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The Big Preview: Ohio State

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Can Virginia take down the Buckeyes for the second straight season?

NCAA Basketball: Grambling State at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia basketball team has made me look bad twice in the last week. On Friday, I said UVA’s game against Iowa would be its first real test. The Hoos won by 33. On Saturday, I said UVA’s against against Providence would be its first real test. The Hoos won by 11. It’s possible that I overestimated how good those opponents would be. Heck, it’s possible that I underestimated how good Virginia might be.

Either way, I’m sticking to my narrative. Tonight, Virginia will undoubtedly face its biggest test of the season so far when it hosts Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. These two teams played last year in Columbus, and Tony Bennett’s squad came away with a 64-58 win. That Virginia team didn’t have London Perrantes, who was recovering from appendicitis, but it did have a guy named Malcolm Brogdon, who notched 22 points and 6 treys. Brogdon is gone, but London will be heavily involved this time.

The Buckeyes come to Charlottesville 6-0, but with the 321st ranked schedule in the nation. The only top 100 team they’ve played is Providence, who they beat 72-67 at home. The Hoos, as you know, beat Providence on Saturday in the Emerald Coast Classic Final. Providence isn’t bad, but beating them by 5 at home is disappointing for the Buckeyes.

It may be difficult to assess Ohio State’s performances so far because of the level of their competition, but they’ve shot the ball well. Junior Kam Williams leads the way. He’s shooting 56% from beyond-the-arc. Williams doesn’t do much else, but the Hoos will need to keep track of him very closely. He’s OSU’s 2nd leading scorer this year.

Williams usually comes off the bench, but he’s started the past 3 games while Keita Bates-Diop has been out with a sprained ankle. Bates-Diop may be back for this game. He isn’t near the shooter that Williams is, but he’s bigger and stronger and is a very good defender. He can penetrate, he can score with his back to the basket and he can finish in transition. Bates-Diop had 15 points in last year’s contest, and went 3-for-6 from downtown.

Virginia has the personnel advantage even if Bates-Diop is available. Perrantes should be able to guard Kam Williams, which leaves the bigger defenders to guard OSU PG JaQuan Lyle. He’s 6’5” 210, so he may simply be too big for Perrantes. Last year, Lyle saw a lot of Malcolm Brogdon and he finished with just 3 points on 1-for-7 shooting. This year he may find himself matched up with Devon Hall or Marial Shayok. Lyle tends to dominate the ball, but he isn’t quite as explosive as some of his teammates. He also struggles to keep up defensively. He had 21 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the win over Providence.

The other wing is Jea’Sean Tate. Tate is a tremendous athlete, but he’s a bit of a tweener. He’s just 6’4”, but he has a PFs game. He shot 35% from 3 last year, but took just 40 shots. So far this year, he’s 1-for-6 from downtown. He’s good in transition and he can score inside, especially if he’s matched up with a smaller defender. This will not be the case for the Hoos, as Devon Hall can match him physically better than most wings. Marial Shayok will also get some chances, and while his length may bother Tate, he may not be strong enough to contain Tate inside.

On the inside, the Buckeyes are led by Marc Loving, a stretch 4 who can also play on the inside. He’s 6’8” 220, and will likely be guarded by Isaiah Wilkins. Loving torched the Hoos for 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting last season.

Along with Loving is 7-footer Trevor Thompson. Thompson’s father was a professional baseball player and won a world series with the Yankees. Thompson is a good defender, shot blocker and rebounder. But his offensive game is limited largely to putbacks and open dunks. He had 5 points in 15 minutes last year against the Hoos, but this year he has actually been splitting time with freshman Micah Potter. Potter isn’t the defender than Thompson is and is still a bit raw, but has the ability to knock down the 3 as well as score with his back to the basket. Potter has been starting, but he played just 4 minutes against Providence and he’s likely never faced anybody as physical as Jack Salt.

These are two teams who rely heavily on defense. Thad Matta historically has employed a sort of matchup-zone defense. But last year, he went away from his zone and the team improved. So far this year, they have played mostly man, with some of his preferred 3-2 zone. As with any zone defense, the way to beat it inside-out. However, with a 3-2, the middle of the paint is often available. Isaiah Wilkins’ passing and shooting make him an ideal candidate to set up at the foul line, just behind the perimeter defenders.

The Hoos have enough outside shooting that Matta may stick with the man-to-man defense for much of the game. OSU has good defenders and Thompson is a very strong shot blocker. So, regardless of the defense, the Hoos may be relying on outside shots. Of course, that is a problem if they aren’t falling. But, at home, with the crowd behind them, enough shots should fall.