After dropping their first game of the season on the road at Minnesota last week, the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team (10-1, 1-1) roared back to their winning ways with a dominating 80-48 victory over the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks at home on Tuesday.
Well, it’s good that they got that win under their belt, because they will be continuing the trend of their early season by facing a premiere non-conference opponent today as they take on the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats (8-2) in the CBS Sports Classic on... well, CBS.
No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Kentucky in the CBSSports Classic
The OSU-UK game will be the second in the CBS Sports Classic doubleheader. The North Carolina Tar Heels will play the UCLA Bruins in the opener, which will tip off at 3 p.m. ET, also on the Eye Network.
While the Buckeyes ended up blowing out the SEMO RedHawks on Tuesday night, it wasn’t as pretty of a game as the final score would indicate. The Buckeyes opened the contest in extremely sloppy fashion and ended up giving the ball away a season-high 20 times.
But, after finding their mojo a few minutes into the second half, the Buckeyes demolished SEMO the rest of the way with an increased intensity and focus that had been lacking since before Chris Holtmann’s team had traveled to the frozen tundra of the Twin Cities.
The return to their energetic form allowed OSU to outscore the RedHawks 45-22 in the second half, while taking much better care of the ball. That is the version of the Buckeyes that will need to take to the court in Sin City if they are going to beat their third blue-blood program of the season.
Unlike OSU, Kentucky enters the game coming off of a loss. On Wednesday, the Wildcats dropped a very un-nice heartbreaker to Utah 69-66.
The loss was the second on the season for Big Blue following their 67-64 defeat at the hands of the Evansville Purple Aces, coached by former UK All-American Walter McCarty. Despite those losses, John Calipari’s team also does have a nice win on the season as well.
They opened up the 2019-20 campaign with a 69-62 win over then-No. 1 Michigan State and then following a bunch of games against people named Lamar and Fairleigh Dickinson, they beat Georgia Tech 67-53 one week ago today.
However, today’s game against the Buckeyes will be incredibly important for UK, as it is the meat of a tough three-game sandwich. Having already lost to Utah, the Wildcats will next take on in-state rival, the No. 3 Louisville Cardinals, next Saturday. Three-straight losses in their four toughest non-conference contests would not bode well for BBN as they head into SEC play.
Despite that ominous possibility, the Wildcats are led by an impressive group of five players all averaging in double-figures (if you round up a little).
The Core of Kentucky
It was Tyrese Maxey who stepped up against Utah and almost engineered an impressive comeback, but he couldn’t overcome his team’s collective awful shooting. Despite their balanced attack, the Wildcats have struggled shooting this season; hitting only 46.8 percent of their shots from the floor, only the 64th best percentage on the season, and 27.5 percent from behind the arc, 334th out of 350 Division I programs. Wowzers.
On Wednesday it was even worse, however, as the Utes held UK to just 41.3 percent from the field and 11.8 percent from three-point land. Calipari has vowed to fix his team’s shooting deficiencies, but when your team goes 2-for-17 from distance, that’s an uphill battle.
Ashton Hagans has been the ‘Cats’ best player this season, and along with fellow sophomore Immanuel Quickley has kept the team moving forward as junior big-man Nick Richards has regressed a bit in recent weeks. They will need a complete team effort on both sides of the ball if they are going to get the win today.
I am going to go ahead and say it, as one-sided as it was, Ohio State would not have lost against Minnesota had Duane Washington Jr. been able to play. His consistent shooting from deep has been a steadying factor for the Buckeyes this season, and has allowed them to spread the floor not only for Kaleb Wesson to be the focal point of the offense, but also for Kyle Young to come in and do the dirty work down low. It’s also helped true freshman D.J. Carton display is insane ability to drive the lane and make plays.
Ohio State looked tired and not up for a physical battle against the Golden Gophers, but I think that changes with the microwave-shooting of Washington on the floor. We don’t yet know if he will be able to return from a mysterious rib injury for today’s game against Kentucky, but earlier in the week Holtmann said that they were optimistic.
If he is back, that will allow the Buckeyes to spread the floor and play at their own pace. Kentucky hasn’t scored out of the 60s against any of their competent opponents this season, and if Washington plays — coupled with OSU’s stifling defense — I think that the Buckeyes can pull away for a semi-comfortable win.
However, if he isn’t able to go, I think that the Buckeyes are still probably a better team than UK, but it will have to be a much slower, messier game for them to win.
Kentucky has been at its best this season when it has been able to control tempo and allow its very good guards the ability to facilitate the offense. Fortunately for OSU, depth at the guard position is not something that they are lacking this season, and all of their guards play pretty good defense.
If Richards and/or EJ Montgomery aren’t able to establish themselves against Kaleb Wesson, Young, and even Andre Wesson down low, it could be tough for the Wildcats to find points.
LGHL Prediction: 77-61 Ohio State*
*contingent on Duane Washinton Jr. playing.