The Buckeyes (21-4, 9-3) will try to erase memories of Saturday’s 58-48 debacle against Sparty when they travel to Williams Arena in Minneapolis to take on Minnesota (17-8, 5-7) in a Tuesday night tilt. Ohio State faces what may be a must-win game in the race for the B1G regular season title, and must find a way to bounce back from one of the worst offensive performances since Thad Matta took over as head coach. The Gophers have bounced back from an 0-4 start to the B1G season and have adjusted to life without injured senior forward Trevor Mbakwe. Minnesota is 5-3 in its last eight games, including a tough overtime loss to Wisconsin on Thursday, 68-61. Minnesota is always tough in Williams Arena, with a 12-3 home record this year. The Buckeyes are just 2-4 in their last six trips to Minneapolis, but have won the last four overall meetings in the series. Ohio State leads the all-time series, 77-55, but is just 29-37 at Minnesota. The game can be seen on ESPN at 9 p.m.
The Gophers lead the B1G in blocked shots per game (5.3), which is not optimal for the Buckeyes, considering where Ohio State’s offensive confidence probably is right now. The conversation about Minnesota starts with junior forward Rodney Williams (#33), who leads the Gophers—not counting the injured Mbakwe—in average scoring (10.7) and rebounds (5.2). Williams also leads his club in steals (38) and blocks (39). He’s fifth in the B1G in FG% (57%). Joining Williams in the front court is senior center Ralph Sampson III (#50), a 6-11 pivot averaging 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. He and Williams provide the best shot-blocking tandem in the conference. Tubby Smith rounds out his starting lineup with a trio of guards: junior Julian Welch (#00), sophomore Austin Hollins (#20) and freshman Joe Coleman (#11). Welch’s 10.1 point scoring average is second among active Gophers, while his 44.8% shooting beyond the arc and 67 assists are tops on the club. He and Hollins are tied for second in steals (26). Hollins averages 8.5 points and hits a third of his three-pointers (29-87). Coleman chips in 5.6 points. All three guards average less than 2.5 rebounds per game, which may be an area Ohio State can exploit.
Tubby’s most important bench players are sophomore guard Chip Armelin (#23) and freshman guard Andre Hollins (#1). Each are averaging just over six points per game. Hollins dropped 20 in the loss to Wisconsin last week. Another sophomore guard, Maverick Ahanmisi (#13) chips in four points per game in about 17 minutes on average. A pair of redshirt freshmen, Oto Osenieks (#10) and Elliott Eliason (#55), spell Sampson and Williams. Neither offers much in the way of scoring, but Eliason is an effective shot blocker and rebounder. The Gophers rely on hustle and defense to offset any offensive deficiencies.
Ohio State wins if: it gets back to playing Buckeye basketball. This entails limiting turnovers, playing great defense, getting the ball to Sullinger in the post, and complement Sully’s inside game with good perimeter movement of both the ball and personnel to create open shots. It is helpful when those shots fall, obviously, which they didn’t on Saturday. We certainly expect an improvement in shooting percentage over the last game, even in a hostile environment. The other thing the Buckeyes must do is handle the adversity of not just their worst offensive performance in years, but also the intimidating Williams crowd. Minnesota is one of those places where an active crowd can spur a team to do things it shouldn’t, like compete with a more talented team, and it’s important to remember that four sophomores start for Ohio State. They handled the Kohl Center, so we hope Williams will not present too big of a problem.
Minnesota wins if: Ohio State plays another sloppy offensive game, fails to rebound, and doesn’t handle the environment well. It would help the Gophers’ cause if they can block a few shots early, and if Sampson, Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin or someone else can throw in 12-15 points to augment the usual offense of Williams or Welch. Minnesota would also benefit greatly if Craft, Sully and/or Buford get into foul trouble early in the game and never develop any rhythm once they come back. The Gophers can also stay competitive by hitting a lot of threes, and they can do that, being fourth in the league in 3FG% (36%), although they have attempted the second fewest in the B1G (361).
Notes: Former Buckeye Carter Scott entered the season with the Williams Arena record for opponents’ field goal percentage (.923 on 12-13 shooting) set back on Jan. 22, 1981. Scott went off for 25 points in a 76-63 OSU win…Aaron Craft needs seven assists to reach 300 for his career.