It’s been a rough week for Ohio State fans, but things will not get much easier this evening when the Buckeyes’ men’s basketball team hosts the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils as part of the greatest cross-conference regular season event in sports: the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Duke is 7-0 and in fine form for head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell tour after 41 seasons at the helm in Durham. Ohio State, meanwhile, is coming off a stinging, 71-68 buzzerbeater loss to Florida in the Fort Myers Tip Off. The Buckeyes have lost two of the last three, but did pull out a win over No. 21 Seton Hall last week.
In their most recent loss to Florida, the Buckeyes shot 53% from the line while holding the Gators to 37% shooting, but the Ohio State’s 18 turnovers and 24 fouls meant easy points for a Florida team that had 22 points off those giveaways and made 23 free throws. Despite Ohio State leading with less than a minute to go, a wild three-point shot from Florida’s Tyree Appleby (who’d been just 1-of-9 shooting up to that point) sealed the win for the Gators as time expired, knocking the wind out of the sails of an Ohio State team that had been playing one of its best games of the season.
EJ Liddell once again led the way for the Buckeyes with 23 points on the evening. The junior forward is averaging a team-best 22.5 points per game through six games this season. Unfortunately for Ohio State, Liddell is the only player averaging in double figures this year, with senior forward Kyle Young and sophomore forward Zed Key hitting just below the mark.
Meanwhile, Duke has been running the proverbial table early on this season, with the Blue Devils already recording wins over No. 10 Kentucky and No. 1 Gonzaga. Now, Duke sits atop the AP Poll for the first time since 2019.
The Buckeyes might be down, but they’re certainly not out. They’ve played a tough schedule so far and have narrowly missed the mark with their two losses, but are poised to mark a signature win on their non-conference schedule, with prime opportunity coming this evening.
The season may be young, but this Ohio State team has already been tested early. Unfortunately, the tough level of competition won’t level off any time soon, with the Buckeyes facing undefeated and top-ranked Duke — a team that just knocked off Gonzaga in thrilling fashion in Las Vegas mere days ago.
In that matchup, Duke, ranked fifth in the nation at the time, overcame the nation’s top team 84-81, even as the Blue Devils’ top shooter struggled in the second half with cramping so severe it warranted an in-game IV.
Freshman forward Paolo Banchero is already considered by many the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, and he’s shown why early on in the Blue Devils’ season. He’s led Duke in scoring in the last two games, including piling on 21 against Gonzaga — though 20 of those came in the first 20 minutes of play.
As per usual, however, Duke’s talent goes beyond its frontman. Junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. was there to step up in Banchero’s absence in the second half, finishing with 20 points on the day. Center Mark Williams, perhaps the best defender on Duke’s roster, had a monster game of his own with 17 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Duke finished shooting 46% from the field. Though Gonzaga outrebounded the Blue Devils 42-31, Duke had just eight turnovers to the Bulldogs’ 17. Defensively, Duke also totaled five blocks — all courtesy of Williams — and 11 steals.
On the season, Banchero leads the Blue Devils in scoring with 18.3 points and rebounds with 7.6 per game. Moore, who also happened to have one of the three triple-doubles in the NCAA so far this year against Army, isn’t too far behind with 17.9. Shooting guard Trevor Keels, with 12.3 points per game, rounds out the trio averaging in double figures.
Leading the Blue Devils, and seven games into his 42nd season in Durham, is Mike Krzyzewski, who has amassed an overall record of 1,104-302 during his tenure. The three-time Naismith College Coach of the Year has won five NCAA titles, 15 ACC Tournaments and 12 ACC regular season titles.
Ohio State, despite falling from the rankings with its losses to Florida and Xavier, has some things going for it as well. For starters, Liddell is seventh in the nation in points per game with his aforementioned 22.5. He’s also no slouch as a defender, with a Big Ten-high 23 blocks on the season (his 3.8 blocks per game also happens to be fifth in the NCAA). The Buckeyes as a team have had 36 blocked shots on the year, also a conference high.
Point guard Jamari Wheeler, who transferred from Penn State after playing in 127 games with the Nittany Lions, is fifth in the nation with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.75. While Chris Holtmann would certainly like to see more than his five point average per game, his 54% shooting from beyond the arc is extremely impressive.
Looking to the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Buckeyes have won their last two matchups in the challenge, though they are just 8-11 all-time. Iowa has already started things off well for the Big Ten, beating Virginia to open this year’s games. Other notable Big Ten/ACC Challenge games include:
- Illinois vs. Notre Dame
- Florida State at No. 2 Purdue
- Louisville at No. 22 Michigan State
- No. 24 Michigan at North Carolina
- No. 23 Wisconsin at Georgia Tech
Closer to home, Ohio State and Duke have faced off seven times in program history, with the Blue Devils holding a 4-3 advantage all-time. Duke won the pair’s most recent matchup in 2012, 73-68 in Durham.
The Buckeyes are better than their record indicates, but at some point Chris Holtmann’s team has to earn the W against a strong opponent. The good news is that, impressively, Ohio State is 9-11 all-time against top-ranked opponents.
One area of advantage for the Buckeyes is that they’re 3-0 at home this season, and this will be the Blue Devils’ first excursion in a true road game this year (their win over Gonzaga came in Vegas).
However, there’s the obvious fact that Duke has already proven itself to be one of the nation’s strongest teams against stiff competition this year. Duke boasts one of the most potent scoring offenses in the NCAA, averaging nearly 86 points per game. That stat is particularly problematic given the state of the Buckeyes’ offense, which is averaging just 75 points per game. The Buckeyes have struggled to identify a second scorer to help Liddell, who is the only shooter averaging in double digits this year.
Most recently, in a narrowly fought game versus Gonzaga, neither team led by more than nine points. Duke played efficiently and nearly mistake-free. It’ll be a tough matchup for an Ohio State team that’s dropped two close games against ranked opponents.
Duke enters the game as just two-point favorites. Ohio State’s shown an ability to keep games close, but the Buckeyes will need to prove their ability to come out on top.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 56.2%
Time: 9:30 p.m. ET