1) Ohio State was a fringe tournament team for most of last season, finishing 8th in the Big Ten and making it to the second round on the strength of an upset over Iowa State. I’m sure that the Buckeyes were expecting to improve on that finish, but was anyone around the program ready for how strong this team would look right out of the gate and what has been the key for this extremely impressive start?
There was a lot of excitement about this Buckeye team coming into the season, because of how much Chris Holtmann has helped his teams overachieve in his first two seasons in Columbus, the maturation of last year’s incredibly young team, and the best recruiting class in the Big Ten.
But, I think fans and analysts thought that they would be fighting for the third or fourth spot in the Big Ten. So, while most expected there to be a significant improvement from last season, I don’t think that there is anyone outside of the program who thought that there would be this much of an improvement, and I’m not even sure that they anticipated this.
The reason that the team has been so good so early is because of how balanced they have been. While Kaleb Wesson is certainly still the best – and most well-known – player on the team, he’s become one of the Buckeyes’ options, not their only option.
The improvement of junior forward Kyle Young and sophomore guard Duane Washington Jr. has been tremendously important for the team, and the addition of three highly touted freshman and a transfer point guard has given the team the depth that limited them at times last season. It also helps that Kaleb Wesson has lost 30+ pounds and is now able to play more minutes and to limit his fouls, thus keeping him on the floor longer than he has been in his first two seasons in Columbus.
2) What do the Buckeyes like to do on offense and who should West Virginia fans be looking out for when OSU has the ball?
As I said before, OSU is incredibly balanced. They have three players averaging in double-figures and eight averaging 7.4 points or more. The offense still often runs through Kaleb Wesson, but that is no longer only down low. The younger of the two Wesson brothers is shooting 46.3 percent from beyond the arc. Washington Jr. leads the team from deep hitting half of his three-point attempts. His ability to spread the floor has been tremendously helpful not only for Kaleb down low, but also to give Young the opportunity clean up anything around the rim. The fact that he is shooting 72.2 percent from the field this season tells you everything that you need to know about the types of shots that he is taking.
OSU likes to get out and run when possible, and Carton is incredibly aggressive in taking the ball to the hoop.
3) What sort of defensive looks does Chris Holtmann like to throw at teams?
For all of the options that the Buckeyes have on offense, they are really a defense-led team. They are holding teams to 57.4 points per game and just 35.2 percent from the field, the fifth lowest percentage in the country. They are primarily a man-defense team, but will mix in zone looks if the situation calls for it. Ohio State’s guards are incredibly active on the defensive end of the floor.
Carton, Luther Muhammad, and CJ Walker do a tremendous job of making it incredibly difficult to get up good shots, which often drains the shot clock, limiting the amount of offensive possessions that OSU’s opponents get every game.
4) Like most Bob Huggins teams, West Virginia can struggle shooting at times but makes up for it with great offensive rebounding. How has Ohio State looked on the glass, and do you think they can stop West Virginia from consistently getting second chances on offense?
Ohio State is a moderately decent rebounding team, but part of that is because of what I mentioned before, their defense is so good that they don’t give up a lot of shots. Kaleb Wesson and Young are both big bodies down low and are very aggressive rebounders, but true freshman E.J. Liddell and Andre Wesson are both pretty proficient on the glass as well.
5) And, finally, what’s your prediction for Sunday’s game?
I think that it will be a very good game, and I think that WVU will probably score more than Ohio State has been allowing opponents to do this season. But, I will still go with an OSU victory, 72-64.