As the Buckeyes move into their gauntlet of a schedule of the next two and three weeks, they are exactly where we all thought they would be. Record wise that is.
The Buckeyes are coming off a dominating 89-58 win over the Bowling Green Falcons on Monday to move to 3-0 on the season thus far. However, their first two games were not nearly as dominant, defeating Akron 67-66 on a last second shot by Zed Key and defeating Niagara 84-74 last Friday.
The Buckeyes now move onto play Xavier on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati on Fox Sports 1. The legendary Bill Raftery will be on the call so make sure to tune in and get your puppies in order.
The Bowling Green game was more of how the Buckeyes expect to perform against inferior opponents, but nevertheless, the Buckeyes are 3-0 and as I have said multiple times, here at Land-Grant Holy Land we celebrate all wins. The good, bad and ugly. Which in three games they have pretty much hit all three.
Five guys scored in double figures for Ohio State on Monday night and for the third game in a row, they were led by EJ Liddell. Liddell is off to the start people thought he would get off to, averaging 22.3 points per game. Zed Key has been the surprise of the season thus far, scoring in double figures in all three games to start his sophomore campaign.
As Ohio State gets going into the thanksgiving hoops slate, they really need to win this one to get them some confidence and momentum moving forward. Six of their next seven games will come against Xavier, Seton Hall, Florida or California, Duke, Penn State and Wisconsin.
The big question that arose from the Bowling Green game was the health of Justice Sueing. Sueing was a late scratch in the contest due to a lingering “lower body injury” that he suffered last season and has been trying to recover from but has been unsuccessful. His timetable to return is currently unknown, but from the sound of coach Holtmann after the game, it doesn’t sound good.
For the time that Sueing is unable to go, the starting lineup will likely be Jamari Wheeler, Malaki Branham, Justin Ahrens, EJ Liddell and Zed Key. It is also unclear when Kyle Young will return to the starting lineup but he seems to be quickly getting back to full health, which is a must for the Buckeyes regardless of Sueing’s health.
With Sueing out, they will need Justin Ahrens and Malaki Branham to step up offensively. Many people felt that Sueing was the top choice to take over as the second scorer behind Liddell, so they will need someone else to carry that baton for the time being and hope he can get back on the floor shortly.
Xavier is facing a major injury concern too, as their top player from last season will not be playing in this one. Forward Zach Freemantle is still out indefinitely after having foot surgery. Freemantle averaged 16.1 points per game and 8.9 rebounds per game. Xavier has missed his presence in a large way and will continue to miss him until likely 2022. Especially with Ohio State lacking some size in the paint, Freemantle would have been a key factor in this game.
Paul Scruggs, a unanimous All Big East First Team selection this preseason, is leading the way for Xavier with 20.0 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists per game and 3.0 steals per game through Xavier’s first two games. Iowa transfer Jack Nunge anchors Xavier down low and recorded 11 points and six rebounds against Kent State in their last game.
The Buckeyes and Musketeers have played four times with Ohio State leading the series 3-1. Everyone over the age of 25 will remember the last time these two teams played.
Ohio State is coming off their best game of the season after defeating Bowling Green by 31. Xavier is a solid team that is down their best player and Ohio State is a solid team that is done their second best player.
This is a big game for Ohio State, because it sets them off into that gauntlet of a schedule as I mentioned above. With Sueing out, they will need either Justin Ahrens, Malaki Branham or Eugene Brown to step up and become the second scorer behind EJ Liddell.
Zed Key and Kyle Young are invaluable to the team right now with what they bring as a whole, but they do have limitations on the offensive side of the basketball. Young has come a long way with his offensive game and he can provide 12-14 points per game but Ahrens, Branham, Brown or Meechie Johnson will have to step up and become a reliable double digit scorer for Chris Holtmann and company.
If do find it interesting that according to ESPN basketball power index, Xavier is favored slightly. It doesn't mean anything at all, but it is interesting.
I think Ohio State moves to 4-0 in this one, but it will be a dogfight. The Buckeyes trail 35-31 at the half but Ahrens and Branham get going in the second half and Ohio State wins 74-67.
ESPN BPI: Xavier 52.8%
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: Fox Sports 1