The Game is on everyone’s mind, but it’s not the only game around. Ohio State’s football team crosses enemy lines into Ann Arbor to play the hosting Wolvereenies on Saturday. Meanwhile, the shooty hoops squad returns to the comfy confines of Value City Arena in its last pre-Duke tune-up, this time against the 5-1 Valparaiso Crusaders.
The Crusaders might be the second best opponent Ohio State has played to date. Its only loss was a 73-64 decision to then-#16 Arizona. Its five victories include wins at Georgia Southern and at home to an Akron squad that knocked off Mississippi State in Starkville to begin its season. Other wins include decisions over Indiana-Kokomo, Holy Cross, and Duquesne. Maybe the strength of schedule is not entirely there, but the wins are, as well as the competitive play in those games.
Starting five will likely be Kevin Van Wijk (#55), Ryan Broekhoff (#45), Matt Kenney (#23), Will Bogan (#21), Erik Buggs (#15) in a 3-guard, 2-forward lineup. Broekoff is a versatile player and more of a guard-forward. The 6’7, 215lb product of the Australian Institute of Sport will provide head coach Bryce Drew — yes, that Bryce Drew — some flexibility if it feels it needs to go big to deal with Jared Sullinger. Therein, it could be 7’1 center and Croat Hrvoje Vucic (#3) who has Sullinger duties. Still, I think Drew would like to keep Van Wijk (a Dutchman) and Broekhoff as his post presence of choice. Both Van Wijk and Broekhoff lead the team in scoring with 17.8ppg and 15.5ppg respectively. Both also hover near double digits in rebounds per game as well, providing a nice challenge for Ohio State on the glass.
Guard play is neither here nor there and the expectation is that Aaron Craft will do whatever he wants with whoever has the ball. This is because Aaron Craft is the “bad boy” that we all swooned over in our youths. Kenney, Buggs and Bogan contribute 9.2ppg, 7.2ppg, and 5.8ppg respectively. Not one of the three have a quality assist/turnover ratio. One name to watch is actually a substitute guard, Jay Harris (#22). Harris has just one start on the season, but is second on the team in minutes per game. He is also instrumental in Valpo’s scoring too, contributing 11.2ppg and adding over 3 assists a game as well. It’ll be another heart for Aaron Craft to break.
Valparaiso is a good squad, though not exceptional at any one thing that should give Ohio State fits. The real expectation is that Ohio State should cruise to victory against the Crusaders, with one eye to Tuesday against the Duke Blue Devils. Still, Bryce Drew’s team is good enough as a unit to punish Ohio State for sloppy play or poor shooting. This is something that is clearly not beyond Ohio State this season. Valpo’s resumé is impressive enough, considering how any shooty hoops season is going to start. A quality loss at Arizona and a win over Akron is as good a start as any for a Horizon League squad, whose preseason predictions were for a fifth place finish.
The game is on the Big Ten Network and will tip off at 6:30 ET. Death to michigan.