No. 4 Ohio State gets to take its place in this year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge tonight at 9:30 when the Buckeyes (4-0) invade Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC for the first time in school history. The Buckeyes square off against last year’s opponent Duke and the No. 2 Blue Devils will have revenge on their minds after suffering last year’s 85-63 beatdown in Columbus. You’ll recall that Mike Krzyzewski talked about how sore his rear end was after that game. The contest took place almost a year ago to the day, but this year’s change of venue and the departures of several key players will make this a much different affair.
The Blue Devils (6-0) already have quality wins over Kentucky, Minnesota and Louisville and look every bit the part as a potential Final Four team or possibly better. Ohio State has lost 41 points of the 85 it scored against the Blue Devils a year ago in the persons of Jared Sullinger and William Buford. To be fair, the Blue Devils lost their top scorer from that game as well—Austin Rivers, who had 22. Duke and its boisterous fan base will be quite focused when the Scarlet and Gray take the court. This will certainly be Ohio State’s toughest opponent in the non-conference schedule.
Duke is a veteran club, returning three starters from a season ago: senior forwards Mason Plumlee (#5) and Ryan Kelly (#34), and senior guard Seth Curry (#30). A fourth potential returning starter, guard Andre Dawkins, has redshirted this season for personal reasons. Plumlee leads the Blue Devils in scoring and rebounding average, with 19.7 and 10.0, respectively. He and Kelly (11.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game) make a formidable front court duo. Kelly leads the team in blocks, with 14, while Plumlee is second, with 11. Curry is second in scoring (17.0 per game), and leads the team in three-pointers made (13) and attempted (35).
Joining the trio of returning seniors in the starting lineup are freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon (#14) and sophomore guard Quinn Cook (#2). Junior guard Tyler Thornton (#3) has started two games in place of Cook this season. Sulaimon, who averages 12 points per game, doesn’t jack as many threes as Curry but his percentage is better. Cook averages 10.7 points and 5.5 assists per game at point guard. Thornton leads the squad in steals (12). Others who will likely see action include junior forward Josh Hairston (#15), freshman forward Amile Jefferson (#21), and redshirt freshman forward Alex Murphy (#12). Another Plumlee, 6-11 redshirt freshman Marshall (#40) has been sidelined since October with a stress fracture in his leg.
Duke wins if…the big men inside are allowed to score easy baskets. Plumlee is shooting better than 67% on the season. I think Trey McDonald may need to eat some fouls in this game. The Buckeyes will also have to play well on the perimeter and keep Duke’s treys to a minimum. Sulaimon is hitting 40% outside the arc and Curry is just under that. Cook has nailed half of his attempts, but he’s only shot about half as many as Curry and Sulaimon (9/18). I feel like Ohio State has to hold Duke to a third of its attempts or less and the Buckeye guards must defend extremely well throughout the game.
Ohio State wins if…the Buckeyes can manage to keep the rebounding close and if the tandem of Evan Ravenel and Amir Williams (and possibly also McDonald) can handle Plumlee and Kelly. Plumlee is the much bigger scoring threat and he had a pretty good game against Sullinger last season. Meanwhile, Ravenel committed four fouls in only 13 minutes a year ago and did not score. Ohio State will need more from its big men in this game. On top of that, I think the Buckeyes will have to shoot better than 45% and hold Duke under that same mark. A good night shooting outside the arc (40% or better) would help.
Notes: You can watch the game on ESPN with Brent Musburger and Jay Bilas on the call…Ohio State is 5-5 in 10 previous games in the B1G/ACC Challenge, winning its last four…The Buckeyes are 3-3 all-time against Duke (1-1 at home and 2-2 at neutral sites)…Ohio State is 38-26 against ACC teams…Deshaun Thomas needs seven points to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career…Thomas needs 15 points to pass OSU assistant coach Chris Jent for 48th on the school’s all-time scoring list.
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