E.J. Liddell’s absence was felt on Wednesday night in the Buckeyes’ 67-61 loss to Purdue, as Kyle Young and Zed Key were unable to handle the size of Trevion Williams. The Boilermakers’ big man went off for 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, and always found the open man when Ohio State double-teamed the 6-foot-10 junior from Chicago.
Liddell is expected to play this afternoon against the Bruins (5-1), but this UCLA team poses a very different challenge than Purdue. The top five scorers for Mick Cronin’s squad are all guards, and they will consistently throw a smaller lineup at teams while having forwards Cody Riley (8.8 PTS, 5.0 REB) and Jalen Hill (8.8 PTS, 7.8 REB) share time at the five.
Ohio State's EJ Liddell (illness) is expected to play today against UCLA, per Chris Holtmann. Seth Towns (knee) is not.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) December 19, 2020
The Buckeyes match up well with the Bruins. In fact, these teams have produced strikingly similar numbers through six games. Let’s dive into some of the comparisons between the two squads, and how they may come into play on Saturday:
Ohio State - No. 24
UCLA - No. 27
Ohio State fell a few spots after the clunker vs Purdue, while the Bruins jumped up to 27 after beating Marquette last Friday. KenPom has the Buckeyes listed as the 14th-most efficient offense in the country, while UCLA is one spot ahead with the 13th-most efficient offense.
KenPom gives Ohio State the nod as far as defense goes, giving Chris Holtmann’s squad the 37th-best defense in the nation while UCLA is just a few notches below at No. 42.
The Buckeyes and Bruins are two of the slowest-moving teams in the country, with Ohio State listed at No. 318 in adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes), while UCLA is at 332.
As far as Ken Pomeroy is concerned, these teams are actively trying to mimic each other.
UCLA - 35.5%
Ohio State - 33.1%
The overall numbers give UCLA a slight edge in shooting from beyond the arc, but in reality UCLA clearly has more weapons to score from distance than the Buckeyes do. Jamie Jaquez Jr. (45.8%), Chris Smith (47.1%), and David Singleton (43.5%) are all shooting north of 40% while also playing 20+ minutes per game. So not only are they hitting at an elite clip, they also will be on the floor for the majority of the game. Ohio State cannot afford to lose track of those three.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, have just two players shooting 40% of better from three: Justin Ahrens (50%) and Justice Sueing (40%). Jimmy Sotos (75%) is technically above 40%, but he has only taken four three-point attempts thus far. Duane Washington Jr. (34.9%) has historically been a good shooter from range, but has struggled a bit this year.
Ohio State will need to keep tabs on every Bruin at all times, because they have the weapons to run away with this game if left open from downtown.
UCLA - 38 rebounds per game
Ohio State - 37.2 rebounds per game
The Buckeyes and Bruins are essentially grabbing the same number of rebounds per game, although Ohio State has grabbed 75 offensive rebounds this season compared to UCLA’s 57. OSU has also been without the services of E.J. Liddell for the past two games, which brings their team totals down compared to if he was on the floor.
Neither team has a big, bruising center a la Trevion Williams, instead they rely on a committee of wings who are still big enough to hold their own in the paint. Young, Key, and Liddell will tangle with Riley and Hill down low during this one, but Ohio State’s advantage on the offensive glass could pay dividends if their initial shots aren’t dropping. This could be a big Kyle Young game.
With Jaquez, Smith, and Tyger Campbell all averaging over 12 points per game, the Bruins may have the top trio of guards in the nation. Campbell’s 7.2-to-1.5 assist-to-turnover rate is one of the top marks in the country as well, so CJ Walker will have his hands full with the young UCLA point guard. That will be the best matchup to watch as this game unfolds, with the budding star trying to outplay the wily fifth-year senior in Walker.
The Buckeyes’ struggles they had scoring in the paint should not carry over to this game, as UCLA will try to spread Ohio State out on the perimeter with their arsenal of shooters rather than try to bully them in the paint. Kyle Young and Zed Key will have more opportunities to impact this game, especially on the offensive glass.
Despite these two squads being two of the slowest-moving offenses in the country, they match up well and like to shoot it, despite neither being all that great from deep. It should be a faster-paced game than their tempo rankings indicate, and very well may come down to the final few possessions.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 55.9%
4:15 p.m. ET