Ohio State looks to bounce back from Wednesday’s loss at Duke today at 4:30 p.m. when the Buckeyes (4-1) take on the Northern Kentucky Norse (0-4). Seriously, that’s what they’re called. The Norse. I didn’t even make that up. It’s a poor man’s way of saying “Vikings” I guess, but whatevs. NKU, getting its first taste of Division I basketball this season, currently occupies the cellar of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Located in Highland Heights, Kentucky, just seven miles southeast of Cincinnati, NKU is neither “Atlantic,” nor is it particularly sunny, but then again we’re living in a world where Louisville is in the ACC and Georgia Tech could be joining the B1G, so…yeah. Oh, and the game is on the Big Ten Network, if you’re inclined to watch. This game tips off a run of eight straight home contests for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes look to make NKU their 35th consecutive non-conference victim in Columbus. Ohio State has never faced the Norse before in the regular season, but is 12-0 all-time against Atlantic Sun opponents. You may recall that the Buckeyes played an Atlantic Sun Conference opponent last season, an 82-58 game against South Carolina-Upstate. Northern Kentucky has yet to play a home game, which makes sense, considering their nickname brands them as a marauding band of Scandinavians. The marauding could use some work, however, as the Norse have fallen by four to San Diego and Siena, by 20 to Tulsa, and by 11 to Cal State Northridge so far on the young season. We do not expect them to pick up their first win at The Schott, but hey…Mayans, so you never really know, do you?
The NKU roster boasts seven Ohioans, including the two tallest Norse (my God that sounds weird)—twin brothers Jacob (#15) and Justin (#35) Rossi, who are both 6-8 freshmen forwards. Neither of the Rossis start, and only Justin has played this season—a whole four minutes. This means the starting lineup is even smaller. The tallest starter is 6-7 senior forward Ernest Watson (#5), who averages only 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game and has made just a third of his shots. Jalen Billups (#21), a 6-6, 225-pound sophomore from Cincinnati (Shroder High School) is listed as forward/center. Billups averages a respectable 8.3 points but only three rebounds. One would expect an Amir Williams block-fest with his height advantage, but we’ll wait and see on that.
Joining Watson and Billups in the starting lineup are three guards—seniors Ethan Faulkner (#1) and Eshaunte Jones (#40), and junior Chad Jackson (#24). Jones, a transfer from Nebrasketball, will play the three position. He leads the Norse in scoring at 15.8 points per game and is the only NKU player to average double figures. He adds four rebounds per game and is the team’s top 3-point threat, though he’s only hitting 31.4% outside the arc (11/35). Faulkner chips in 7.5 points and three assists per game and is a good rebounder for a 6-1 guard, pulling down 5.3 per game—best on the team. Jackson is a transfer from James Madison who averages 6.8 points and 4.3 rips per contest. Three bench players have seen action in every game, led by 6-1 freshman guard Nate Snodgrass (#30), who plays averages 4.5 points in 21 minutes. Todd Johnson (#23), another freshman guard, averages 15 minutes per game, scoring 3.8 points per outing.
Northern Kentucky wins if…HAHAHAHA. OK, seriously, the Norse can win if fewer than three Buckeyes reach double figures in scoring. There are always scenarios where dumb things can occur, but I just don’t see this upset happening.
Ohio State wins if…the Buckeyes don’t allow Duke to beat them twice. I think this game will provide a chance for Thad Matta to tinker a little bit with his rotation and try different combinations. I expect an early exit for Deshaun Thomas, probably after he’s scored somewhere between 16 and 30 points.
Notes: Tom Hamilton and Jim Jackson will call the game for BTN…The Norse are 6-25 against Division I competition all-time. Their last win against Division I competition came in 1984…The Buckeyes beat Northern Kentucky in a preseason exhibition game 77-67 in 2004…With 15 points, Thomas will move into 46th on Ohio State’s career scoring list, passing Jason Singleton and Bill Andreas…Aaron Craft is 331 points away from 1,000 career points and 14 steals from tying David Lighty for second on the career list with 191.