No. 3 Ohio State (1-0) follows Friday’s season-opening spanking of foul-happy Wright State (73-42) with its first real test of the year, hosting Florida (1-0) at The Schott. The Gators are ranked No. 8 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the USA Today/Coaches poll, and should provide a much better indicator of where this Buckeye team stands at this stage of the season. The Buckeyes lead the overall series, 7-4, with a 4-0 record at home. Ohio State has won the last two meetings since the game for all of the hoop-shaped Tostitos in 2007. Florida opened its 2011-12 campaign much like Ohio State, with a blowout win at home Friday, stomping Jackson State, 99-59. This could be Florida’s best squad since…I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s move on and take a look at the two teams.
Four starters, and five Gators in all, scored double figures against Jackson State, led by junior guards Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario. Boynton averaged 14 points last year, and is a streaky scorer sometimes, but he’s always an excellent defender. He is the SEC’s leading active all-time scorer. Freshman Guard Bradley Beal (14), sophomore forward-center Patric Young (12) and guard Erving Walker (10) also hit double digits. Of those five, all but Rosario are starters. Rosario is a transfer from Rutgers who sat out last season, after scoring 16.7 points per game in the Big East in 2009-10. The Gators will play three guards a lot. Gone are forward Chandler Parsons, last year’s SEC Player of the Year, power forward Vernon Macklin, and forward Alex Tyus from last year’s starting lineup. Boynton, Beal and the diminutive (5-foot-8) Walker will share the floor with Young and 6-10 junior forward Erik Murphy. Walker is the only senior on Billy Donovan’s talent-rich team.
Beal, you may recall, chose Florida over Duke, Kansas and Ohio State, so…yeah. Last year’s Gatorade National Player of the Year, the St. Louis product averaged 32.5 points per game his senior season. Young is a 6-9 wide body, who the Gators will rely upon more heavily this season. He notched his first career double-double against Jackson State, with 10 rebounds, two blocks and three assists. Jared Sullinger should provide better competition for Young, who has been foul-prone in the past. Ohio State won last year’s meeting, 93-75 in Gainesville, behind 26 points each by Sully and David Lighty. Boynton scored 21 for the Gators and Walker added 15, but Young had only two off the bench in 12 minutes.
To be successful, Ohio State will have to cut down on the turnovers that plagued the team on Friday (14) and free throws can’t be bricked away in bunches like the Buckeyes’ 26-38 performance (68.4%) against Wright State. After all, the Gators reached the Elite Eight last year, before Butler got them in OT. Sully should go to work on Young early to draw some fouls. We will likely see the starters play a lot more minutes and some of them may play all 40 or close to it, barring foul trouble. More plays will likely be run for Sullinger and Buford, and so we’ll get a better look at what Thad Matta is thinking offensively for the season. I expect more inside-out game run through Number 0. Aaron Craft’s defense and distribution of the ball will be an important factor in obtaining the W.
KenPom says Ohio State has an 81% chance of winning, with a predicted score of 74-64. As much as I like Ohio State’s defense, I’m not sure I see the Buckeyes holding this Florida team under 70. This game may be tense late. It will be interesting to see which team with only one senior has the leadership it needs to make the plays down the stretch. A raucous Value City Arena crowd would help.