Almost completely lost amidst the hubbub of #MeyerMonday was the fact that the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes will play No. 3 Duke in an important early clash between college basketball superpowers and a titanic B1G/ACC Challenge matchup. Ohio State (6-0) has faced Duke (7-0) five previous times, with a 2-3 mark in those meetings. The Buckeyes are 4-5 in the B1G/ACC Challenge and it would be nice to move to .500 in the series by beating one of the ACC’s marquee teams and their legendary coach with the unspellable name. OSU holds a 37-26 overall mark against the ACC. One last stat for the opening paragraph: the Buckeyes are 9-6 in games when both teams are ranked in the top five. Tonight’s game can be seen at 9:30 on TWWL.
When the teams last met in 2002, Duke won 91-76 despite Brent Darby’s 35 points. That game was in Greensboro, NC. The Blue Devils also won the last meeting in Columbus, 94-89 in double overtime, but that contest came way back in 1964, with Duke holding the No. 8 ranking at the time. Suffice it to say, this is going to be an extremely difficult challenge for a young Ohio State team, despite their talent. The Buckeyes must shoot well, play great perimeter defense, rebound and take care of the basketball. You know Duke will be doing these things; that’s why.
The good news: if ESPN decides to break in on the Ohio State game for a live look-in on whatever Coach K is doing, you’ll still be watching the Ohio State game. The bad news: Duke is seriously going to threaten the Buckeyes’ home winning streak, which currently stands at 28 games. The Blue Devils are a tough out, having already beaten Kansas, Michigan State, Michigan and Tennessee. The 7-point win over Kansas was for the Maui Classic title. The win over Sparty gave Mike Krzyzoqwihanaoieahsyzki his 903rd career win—the most in the history of Division I hoops. If you were watching the Buckeyes that night, you not only knew this, but were severely angered by it. For those that didn’t see Ohio State that night, ESPN interrupted the OSU-Florida game for several minutes to show the final meaningless seconds of Duke-Sparty—plus the postgame celebration—despite the fact that the Ohio State game was on ESPN2 and the Duke game was on ESPN’s main channel. /takes pill and calms down.
The Blue Devils utilize an offense that spreads the floor and takes advantage of its quick guards and strong outside shooting. There’s a good animated breakdown of it here. Typically, Duke is good enough in its base man-to-man defense to not throw anything too fancy at their opponents. That might change at times, given Ohio State’s inconsistent outside shooting this season. Junior guard Seth Curry (#30) is the team’s leading scorer, at 15.1 points per game. He’s hitting an impressive 57% of his shots from behind the arc this season and 51.2% overall. Junior forward Ryan Kelly (#34) averages 14.6 points per game and could cause Jared Sullinger problems with his 6-11 frame. This is doubly true when 6-10 Mason Plumlee (#5) or his equally-tall brother Miles (#21) are on the floor with Kelly. Mason is the starter, averaging 10 rebounds and 11.4 points per game, but Miles averages 15 minutes, five rebounds and 5.6 points. The Buckeyes may have to counter with Evan Ravenel playing for Lenzelle Smith, Jr. and/or Deshaun Thomas.
Freshman phenom Austin “Son of Doc” Rivers (#0) is chipping in 14 points per game. Junior guard Andre Dawkins (#20) rounds out the starting lineup, averaging 10 points per outing. Krzyzewski has used his bench this season in much the same way we’ve seen from Thad Matta. The starters will play a lot, with a few reserves getting meaningful minutes. The bench is unleashed in blowout situations or as needed in times of foul trouble. One reserve you may see quite a bit of is sophomore guard Tyler Thornton (#3).
Duke is the first team Ohio State has faced to employ multiple skilled big men. It will be interesting to see how Matta attacks and defends against it. Aaron Craft must not only be his usual self in defending and distributing the basketball, but must also continue to build his offensive game. The tall trees may keep him from using his blow-by layup. William Buford must continue to score, but without any prolonged cold spells. It would be helpful if Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith Jr. or someone else can provide an unexpected lift from behind the arc. Jared Sullinger will likely be double-teamed every time he touches the ball, so quick and correct decision making will be vital from Sully if Ohio State is to be successful and not waste possessions. Duke has the bodies to give a lot of fouls. This could wear down #0 over the course of 40 minutes. All five Buckeyes on the floor must contribute to the rebounding effort to keep Duke from loading up on second-chance points. Whatever happens, this is a key growth game for Ohio State moving forward toward the Kansas trip and into conference play.
Notes: Matta coached his final game with Xavier against Duke, falling 66-63 in a 2004 Elite Eight matchup…Sullinger will be looking for his fifth consecutive double-double…Craft is fifth nationally in steals per game (3.5), and has three or more steals in seven consecutive games…Buford needs just seven points to pass Jon Diebler for 13th on the all-time OSU scoring list.