Buckeyes face daunting task at Virginia

Marc Loving and Ohio State face off with Virginia.

Matt Medley

Matt Medley covers Ohio State basketball for AmicoHoops and various local sports for other outlets around Northeast Ohio.

Follow @MedleyHoops on Twitter.

For those who haven’t been paying close attention to Buckeye basketball, the team has quietly gotten off to a 6-0 start and is one of only 19 unbeaten schools in Division I entering Wednesday night.

While OSU football has been on the minds of just about every sports fan in Ohio, the guys next door at the Schott have been flying under the radar.

Ohio State’s only two games against major schools came on the road at Navy and at home vs. Providence.

The Buckeyes have yet to climb into the AP Top 25, but just missed the cut in each of the last four rankings.

Few would have predicted that Ohio State and Rutgers would be the last undefeated teams remaining in the Big Ten, but teams like Maryland, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana all played a tough schedule to open up the year.

Now, it’s the Buckeyes’ turn to see where they stack up against the elite teams.

#6 Virginia (6-0) is playing some of the best basketball in the country through three weeks.

The Cavaliers have the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation, holding opponents to only 41.3 points per contest.

From Nov. 15 to Nov. 22, Virginia became the first team in 20 years to hold Division I opponents below 40 points in three straight games.

Granted, its competition included St. Francis (NY), Yale, and Grambling State, but the Cavaliers almost made it four in a row, dominating Iowa 74-41.

It would be fair to say that this Virginia vs. Ohio State game is the toughest on either team’s schedule thus far, but obviously the Buckeyes will have their work cut out for them.

Traveling on the road to face the No. 6 team isn’t easy for any team, let alone one that is still trying to climb up into the Top 25.

If there’s one thing the Buckeyes can hope for, it would more than likely be a low-scoring game for both sides.

As much as Virginia has dominated on defense, the team is averaging 72.8 points per game, with four of those games coming against what would be referred to as cupcakes.

The Cavaliers have a well-balanced offense with eight players averaging 7.0 points or more, but in five of the six games, no one on the team has scored more than 15 points.

It’s tough to say how Virginia’s offense will produce against a better team, like Ohio State, but the Cavaliers are shooting just under 52 percent from the field.

Ohio State’s defense is not considered elite, but compared to the teams on Virginia’s schedule, one would expect the Cavalier offense will have an even tougher challenge than those first six games.

The Buckeyes allow an average of 58.1 points per game (13th in the nation), but again, the strength of schedule is a major factor for that.

Ohio State’s biggest strength through six games has been its depth in terms of scoring options.

Six players average at least 10.0 points per game and four different players have eclipsed 20 points in a game.

Kam Williams (13.7 ppg), the sharpshooter from outside, scored 23 on opening night.

Jae’Sean Tate (14.3 ppg) leads the team in scoring and put up 20 points against Marshall. Marc Loving (11.5 ppg) also scored 20 in that game.

Ja’Quan Lyle (11.3 ppg) scored 21 against Providence, in the toughest test of Ohio State’s young season.

The Buckeyes have also received great contributions from Trevor Thompson off the bench.

Micah Potter is going through a bit of a boom-or-bust start to his freshman season and leading rebounder Keita Bates-Diop did not play in the last three games.

Bates-Diop will be a game-time decision for the Bucks on Wednesday night, but based on how long he has been resting with a high ankle-sprain, it seems like the coaching staff would have known by now if he was going to play.

If he is able to play, that would seem to only help the Buckeyes’ chances, but they’ve been on a roll for the last two weeks regardless.

The Buckeyes come into the game as 14-point underdogs, entering a hostile road environment at John Paul Jones Arena, where the Cavaliers have not lost since Dec. 4, 2013, when they fell to #8 Wisconsin.

Keeping all of that in mind, few people are giving the Buckeyes a chance to win this one.

However, it’s worth pointing out that these two teams have something that few schools can compare after only six games: a common opponent.

The Buckeyes and Cavaliers have both played the Providence Friars, ending up with eerily similar results.

Ohio State hosted the Friars and won 72-67. If that game was played in Providence, it may not have turned out that way, but the Bucks got the job done, easing some of the early season concerns.

Virginia met Providence at a neutral site, playing in Niceville, FL, and the Cavaliers won 63-52.

What is encouraging from an Ohio State perspective is that the Buckeyes were able to score more against a common opponent, but Virginia’s defense has been the best at every point this season.

It would be a shock to the national basketball scene if OSU pulls off the upset, but if the Buckeyes are all clicking and just about everything goes their way, it’s possible.

Assuming Bates-Diop will not play, here are just a few of the keys that Buckeyes fans can realistically hope will play out.

  1. Micah Potter needs to hit a couple¬†three’s.
  2. C.J. Jackson continues to pitch in his 6-8 assists per game off the bench.
  3. Marc Loving and Ja’Quan Lyle both step up and score 15 or more.
  4. Jae’Sean Tate and Trevor Thompson both finish in the neighborhood of double-doubles.
  5. Kam Williams gets hot from outside and knocks down four or five three’s.
  6. Ohio State’s defense holds Virginia’s offense to fewer points than it has¬†been averaging against low-level competition.

Expecting this to happen on the road against the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation is a big ask, but based on what we’ve seen early in the season, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

If the Buckeyes are able to pull this one off, chances are it’s going to be a low-scoring affair, somewhere around 60 points per side.

There’s a bit of uncertainty heading into this game because of both teams’ weak schedules to open the season.

Maybe Virginia has a down night and doesn’t take Ohio State seriously yet.

Perhaps the Buckeyes are overwhelmed by the tough task of playing in Virginia.

What’s certain is that if Ohio State is able to win this one or at least take it down to the wire, the nation will be put on notice that the Buckeyes are team to watch this season.

If it’s a blowout, all that momentum from a 6-0 start goes back to the narrative that this team just doesn’t have the horses to get it done.

Optimistically, my hope is to see Lyle and Potter play like the top prospects that Thad Matta recruited, the veterans continue their steady, reliable production, and Williams gets hot.

Tip-off is set for 9:20 pm on ESPN 2, as the college basketball realm will be keeping an eye on Charlottesville, VA.

About the Author

Matt Medley
Matt Medley covers Ohio State basketball for AmicoHoops and various local sports for other outlets around Northeast Ohio. Follow @MedleyHoops on Twitter.