Author’s Note: According to Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch, Jared Sullinger will miss the UTPA game and possibly more with an undisclosed injury. Obviously this is a huge development and it was not known at the time this story was written.
If I were Admiral Ackbar, this is the part where I’d say “It’s a trap!” With a huge win over Duke in the rearview mirror and a trip to Kansas coming up, the No. 2 Buckeyes (7-0) cannot afford to overlook their next opponent, Texas-Pan American. It’s a classic trap for a young team: a giant ahead and a giant behind, with a seemingly easy one right in front. This is when letdowns happen. That should not happen to a team that has trailed for less than three minutes total in its last five games combined. Plus, Thad Matta is going for his 300th career win, so there’s some motivation. The Buckeyes have never faced the Broncs (2-6), and are 4-0 against the Great West Conference, from whence they come. Don’t look for this final contest of Ohio State’s 8-game, season-opening home stand on television. It’s only available on BTN.com, starting at noon (Eastern).
This should be a complete mismatch. Texas-Pan American averages only 64 points per game (261st nationally) and shoots just 41.7% from the floor (240th). The Broncs have lost two straight, most recently falling by 32 points to Texas-Arlington, 92-60. UTPA is 0-4 on the road this season and lost all 17 away games last season. The Broncs’ last true road victory came March 6, 2010 at North Dakota. Columbus would not seem to be the most likely place to break that streak. The Broncs play in front of an average of 321 fans at home – a far cry from what they’ll see even if The Schott is only half full. On the road they’ve played in front of an average of 2,116. Value City Arena should seem noisy to them.
Junior guard Brandon Provost (#1) leads the Broncs in scoring (15.3 points per game). He should return to the lineup after missing the last game with stomach flu. Provost is the team’s biggest perimeter threat, hitting 47.4% of his three-point attempts to lead UTPA. He’s also second in rebounding (4.7 per game). Senior guard Jared Maree (#11) out of Houston also averages double figures, at 13.6 points per outing. Provost and Maree are both 6-3 and I would expect Aaron Craft to draw defensive responsibility for one of the two, with Lenzelle Smith Jr. taking the other. UTPA typically starts a third guard, senior Nick Weiermiller (#12), who is 6-1 and averages 5.6 points. Weiermiller leads the Broncs in assists (28) and steals (6) and is among the school’s all-time leaders in three-point field goals, though he is hitting them at only a 36% clip.
In the front court, 6-5 junior forward Earl Jefferson (#20) will start. Jefferson’s 6.1 rebounds per game leads the Broncs, and his 47.2% shooting is the best among UTPA starters. Coach Ryan Marks usually pairs Jefferson with 6-6 sophomore forward Josh Cleveland (#25), but may go with 6-7 junior forward Ruben Cabrera (#13) in the starting lineup instead. Cabrera has an inch and 20 pounds on Cleveland, but both are averaging about the same amount of playing time. Cabrera averages eight points per game, compared to Cleveland’s 4.6. Neither player should present too many problems for Jared Sullinger.
This should not be a close game. The Broncs may hang around in the early going if Ohio State comes out flat, but the Buckeyes should really not have any trouble handling UTPA, even if they don’t shoot particularly well. The Broncs turn over the ball an average of 17.4 times per game, and they have yet to face a defense anywhere near the level of Ohio State’s. UTPA gives up an average of 74 points per game, for a minus-10 scoring difference. The Broncs lost by 24 at Northwestern and scored only 36 points. They allow eight steals per game. Craft alone may get that against this team. The interesting thing will be to see what kind of passion Ohio State plays with after beating Duke and with knowing Kansas is on the horizon. It will also be interesting to see how Deshaun Thomas responds after what could have been his breakthrough game. Expect to see a liberal dose of the OSU bench in this one.
Notes: This is the second straight year Thad Matta’s team has entered December undefeated. The Buckeyes are 13-0 in the last two Novembers…William Buford needs 20 more assists to join Evan Turner, Jim Jackson and David Lighty as the only players in OSU history to record more than 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists in their careers…Buford is 17 points from overtaking Terence Dials as the 12th all-time scorer in school history, and 23 points shy of passing Allan Hornyak for 11th…Texas-Pan American is a public university located in Edinburg, Texas, a small town within spittin’ distance of Mexico. It’s the only fully accredited four-year university in the Rio Grande Valley…UTPA’s mascot is Bucky the Bronc. You know how we feel about teams with mascots named Bucky.