The basketball Buckeyes are back, and it is time for their final game of the 2022 calendar year. The Ohio State men’s hoops team (8-3, 1-0) will take on the Alabama A&M Bulldogs (4-8) as they get ready to ring in 2023.
The Buckeyes have had a fairly predictable start to the season, although they have looked better than some people imagined they would with eight newcomers on the team and Justice Sueing returning from an injury that cost him all but two games during the 2021-2022 season.
Ohio State’s three losses have come to San Diego State, No. 17 Duke and No. 25 North Carolina — two of which are currently ranked, but all are teams who will without a doubt make the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes also have solid wins over Texas Tech, Rutgers and a convincing 30-point victory over in-state rival Cincinnati in the Maui Invitational.
Alabama A&M is 4-8 on the season after starting out 0-5. Recently, they have fallen to Illinois, 68-47, and Vanderbilt, 70-62. They struggle on the offensive side of the ball and are only averaging around 72 points per game, even against some inferior opponents.
Every team plays some cupcake games throughout the year, and with the Buckeyes playing in the Maui Invitational, plus taking on North Carolina and Duke, they have earned a few easy ones. Another promising trend is how the Buckeyes have handled their “buy” games. In the four games they have played in which they were heavy favorites, they have defeated their opponents by an average of 29.4 points per game.
The Buckeyes are also 6-0 at home so far, and have won those games by an average of 25 points.
The Buckeyes are led by now two-time Big Ten Freshman of the week Brice Sensabaugh. The 2022 Florida High School Player of the Year is averaging 15.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in his early Buckeye career, and is coming off a 19-point, seven rebound and seven assist performance. He is also shooting 48.9% from downtown, which is the second-best mark in the Big Ten this season.
Brice Sensabaugh showed why he's one of college basketball's best scorers already as a freshman in a tough OT loss to UNC. Created shots inside and out, scored in the post, showed his shot-making and motor, and even dropped some glimpses of passing ability. Finished w/22 points pic.twitter.com/EKGpTFSHJr— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) December 17, 2022
Zed Key is averaging 14.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game as the main big man, and Justice Sueing is averaging 13.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
The status of graduate senior Isaac Likekele is unknown for this matchup, as he has missed the last three games due to a personal matter. Junior Eugene Brown is available for the first time this season after dealing with a preseason concussion and placed in the concussion protocol. Brown played in 26 games last season and started in 10 games. He averaged 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game over the span of just over 17 minutes per game, and will be a valuable addition to the Buckeyes’ defense and overall team morale.
The Bulldogs are averaging a huge 9.3 steals per game and play in one of the highest tempo offenses in the country, so they like to pressure the ball and run the floor — two things the Buckeyes really do not do. It will be a matchup of two different styles, with the Bulldogs clocking in at No. 45 in adjusted tempo (possessions per 40 minutes), while Ohio State is No. 236.
The Bulldogs are led by senior guard Garrett Hicks, who averages 15.8 points per game. Junior guards Dailin Smith and Messiah Thompson are averaging 12.1 and 10.6 points per game, respectively.
The Bulldogs only average 32 rebounds per game, while the Buckeyes average 40.4. Key and freshman center Felix Okpara will be important for the Buckeyes versus a team who very clearly are more interested in getting out in transition than they are in crashing the glass.
This should be nothing more than just the last tune up game before 19 conference matchups for the Buckeyes. Alabama A&M is 4-8 with four losses to teams outside of KenPom’s top 150: North Alabama, Samford, Tennessee State, Norfolk State and South Alabama.
It will be interesting to see just how many minutes the starters get in this one. The Buckeyes jump right into conference play after this, and with them playing 19 games after the New Year instead of the usual 18, they will need all the depth and minutes that they can get from the rotation.
Ideally, Ohio State can take a sizeable lead early in this one and get into the deeper parts of their bench in the second half so the starters that have played a lot of minutes the first two months —like Bruce Thornton, Justice Sueing and Zed Key — can manage their minutes a bit. This would also be a nice time for a get-right game for Sean McNeil. McNeil is the best shooter on the Buckeyes’ team and started off the year well, but has since struggled a bit, averaging 7.3 PPG over his last three games.
According to KenPom, the Bulldogs are ranked 344 out of 363 in adjusted offensive efficiency, so scoring the ball has been a problem this season thus far. It has been the opposite for Ohio State, which ranks third in that category and 15th overall, even though they are unranked in the polls.
This will be an easy win for the Buckeyes, who will then look ahead to New Year’s Day against Northwestern in Evanston to kick off 2023.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 99.0%
Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
Streaming: Sling TV