Ohio State’s Keys to Beating Notre Dame TonightPosted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2013
One of four battles between Big Ten teams and probable NCAA Tournament teams from power conferences will take place in Brooklyn on Saturday when Ohio State (11-0) takes on Notre Dame (8-3). After a disappointing loss to North Dakota State, the Irish righted their ship by knocking off Indiana last Saturday at the Crossroads Classic. Meanwhile, Ohio State is ranked as the #3 team in the country, but hasn’t really played anyone of merit since they bested Maryland about three weeks ago. This one will be highlighted by guard play, but here are a few other things to look for if you’re tuning in this evening after a day of Christmas shopping (7:30 PM EST, ESPN2).
- Guard Play will be a key: The best of the individual battles will be in the form of Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins taking on Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott. The Craft and Scott duo will look to do what they do against everyone — pressure and harass. Craft (2.5 SPG) and Scott (2.3 SPG) are first and second, respectively, among Big Ten players in steals per game, but Grant and Atkins are the keys to the Irish protecting the ball at the 18th best rate in the country (14.5 turnovers per 100 possessions). Experience playing under pressure like this might unhinge freshman and sophomore perimeter players, but the Notre Dame duo has been through it before. If Craft and Scott can force a steady diet of turnovers from these veterans — no easy task whatsoever — they can set the tone for an uglier game that eliminates some of the clean looks Notre Dame got against Indiana.
- Garrick Sherman vs. Amir Williams: Sherman has had a field day against B1G opponents, shooting 72 percent from the field against Iowa and Indiana. He went 6-of-7 against the Hoosiers, so Williams needs to avoid foul trouble and maybe swat a couple of his shots early on to send a message. Williams was able to hold Davante Gardner to 10 points in their contest at Marquette, and if he can keep Notre Dame one-dimensional by making them beat the Buckeyes from outside, they’ll be in good shape. If Sherman gets the best of Williams on the block, however, Ohio State will have to send over a double-team, opening up the floor for the likes of Pat Connaughton and others to get clean perimeter looks.
- Which LaQuinton Ross will show up?: Ross has averaged 17.3 PPG in his last four games, accounting for 21.9 percent of his teams points in those contests. He’s done so while shooting a scorching 58.3 percent from the field, and 50 percent from three. After a sluggish start to the season, he’s been living up to the expectations that projected him as a top candidate to replace the offensive production of Deshaun Thomas. If Ross and Lenzelle Smith Jr. can put some points on the board, they can overcome the fact that Notre Dame has a tendency to be really hard to beat when they’re clicking offensively.
- Prediction: Notre Dame has been up-and-down this season, and despite playing well against Indiana they will not get a signature win here. Williams has developed into more than just a shot-blocker, and he will shut down Sherman. The Buckeye guards won’t have the success they normally do in getting steals, but they’ll do enough to disrupt the Irish’s continuity offensively. Ohio State gets the win, 63-58.