most of those charity stripe opportunities, too, making 80 percent of his attempts. Knight has potential to stuff the stat sheet and get some Buckeye defenders in foul trouble.
How to watch
Game time: 12:00 p.m. ET
TV: BTN Plus
Radio: AM 1460