A top ten battle with a bit of recent history leads a solid slate of games this weekend. We are down to the last few non-conference games before we go full tilt into the conference season starting in the new year. It is going to be interesting to see who starts to separate from the pack as we head towards March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Game of the Weekend
#8 Kansas at #7 Ohio State– 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)
- Kansas beat Ohio State twice last season. Once in the regular season in Lawrence and once in the Final Four. Both teams are without their main contributors from last season in Jared Sullinger for OSU and Thomas Robinson for KU. The key for Kansas in both wins was field goal defense. They held OSU to under 40% shooting in both outings. The Jayhawks come into this game with another solid defense led by center Jeff Withey. Withey provides an inside presence that the Buckeyes will need to game plan around. They had trouble with Duke\’s Mason Plumlee in last month\’s loss to the Blue Devils. Plumlee put up 21 points and 17 rebounds against a Buckeye team that is a bit thin on the inside. While Withey\’s offensive skills may not be as refined as Plumlee\’s, he is capable of putting up 20+ points and will certainly be a major factor on defense. Additionally, pay close attention to the KU guards. Travis Releford, Ben McClemore, and Elijah Johnson are big guards. Look to see if they can take advantage of their size.
- Ohio State has only lost two non-conference home games since Thad Matta got to Columbus in 2005. They lost in 2008 to North Carolina and in 2009 to West Virginia. While OSU is struggling a bit to find a legit second and third scoring threat, it’s hard to argue against a record like that at home. I learned that when Notre Dame beat Kentucky earlier this season. Still though, DeShaun Thomas is going to need help on the offensive end if Thad Matta and company are to keep that home record intact. Watch Aaron Craft, as he will be the X factor for the Buckeyes. He is averaging just under 10 points a game thus far but is capable of more. Watch the match-up between Craft and Johnson for Kansas. Johnson is turning the ball over frequently (25%) and Craft is one of the best ball thieves in the business. If he can create turnover and get the Buckeyes out on the run, OSU will be in good shape.
- It’s tough to argue against Ohio State’s home record and they are still a very talented team, but I think Withey and the big guards make the difference in this contest. Look for Withey to shut down any second chance opportunities and defend the hoop against a slashing Thomas. Plus Kansas has this to inspire them.
More Great Action
#14 Missouri vs. #10 Illinois – 6:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (****)
- Illinois’ win at Gonzaga may be the best win of the year thus far, along side Butler’s OT victory against Indiana. As it turns out, Illinois beat Butler as well, so it’s time to take John Groce’s team seriously. The guard match-ups should be excellent in this game. The keys for Missouri will be creating turnovers and getting offensive rebounds. The Tigers aren’t turning teams over like they have in the past but the addition of Alex Oriakhi has helped the rebounding situation tremendously. Mizzou ranks 7th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. The Tigers will still have to contain Illinois’ Brandon Paul, however. If he gets loose like he did against Gonzaga, it will be another nice win for the Illini.