Yes, shooty hoops.
Ohio State’s football team is bowl ineligible this year as a result of the NCAA sanctions that ultimately ended the Tressel era of Ohio State football. As such, shooty hoops this season begins in November, and not January, for the casual Ohio State fan. Rather than begin the season with a tournament in Hawaii, or at home to a random patsy, Ohio State is joining the recent trend of inaugurating the college basketball season with a show that allows American servicemen to be part of the festivities. Last year, it was Michigan State that started the trend, playing North Carolina on an aircraft carrier in San Diego, California. This year, the Spartans are in Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, taking on the Connecticut Huskies. Ohio State is playing on a boat this time, tipping off against Marquette from the Big East. I give a preview of this game below.
It is a bit difficult to preview this game, mostly because it’s a season opener. Ohio State has a lot of question marks, not the least of them about finding a reliable perimeter jump shooter and replacing Jared Sullinger inside. Ohio State will also be without its microwave, losing William Buford to graduation and a professional contract to play in Galicia in Spain. Heh, Gallegos. Anyways, there are still a lot of familiar faces for the Buckeyes, mostly Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas. Both will serve different roles, but both juniors will need to lead the team if it is going to start on a journey to match or improve on last year’s Final Four run. Craft, the point guard, may be asked to be a more effective scorer. The curious thing about last year’s squad is how Craft would remove himself as a scoring option for the Buckeyes. He is a capable shooter, and was one of the program’s all time best shooting the ball among players in their freshman year. Last year, he was content to delegate to weapons like Jared Sullinger, William Buford, and Deshaun Thomas. This year, he may need to be as assertive on offense as he is aggressive on defense. Meanwhile, is Deshaun Thomas an Antoine Walker in disguise? We may find out this year. Deshaun Thomas’ ability to blast things, as if he were a tank, will have me citing medieval European geography on Twitter, though it does not do well for the team if he needs a high number of shots to pad his points per game statistic.
What of the rest of the team, especially in the post? Evan Ravenel will likely start, but Ohio State fans are hoping Amir Williams is ready to step into Sullinger’s role from last year. At 6’11, 250lbs, Williams is easily our best shot blocking option inside. However, Williams (and Ravenel for that matter) are prone to fits of basketball deficit disorder on the offensive side of things. No one is really sure of their ability to be an effective post presence one-on-one, or if it will be imperative for ball handlers like Craft and Thomas to try to work both into the proceedings. It may lead to Marquette, and other teams, choking up the Buckeyes’ offensive sets. New questions emerge for some familiar faces like Lenzelle Smith, Jr and Sam Thompson. Smith was a starter last year, who played defense as enthusiastically as Craft. This year, he, like Craft, will be expected to be more efficient and assertive on offense. Meanwhile, Sam Thompson should be starting this game, hopefully dunking from orbit through the season. A starting five of Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith, Jr, Sam Thompson, and Evan Ravenel is expected this evening, and likely going forward.
Ohio State fans should also be curious about what Laquinton Ross and Amedeo Della Valle will do this season. Ross is the ultimate wild card this season, whose ability to attack off the dribble, and hit perimeter jump shots, with his 6’8 frame could be the difference in Ohio State hanging with Indiana and the rest for tops in a tough league for shooty hoops. What of Della Valle, though? The true freshman from Alba, Italy (by way of Las Vegas, Nevada) could very well be a fan favorite for Ohio State fans. He’s already garnered some positive reviews from the coaching staff for being a sound player with a reliable jump shot. Still, he’s a freshman (and certainly fails every “look test”, if you’re into that thing). Is he ready? We may find out a little bit as this game progresses.
On the other side, Marquette basketball begins a new season after finishing second in the Big East last year, advancing to the quarterfinals of the conference’s highly publicized tournament and advancing to the Sweet 16 in the West Region, where it was bounced by the Florida Gators. The Eagles lose two important players from that squad, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. Buzz Williams was hoping to build around some of the returning guards, like Vander Blue (#13) and Todd Mayo (#4), the younger brother of OJ Mayo. Mayo, however, was ruled academically ineligible for the Eagles, providing a serious blow to a Marquette squad that’s now somewhat thin at the two guard position. As this is the first game of the season, I’m a bit unsure of who will replace Mayo in the starting five. Options include Trent Lockett (#22), the transfer from Arizona State, and Jamal Ferguson (#1), a freshman. Derrick Wilson (#12), an unproven sophomore, may also get consideration. We’ll see what this means for the Eagles this game. Williams’ team has already lost 71% of its three point shooting from last season, and 48% of its overall scoring.
Elsewhere, senior Junior Cadougan (#5) returns from last year’s squad, who average 5.4 assists per game last year. Jamil Wilson (#0) is a bit undersized for a forward/pivot player, but average a block and a half per game last season. Expect highly touted freshman Steve Taylor, Jr (#25), of the well-known Simeon program in Chicago (and hence: #25), to come off the bench for Wilson. The Eagles aren’t very big up front. Chris Otule (#42) is 6’11, but may play like five minutes this game. Davante Gardner (#54), all 6’8 of him, will be the other post presence for Marquette. He average 9.5 points per game last year. Marquette isn’t very big up front, though, of course, Ohio State isn’t very proven up front.
Ohio State wins if… either Evan Ravenel or Amir Williams individually has eight rebounds this game, or if both combine for 12. Ohio State is missing the sure rebounding presence of Jared Sullinger, who was a stop gap for some of the common criticisms Ohio State fans would send Matta’s way regarding matchup zones and the inability for previous post men like Kosta Koufos or BJ Mullens to capably clean glass. This also happens to be one of the biggest questions marks about this team entering this season. If Ohio State can outmuscle Marquette on the glass, we should be good.
Marquette wins if… Deshaun Thomas shoots less than 40% from the field. Thomas had simply awful games in the Buckeyes two losses to conclude last year’s season (against Michigan State in the B1G TEN tournament finale, against Kansas in the Final Four). As I noted earlier, I do wonder if Thomas this season is going to be a high volume shooter in order to score 18-20 points per game, making him our Antoine Walker. Antoine Walker: bad. Tank that blasts things with regularity: good.
Live blog is below. Game is at 7:00pm ET on the NBC Sports Network. See you there for a little Round Ball Rock.