Scouting report: No. 4 Ohio State
Game info: 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena (10,000 capacity)
TV: ESPN2 (Mike Crispino and Derek Whittenburg.)
Radio: KJR 950 AM and 102.9 FM (Mike Gastineau and Jason Hamilton)
Stats/schedule: Click here.
Game notes: Click here.
Coach: Thad Matta is 223-65 in nine seasons with the Buckeyes. His career record is 323-96, which is the third best among active coaches. He’s coached at Xavier (78-23, three seasons) and Butler (24-8, one season).
Prediction: Picked to finish third in the 12-team Big Ten by media who cover the conference.
Series: Washington leads 8-3.
Last meeting: The Huskies won 67-63 on Dec. 1, 1972.
Previous game: Ohio State beat Rhode Island 69-58 on Saturday.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
— Deshaun Thomas (right) is the heir apparent to Jared Sullinger who was taken in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft. While they’re similar in size, the 6-7 and 225-pound Thomas doesn’t mix it up below the rim like Sullinger. Still, Thomas is very dangerous. His career high is 31 points and he’s capable of scoring 40.
“Thomas gives defenders nightmares and when he gets on a roll, he can rattle off points from all three areas of the floor.” wrote ESPN.com’s Reggie Rankin.
After scoring 19 points in OSU’s first game, he had 25 points and 10 rebounds in Saturday’s win over Rhode Island. He averages a team-high 22.0 points and 6.5 rebounds. Thomas is dangerous on the offensive glass where he gets a lot of putbacks and draws fouls. He’s also a good three-pointer shooter, who has made 7 of 15 behind the arc this season. The biggest knock
Thomas is OSU’s top returning scorer (15.9 ppg.) and rebounder (5.4 rpg.) from last season. Among the starters from the 2011-12 season, he shot the highest field goal percentage (.520/243-467) while scoring 619 points and grabbing 209 rebounds, 100 of which came on the offensive end of the court. Thomas is one of six Associated Press preseason All-Americans. He was also selected to the Wooden and Naismith top preseason lists.
— Don’t let the rosy cheeks faced looks fool you, Aaron Craft (above) is a gritty, defensive-minded enforcer. He won the Big Ten defensive player of the year award last season. In just two seasons, the 6-2, 195-pound junior guard ranks second all-time at Ohio State with 171 steals. His forte is creating havoc on opposing guards. He has decent quickness and solid ball-handling abilities. But what separates him is his high-energy and motor that allows him to dominate despite the fact that he isn’t a great athlete.
Defensively, Craft is a game-changer. He plays like a bulldog with immense intensity and aggressiveness. He is strong enough and quick enough laterally to apply defensive pressure in the full-court, keep opposing point guards from getting into the lane, as well as disrupt the passing lanes. He puts himself in good positions and uses his body to steer opponents and beat them to spots to draw offensive fouls.
Craft drained five three-pointers and notched his career-best 20 points against Albany. He had 13 points and four assists versus Rhode Island. While it’s a small sample size, Craft has been amazingly efficient offensively this season. He’s connected on 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) from the field and 7 of 13 (53.8) on three-pointers. Craft has a team-high 11 assists, but he’s a good enough shooter that he can slide to the shooting guard position at times.
Craft is a first team all-Big Ten preseason pick. He’s also a first-team academic all-American last season.
— Along with Thomas and Craft, Lenzelle Smith Jr. is Ohio State’s third returner who started every game last season. He doesn’t get the notoriety as the other returners, but Smith is emerging as a knockdown shooter. His career best is 28 points. This season he’s tallied 18 and 15. Smith’s best attributes are his defensive abilities. At 6-4, he’s long. Many believe Smith and Craft are the best defensive backcourt in the country.
— Senior forward Evan Ravenel does the dirty work in the middle. He played in every game last season after sitting out the year before because he transferred from Boston College. At 6-8 and 260 pounds, Ravenel is a space eater. He doesn’t look to shoot (1 for 5) or score (1.0 ppg.). But he averages 4.5 rebounds.
— The other starter is sophomore forward Sam Thompson, who is a shot-blocking artist. He has more blocks (5) than field goals (4). Last season, he averaged just 10.6 minutes in 39 games and finished with 17 blocks.
— Last season Ohio State finished 31-8, advanced to the Final Four and won a third-consecutive Big Ten regular-season title.
— Washington and Ohio State have a common opponent. The Huskies lost to the Great Danes 63-62 while the Buckeyes captured an easy 82-60 win.
— The Buckeyes give the most minutes to its starters. Thomas and Craft average 35 minutes, Smith 30, Thompson 26.5 and Ravenel 21. OSU parcels out about 15 minutes to three reserves guard Scott Shannon, forward LaQuinton Ross and center Amir Williams.
— OSU has started the same lineup (below) in the two previous games.
F – Evan Ravenel, 6-8, 260, Sr., 1.0 ppg., 4.5 rpg., 21.0 mpg.
F – Deshaun Thomas, 6-7, 225, Jr., 22.0, 6.5, 7 of 15 on three-pointers
F – Sam Thompson, 6-7, 190, So., 4.5, 5.5, 5 blocks
G – Lenzelle Smith, Jr., 6-4, 205, Jr, 16.5, 4.5, 5 of 6 on three-pointers
G – Aaron Craft, 6-2, 190, Jr., 15.5, 2.0, 5.5 apg.
— Thomas is a matchup nightmare and it will be interesting to discover who Washington uses to defend him. If the Huskies continue with the same starters, they’re going to have a difficult time finding a favorable matchup for redshirt freshman Jernard Jarreau. Conceivably you can put him on Ravenel and expect a reasonably positive result because the Buckeye big man averages just 3.1 points in four seasons. Still, would sacrifice 40 pounds to Ravenel. You might think Washington will put 7-foot center Aziz N’Diaye on Thomas. However, Thomas likes to roam on the perimeter and defending the three isn’t N’Diaye’s strength. Assigning Jarreau on Thomas could be disastrous for UW because the freshman Husky doesn’t have the experience to stop a dangerous offensive player like Thomas. In all likelihood sophomore Desmond Simmons gets the start or plays starter minutes and draws Thomas.
The other intriguing matchup is Washington’s Abdul Gaddy squaring off against Craft. Gaddy has played three games at a high level and he’s had a promising start. However, he hasn’t faced anyone like Craft just yet. Neither is a great athlete, but Craft is dogged defender who tends to frustrate opponents. The Huskies need their senior co-captain to hold his own in the point guard battle.