The No. 25 Ohio State men’s basketball team (6-2) is set to kick off the Big Ten portion of its season tonight at 7 p.m. ET as the Buckeyes welcome the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-2, 1-0). Head coach Steve Pikiell’s squad opened its conference campaign on Saturday with a fairly shocking 63-48 victory over the then-No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers.
Chris Holtmann’s team returns to the floor for the first time following its 96-59 victory over the St. Francis (PA) Red Flash on Saturday, a game in which four Buckeye true freshmen scored in double digits, including Felix Okpara notching the first double-double of his collegiate career going for 10 points and 12 rebounds. It also marked the first double-double by a Buckeye bench player in nearly six years.
When Ohio State opens its 111th season of Big Ten play, the team will do so in the 14th all-time meeting against Rutgers. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 10-4 and are 10-2 in Big Ten Conference games. The two teams met only once last season in a game that ended up being pretty painful for OSU supporters.
With just 3:48 remaining in regulation, the Buckeyes led by eight points. However, the Scarlet Knights used a 10-0 run to end the game giving them a 66-64 win at home in Piscataway. The win snapped a four-game win streak in the series for the Buckeyes.
Fortunately for Ohio State, tonight’s game will be played in the Value City Arena, a venue in which the Buckeyes are undefeated against Rutgers with a 6-0 record. Similarly, Holtmann’s guys have won four of their last five conference openers, and are a perfect 4-0 at home so far this season.
Rutgers comes into the game at 6-2 on the year and 1-0 in the Big Ten after knocking-off preseason favorite Indiana last Saturday at home. The Knights’ two losses came to Temple (72-66) and Miami (FL) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge 68-61.
The Scarlet Knights enter tonight’s contest as one of the best defensive teams in the country as they are in the Top 20 nationally in blocks per game, field goal defense, and scoring margin.
According to Kenpom, Rutgers is sixth nationally in defensive efficiency. Fortunately for the home fans, Ohio State comes in as the third most offensively efficient team in the country.
Aiding their offensive output, the Buckeye are currently 10th in the country — and tops in the Big Ten — in free throw percentage at 79.1%. and are also in the top 10 in rebounding margin at +10.6.
While Holtmann has been tinkering to figure out the best usage and rotation for a team filled with freshmen and transfers, Ohio State has gotten great contributions off the bench this season. In fact, freshman Brice Sensabaugh is leading the team in scoring at 14.3 ppg, despite not being one of OSU’s starters. The Buckeye bench is averaging 32.3 ppg which is in the top 25 nationally and is second in the Big Ten.
Rutgers is led by its 6-foot-11 junior center Clifford Omoruyi who is averaging 15.4 points and 9.8 rebounds on the young season — good for seventh and third respectively in the Big Ten. Senior guard Cam Spencer has also been very reliable so far this year averaging 13.8 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per outing.
This one is a quintessential “something’s gotta give” game. While the Buckeyes are still working out the kinks due to the fact that Zed Key is their only returning contributor from the 2021-22 season, they have been very good on the offensive end, while Rutgers has excelled defensively.
In their upset victory over the Hoosiers last weekend, Rutgers held Indiana to just 30.4% shooting and 24% from beyond the arc. Coming into tonight, the Buckeyes are shooting 48.2% from the floor and 36.4% from distance. Ohio State will need to be rebound and take advantage of open opportunities if it is going to score against the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers comes into the game as the seventh-best offensive rebounding team in the country, with OSU is the eighth-best defensive rebounding team. When the Buckeyes faced Duke earlier this season the Blue Devils came in as the top team on the offensive glass, but Ohio State hung with them. Duke grabbed 13 offensive boards to Ohio State’s 12.
Rutgers is fairly offensively challenged, they are shooting just 46.7% from the field, which puts them at 313th nationally. For the Buckeyes to get the win in their conference opener, they will need to keep control on the glass — especially on the defensive end — and limit the Knights’ second-chance opportunities.
In both of Rutgers’ losses, they allowed their opposition to get at least three players into double digits, and given the construction of this Buckeye squad, they should have the ability to distribute the ball to multiple players tonight, especially if Pikiell decides to take one guy out of the equation.
I imagine that Key, Brice Sensabaugh, and Justice Sueing will all post point totals in double-figures tonight, and even though he might not be scoring at a level that he would like this year, Ice Likekele will continue to have a major impact on defense as well.