Led by sophomore guard Bruce Thornton, the Buckeyes (6-1) head into the matchup on the heels of an 88-61 routing of the Central Michigan Chippewas on Nov. 29.
Minnesota, for their part, is heading to Columbus on the heels of their 33-point victory over the New Orleans Privateers, a game in which Minnesota’s bench scored 62 points, with three reserve players scoring in the double digits.
The game kicks off Big Ten conference play for both teams this season.
For one Buckeye in particular, this game is personal.
Fifth-year graduate forward Jamison Battle will be facing off against his former team, having transferred to Ohio State from Minnesota (his hometown university) after last season ended (funnily enough, he took part in the Golden Gophers’ upset over the Buckeyes, a low point for OSU last season).
Battle, who has been a tremendous asset for the Buckeyes, refers to his former teammates as his “brothers,” but as many of us well know, sibling rivalry can be a powerful motivator, and it could factor in.
Still, Battle says that in spite of the emotional element, for him and his current teammates, Sunday is business as usual.
“Business as usual” is pretty successful these days. While the Gophers’ two losses have come against their two quality opponents (losing 70-68 against Missouri and 76-58 against San Francisco), the Buckeyes have held their own against Alabama and Santa Clara.
Thornton in particular is having a spectacular start to the season, putting up 25 points against Central Michigan and averaging 18.3 points and 4.4 assists per game. Thornton is joined in the backcourt by fellow sophomore Roddy Gayle, who is averaging 14.4 points per game with 4.1 assists. They are one of the top backcourt duos in the conference. Battle, for his part, is averaging 12.4 points and 2.4 3-pointers per game.
Minnesota is led by junior forward Dawson Garcia, who is averaging 18.3 points and 2.6 assists with 7.7 rebounds per game. In their Dec. 1 routing of New Orleans, the Gophers jumped to a 7-6 lead early, after a layup by sophomore forward Joshua Ola-Joseph (avg. 9 points per game), and never trailed again.
The Gophers come into this contest as the 127th-ranked offense in the nation, according to KenPom.
Minnesota has outscored opponents by an average of 13.1 points per game so far this season (compared to the Buckeyes’ 15.4 ppg), but this is the Golden Gophers’ first true road game, and it looks to be a lopsided match in the Buckeyes’ favor.
Both of the Gophers’ two losses were against quality opponents, dropping a close 70-68 battle against Missouri and losing by 18 to San Francisco in a neutral-site game (though it was on the West Coast), so this game looks to be a good indicator of what we can expect from the Gophers this season.
The Buckeyes, on the other hand, bounced back from their early 73-66 loss to No. 15 Texas A&M and went on to defeat No. 17 Alabama, 92-81 and beat Santa Clara by 30 points in back-to-back games.
OSU is shooting well to start the season, and if Minnesota continues to struggle with perimeter defense, this could be a long day for the visitors.
I expect the Buckeyes to extend their win streak to six, particularly if the Buckeyes can force turnovers (something the Gophers have struggled with this season).
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 85.3%
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
LGHL score prediction: Ohio State 83, Minnesota 70