The Ohio State men’s basketball team is coming off a successful trip to Florida, winning the Emerald Coast Classic and securing wins over No. 22 Alabama and Santa Clara. The Buckeyes (5-1) now head back to Columbus to face Central Michigan (2-4), their second Mid-American Conference opponent this year. They defeated Western Michigan 73-56 on Nov. 19.
Since the Buckeyes’ loss to Texas A&M, they have won four games in a row by an average of just over 20 points per game. Central Michigan has suffered 30-point losses to Florida State and Oklahoma this season, and is coming off a 10-point loss to Stetson.
For the first time this season, the Buckeyes received votes in the AP Poll, and sit in the No. 29 spot (if you count past the initial top-25 and expand to the other teams receiving votes). Ohio State will play two non-conference games and two Big Ten games over the next two weeks and look to improve to 9-1 as they head into the CBS Sports Classic to play UCLA on Dec. 16.
But first, they have to take on the Central Michigan Chippewas.
Ohio State is being led into this one by sophomore guards Bruce Thornton and Roddy Gayle, who are becoming one of if not the best backcourt duo in the conference.
Thornton comes into the game leading the Buckeyes, averaging 17.2 points, 4.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He is also only averaging just a singular turnover per game. Through six contests, he has a 4.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Gayle scored 31 points over two games in the Emerald Coast Classic, bringing his scoring average up to 15.0 points to go along with 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Minnesota transfer Jamison Battle had his best game in a Buckeye uniform against Santa Clara, recording 21 points and bringing his scoring average to 12.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, and is shooting 39.5 percent from three-point range.
Zed Key has been a force off the bench this season, averaging 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest in 21 minutes per night. He has been incredibly efficient, shooting over 71 percent from the field — tops on the team. This mark would also lead the Big Ten if he had played enough minutes to qualify. At 21 minutes per game, Key does not qualify to lead the conference in any stat categories that are based on averages.
Central Michigan is led by junior guard and Tulsa transfer Anthony Pritchard, who is averaging 14.5 points, 5.7 boards and 5.3 assists per game, as well as averaging 2.3 steals. Junior forward Markus Harding averages 11.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, and senior guard Brian Taylor averages 11.2 points and 6.7 boards per game.
The Chippewas are led by third-year head Coach Tony Barbee, who has a 19-48 record there in three seasons. CMU is No. 304 in KenPom, making it the lowest-ranked KenPom team Ohio State has faced so far.
This is the type of game that can derail a season if Ohio State loses. Western Michigan is better than Central Michigan this season, and at one point, the Buckeyes were up by 30 on the Broncos. Ohio State is playing its best basketball of the season, and Central Michigan is in the bottom tier of the MAC.
It will be interesting to see if Taison Chatman gets more run in this one. Chatman is a highly regarded freshman guard for the Buckeyes who underwent offseason surgery. He made his debut against Alabama, but was only in for 30 seconds to give Bruce Thornton a quick rest, and then he played in about three minutes of garbage time against Santa Clara after the bow was put on that one.
He seems ready to go, and the Buckeyes will surely ease him in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays 10-plus minutes in this contest since it will likely be in hand for most of the second half.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 95.1%
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network