Probably not the last one, but Ohio State basketball has certainly exceeded its low expectations already this season. With a win over then-No. 1 Michigan State, the Buckeyes suddenly find themselves in the top-40 of KenPom’s most recent rankings--the fourth-highest team in the Big Ten. Now, the surging Buckeyes face the fifth-ranked team in the conference in Maryland.
Ohio State is sitting at 13-4 on the season, with the best record in-conference (4-0) outside of Purdue (5-0), who also remains undefeated in the Big Ten. Most recently, the Buckeyes routed Iowa in Iowa City before returning to Columbus and shocking the basketball world with a convincing, 80-64 win over No. 1 Michigan State. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop was the hero against the Spartans, finishing the day with a career-high 32 points.
Maryland, meanwhile, has been keeping pace with expectations this season. The Terps were selected to finish fifth in the Big Ten preseason poll, far ahead of the Buckeyes who were chosen to finish the season at No. 11 in the conference.
Mark Turgeon is in his seventh season at the helm of Maryland. In that time, he has amassed a 152-72 overall record, including a 93-29 record in the last four seasons since the Terps joined the Big Ten. In that time, Maryland has had very respectable finishes in the conference, ending the season in the top-three of the conference standings and earning bids to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons.
The Terrapins are sitting at 14-4 on the season, with their most recent win coming 91-73 over Iowa on Sunday. Previously, they suffered a 30-point loss to Michigan State, giving the Terps a 3-2 in-conference record. The loss to the Spartans was the worst of Turgeon’s tenure as head coach.
Perhaps more than any other team in the Big Ten, Maryland has experienced crippling personnel issues on the court. Season-ending injuries to their two lead power forwards, Justin Jackson (who had been averaging 9.8 points per game) and Ivan Bender, mean that redshirt freshman Joshua Tomaic will likely see significantly more playing time. Combined with the loss of last year’s leading scorer in Melo Trimble, the Terps certainly have a crisis when it comes to offensive production.
The Buckeyes hold a 5-6 record all-time against Maryland, including time that the Terps spent in the ACC, but Ohio State holds a 3-2 advantage at home. Last season, Ohio State dropped both games against a ranked Maryland squad, both by less than 10 points. The Terps have taken the last four meetings against the Buckeyes, but Ohio State holds an 806-713 advantage over current teams from the Big Ten.
Numbers to know
It may be early, but the Buckeyes are still undefeated in conference play. Purdue is technically ahead of Ohio State at 5-0, with a 16-2 overall record, but the mark is the best since the 2010-11 season when the Buckeyes began 11-0 in conference play. That season, behind Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger, Ohio State won both the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament before earning a Sweet 16 bid. Expectations are certainly not that high this year. However, it certainly means an exciting on-court product in the first year of Chris Holtmann’s tenure, and could certainly bode well for the future of Ohio State basketball.
Ohio State’s assist-to-turnover ratio has been improving somewhat as the season continues. The good news against Maryland, however, is that the Buckeyes’ mediocre 1.2 ratio is still better than Maryland’s 1.0. The Terps have been notorious in terms of turnovers this season, averaging 15 per game, led by point guard Anthony Cowan who coughs the ball up 2.7 times per outing. Ohio State, meanwhile, is averaging 13 turnovers per game to go along with 15 assists. Turnovers, which have been a point of emphasis for Chris Holtmann, were a problem for point guard C.J. Jackson earlier this season, but the junior didn’t give the ball up at all in the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan State.
Keita Bates-Diop needs one more block to hit 100 career rejections at Ohio State. He had one block against MSU, two against Iowa last week and a whopping five against Miami to close out 2017. With 27 blocks this season alone, Bates-Diop is No. 8 in the NCAA in the category among players under 6-foot-7. Against Iowa, on a 27-point performance, the junior forward also hit 900 career points, and is well on his way to joining Jae’Sean Tate in the 1,000 points club. After connecting for 32 points against the Spartans, Bates-Diop is sitting at 940 total career points. Last season, Bates-Diop averaged under 10 points per game while healthy. This year, his scoring production has more than doubled.
Cast of characters
In case you have been living under a rock this basketball season, the junior forward has been the best all-around player for Chris Holtmann’s squad this season. Bates-Diop dropped 32 points on the Spartans Sunday, adding seven rebounds and three steals on the day. With this latest performance, he has become the top scorer in the conference, averaging 20 points per game. He is also shooting a reliable 82 percent from the free throw line--the best percentage on Ohio State’s roster. He is one of five Buckeyes shooting greater than 50 percent from the field, and has been hitting nearly 39 percent of his shots from three-point range. Michigan State was unable to contain Bates-Diop, and he proved to be a relentless force on behalf of Ohio State.
The junior point guard has overcome turnover issues from early in the season to deliver reliable, double-digit scoring during each outing for the Buckeyes. He sits behind only Bates-Diop in scoring for the Buckeyes, averaging 13.5 points per game. Against the Spartans, Jackson had 14 points in 29 minutes to go along with six rebounds and three assists. He was 6-for-11 shooting on the day, and hit on 2-of-3 field goal attempts. Like Bates-Diop, Jackson has been reliable from the free-throw line, connecting on more than 80 percent of attempts from the line. Now, with graduate transfer Andrew Dakich seeing more minutes, the pressure is easing on Jackson to continue to be as productive, but, along with Bates-Diop, Jackson remains one of the Buckeyes’ most powerful offensive forces on the court.
The sophomore point guard has been Maryland’s top-scorer this season, averaging 16.2 points per game. Against Iowa, Cowan had 15 points, seven assists and--wait for it--zero turnovers. That’s coming from the worst turnover offender on the Maryland roster. He is the seventh-leading scorer in the conference, and second in free throw percentage, connecting on 87 percent of his shots from the line. Especially given Maryland’s personnel issues, Cowan also leads the Big Ten in minutes played, and is on the floor for nearly 36 minutes per game. Additionally, Cowan’s defense has shown significant improvement since last season, and he played a strong game against Iowa point guard Jordan Bohannon.
The forward from the Canary Islands did not play much early in the season, but has been seeing more time on the court as a result of key injuries to Maryland’s big men. Turgeon announced in December that starting power forward Justin Jackson would be out for the rest of the season with a torn labrum. Ivan Bender, who replaced Jackson, then had a season-ending knee injury at the end of the month, leaving an inexperienced Tomaic to fill in. Prior to Bender’s injury, Tomaic had played just 66 minutes all season. Since then, he has been seeing more time off the bench. Against Iowa, he was 3-for-3 from the field in 11 minutes on the court. Given the lack of depth at forward, Tomaic will be seeing the floor more as the season goes on.
How to watch
Game time: 7 p.m. EST
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM