There are a lot of storylines for Ohio State’s first ever meeting against South Carolina-Upstate. Of course there is the Jared Sullinger injury watch. Sully remains day-to-day with back spasms. Then there is LaQuinton Ross, who has officially joined the Buckeyes, practicing for the first time on Monday. Ross will wear number 10. The Buckeyes (8-1) remain No. 2 despite their loss at Kansas on Saturday. Kentucky fell to third after losing at Indiana on Christian Watford’s buzzer beater. Syracuse is your new No. 1. Ohio State will look to regroup, with or without Sullinger, against the Spartans from the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Buckeyes are 12-0 overall against that league, which includes the 85-50 victory over North Florida earlier this season.
USC-Upstate (6-4) is just 1-3 on the road this season, with its lone win coming at Texas-Pan American by four points, 70-66. The Spartans have dropped two in a row, most recently giving Dayton all it could handle on the road Sunday before falling 72-68. The Flyers may have had a hangover after their upset of Alabama, but the fact that SCUS nearly stole that game should prevent the Buckeyes from overlooking the Spartans. SCUS was within two points of Dayton with five seconds left. Aside from the Dayton loss, the Spartans’ other best loss was at home to Toledo, 75-70. There really isn’t much quality in those six SCUS wins, which include such names as Piedmont College, Victory University, Texas Pan-American (twice), Jacksonville State and Texas State. The eight-point victory over Texas State (6-3) would have to qualify as SCUS’ best win. The largest school the Spartans has faced is Arkansas, which drilled them, 83-63. The only common opponent is UTPA, which Ohio State demolished without Sullinger a week and a half ago. The Spartans have two wins over the Broncs, by a combined 19 points.
The Spartans are young, with only two seniors on the roster. One of those seniors is starting forward Chalmers Rogers (#32), a 6-7, 220-pounder who averages only 2.7 points and two rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game. Sophomore forward Torrey Craig (#23) leads the Spartans in scoring and rebounding (16.9/7.6). He’s jacking about seven three-pointers per game but hitting them at only a 33.3% clip. Stopping Craig will be the focus for Ohio State, because no one else on the Spartans is averaging double figures. Freshman guard Adrian Rodgers (#15) is nearly there, at 9.7 points per game, averaging 20 minutes off the bench, although he has started two games this year. Redshirt sophomore forward Ricardo Glenn (#12) and freshman guard Ty Greene (#5) — both starters — average about nine points per game each. Greene is hitting 35.5% of his three pointers and leads the team in steals (18). Freshman guard Mario Blessing (#31) rounds out the starting lineup, scoring 3.7 points per outing and leading the team with 25 assists. The Spartans have eight players averaging around 15 minutes or more per game.
On paper, this should be another one of those non-conference mismatches. Ken Pomeroy has USC-Upstate ranked 245th overall. Then again, Pomeroy has Wisconsin first, so go figure. Even without Sullinger, Ohio State should prevail and do so comfortably. What the Buckeyes probably can’t afford is to not have Sullinger, shoot like they did at Kansas, and have William Buford play as disinterested as he did against Texas-Pan American. You may recall that he scored only two points in that game. What we’d like to see is Ohio State come out and play with some anger, refusing to let the Spartans hang around. It would be good if Thad Matta can use a lot of players and establish some kind of game plan in case Sullinger has to miss extended time, especially if he misses any time in March with a back problem that isn’t likely to get any better until he can rest in the offseason. The continued development of Tank Thomas and Amir Williams would be a bonus and most welcome.
Notes: Buford needs 24 points to catch Robin Freeman for 10th on Ohio State’s all-time scoring list…Thad Matta will be going for his 199th win at Ohio State and 301st overall. Only Fred Taylor (297) and Harold G. Olsen (259) have surpassed 200 wins as head coach of the Buckeyes…Ohio State enters the game ranked first nationally in several key stat areas. The Buckeyes are No. 1 in scoring margin (+29.3 ppg) and turnover margin (+8.8), and are tied for first with Northwestern in assist/turnover ratio (+1.77)…Ohio State will honor Brent Darby and Joe Daniels with a moment of silence prior to the game.