The #10 Villanova Wildcats head to Columbus on Wednesday to face the #16 Ohio State Buckeyes in the first marquee match-up of the year for Jay Wright’s squad. Coming off a dominant performance against Army, the young Wildcats will face their first real test of the season on the road in Columbus.
The Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State is coming off a mediocre season wherein the team finished with a 20-15 (8-12) and entered the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed. While the Buckeyes were able to knock off the 6-seed Iowa State Cyclones, they bowed out of the tournament with a double-digit loss to the Houston Cougars.
The Buckeyes opened the season with an eye-watering slogfest against Cincinnati where the team scored just 19 points in the first half before pulling away to win by 8. While the ‘Cats have had over a week off since opening the season, Ohio State took on UMass Lowell on Sunday night, pummeling the River Hawks by 20.
Ohio State is led by familiar face Chris Holtmann, former coach of the Butler Bulldogs, who has built a 47-24 record in his three years in Columbus.
So, what can the ‘Cats expect on Wednesday night?
De-fense :::clap clap::: De-fense
Under Holtmann, the Buckeyes have developed a style premised on strong defense and a slow and measured pace of play. The team finished with a Top-25 defensive efficiency rating last year led by strong defenders Luther Muhammad and Musa Jallow. Muhammad played high school ball with former Villanova guard Jahvon Quinerly. But let’s not go off on that tangent...
Muhammad and Jallow, both returning this year, are incredibly strong perimeter defenders. However, Jallow is presently out indefinitely with an ankle injury and has yet to fully practice this season. Similarly, the Buckeyes may also be without lone senior Andre Wesson, one of the team’s strongest post defenders, who suffered an eye injury against Cincinnati.
As such, a Buckeyes’ defense that would typically present problems for a Villanova team without a penetrating guard, does not appear to be at full strength. Regardless, the Buckeyes will still try to play tight perimeter defense and cut off passes to the paint, something, at least against Army, Villanova used to move the defense and open up outside shots. Villanova will likely have to lean on quick ball movement to shift the perimeter defense and would presumably benefit from pushing the pace and preventing the Buckeyes from getting set. A girl can dream.
Last year, the Buckeyes lacked weapons on offense, finishing sub-80 in KenPem and 13th in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency. They averaged just 69.1 points per game, good for 271st in the country. This year, Ohio State hopes to have a more balanced approach led by forwards Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young. Wesson, a 6’9 junior, averaged 14.6 points and nearly 7 rebounds a game last season. Young, a 6’8 junior, averaged just 6 points a game last year but figures to be a stronger presence on offense this season. He is already averaging 12 points per game on 76% shooting from the floor. All that being said, there have already been rough patches for a Buckeyes offense that went eight minutes without a bucket against Cincinnati.
Changing of the Guard(s)
As for the backcourt, Ohio State is led by Top-50 freshman DJ Carton. Carton, a 6’1 five star prospect, was the 4th best point guard in the class and selected Ohio State over Michigan and Indiana. He’s a quick facilitator with excellent court vision and the ability to blow by nearly every defender a team could throw in front of him. On defense, his quickness makes him a headache for any opposing point guard and, if he’s able to poke the ball free, he loves running in transition.
Holtmann also adds Florida State transfer CJ Walker to the fold, a talented point guard who led the Seminoles to the Elite Eight during his sophomore year. Walker, who hails from Indianapolis, was actually recruited by Holtmann at Butler before he ultimately elected to head down to Florida. Walker gives Ohio State a steady and more experienced point guard to assist Carton in running the offense.
Overall, Ohio State is a solid and well-coached team not unlike the Holtmann teams the Wildcats have dealt with in the past. They are young, with four freshman and four sophomores on the squad, and are dealing with a number of the same growing pains that have impacted the young Wildcats. That being said, they are full of potential and eager to establish themselves as the primary challengers to Michigan State in the Big-10.