Preview: #1 Ohio State at #20 Minnesota

By Joe Beale on February 6, 2011 at 6:00a
"Let's break the record on the road, shall we?"
Diebler could be the key to an OSU victory.
Ohio State Buckeyes #1 Ohio State 23-0, 10-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 2:00 PM ET - ESPN —— Williams Arena Minneapolis, MN Minnesota Golden Gophers #20 Minnesota 16-6, 5-5 Big Ten Roster | Schedule

Having dispatched the pesky Michigan Wolverines at home on Thursday night, top-ranked Ohio State now enters the most difficult stretch of the regular season with a road tilt against the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. The Gophers are reeling after back-to-back losses to Purdue and Indiana, but the Buckeyes have not exactly been firing on all cylinders lately as they struggled mightily on the road against Northwestern before having to grind out a home victory against one of the the Big Ten's worst. Teams have decided that slowing the game down and forcing OSU to defend long possessions is the best chance of winning against the Buckeyes. Expect to see a lot more of that as the regular season winds to a conclusion.

How difficult is the upcoming stretch of games for Ohio State? On Friday, former Washington Post writer and current co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" Mike Wilbon predicted that Ohio State will lose 3 of their next 5 games. At the same time, he said that he would not be surprised if they won the NCAA championship. Winning at Wisconsin is always a difficult task, and winning at Purdue might be tougher than normal due to the pounding OSU gave the Boilers when they met in Columbus. Home games against Michigan State and Illinois won't be a walk in the park either.

The match-up between OSU and Minnesota is a clash of styles if there ever was one. Ohio State scores in bunches and forces turnovers with their tenacious defense on the perimeter. Meanwhile, the Gophers struggle to score points but make up for it with solid defense (especially in the paint) and ferocious rebounding. The Buckeyes grabbed an 18-point second half lead in the first meeting in Columbus only to see the Gophers come storming back before falling short 67-64. In the game, OSU lost the battle on the glass 32-26 but held Minny to 42% shooting and only 14% from distance (2/14). OSU struggled from the free throw line down the stretch and if that happens again it may come back to haunt them in the old barn this afternoon. 

44 William Buford 13.5 3.8 3.2 G 24 Blake Hoffarber 14.1 3.3 4.1
33 Jon Diebler 11.2 2.2 2.5 G 33 Rodney Williams 6.4 3.3 1.8
23 David Lighty 12.2 4.0 3.4 F 32 Trevor Mbakwe 13.3 10.5 1.1
0 Jared Sullinger 18.0 10.1 1.4 F 45 Colton Iverson 6.6 5.1 0.7
52 Dallas Lauderdale 4.4 3.8 0.2 C 50 Ralph Sampson III 10.7 5.5 1.5


On January 22nd, Minnesota held on for a 69-64 road victory against Michigan. However, the win came at a high cost as point guard Al Nolen suffered a foot injury and is now probably out for the season. The Gophers were already suspect in the area of ball-handling, and the loss of Nolen makes the weakness even more glaring. Instead of elevating one of the reserve guards, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith moved versatile 6'7" forward Rodney Williams back to guard and inserted 6'10" F/C Colton Iverson into the starting line-up.  While this adds even more size to an already big front line, it leaves them with leading scorer and 3-point specialist Blake Hoffarber running the point. As an example of how this functions in a game, consider the fact that Minny out-rebounded UM 37-11 in that game, but lost the turnover battle 17-7. 

Another side-effect of the loss of Nolen is that Minnesota's already short bench gets even shorter. Besides the starters, you will likely see only three other players: reserve guards Austin Hollins, Chip Armelin, and Maverick Ahanmisi. If Ohio State decides to press full-court or trap in the half-court, look for Tubby to insert Hollins and possibly one of the other two in order to counter the press. Northwestern had a lot of success playing a trapping 1-3-1 zone in the half-court against the Gophers, allowing them to take a half-time lead. Hollins has played more minutes than Iverson over the last two games, and this has helped the Gophers break even in the turnover department. On the other hand, Purdue and Indiana (?!?) both held their own with Minnesota on the boards, and the better ball-handling was not enough to get a win in either of those games. 

Minnesota's height and defensive prowess gave OSU problems in the first game, as the Buckeyes were held under 40% shooting for the game. In addition, the strong inside presence of Trevor Mbakwe led to numerous fouls and their 19 second half free throws helped them get back in to the game. In order to win the game, OSU will need to limit 2nd chance opportunities and keep the ball out of the paint. Blake Hoffarber has been a Buckeye-killer in the past, but the fact that he is running the point in Nolen's absence will probably cause him to pass off to his teammates more often than you would normally expect.

Buckeye Breakdown:

Ohio State has struggled on the road in the Big 10 this season, winning by 5, 4, 5, and 1 against Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, and Northwestern. They have also lost 4 of their last 5 games at Williams Arena, including last year's disgusting 2nd half meltdown. Take the quality of the opponent, add the hostile crowd, the lousy elevated floor, and the pressure of staying undefeated and holding the #1 ranking and you can see why no one will be surprised if OSU loses this one. On the other hand, the Buckeyes are a superior team on paper, and the match-up of Aaron Craft against the poor ball-handlers in Minnesota's back-court should bring a smile to Thad Matta's face. Ohio State's 3-point shooters are a match-up nightmare for the Gophers, and Minny's rebounding advantage doesn't help them if the ball goes in for OSU.

While this team is a veteran group and the big star of the team seems pretty well grounded, there is a temptation to get a big head when you are ranked #1 and undefeated. Since the team will have to go to Wisconsin next weekend, there is also a possibility that they may be looking past the Gophers. I think this is unlikely, due to the closeness of the last game. This is when your veterans need to step up. David Lighty had a big game in the last meeting, and I look for him to step up big again today. I would also expect to see more production from Jon Diebler, who has been stifled by 1-3-1 defenses the last two games. Rodney Williams is quick, but his size will hamper him from getting around screens and so he will have trouble keeping up with Diebler if OSU moves the ball well. Finally, Hoffarber will have a lot of trouble trying the run the offense with Craft constantly trying to pick his pocket. 

In the last two games since losing Nolen, Minnesota is scoring 13 points below their average. Indiana held them to a season-low 37% shooting. In that game, Hoffarber shot 4/12 from the field as the pressure of running the offense began to wear on him. Ohio State has been rather rough on Hoffarber lately, as he has scored a total of 17 points in their last 3 meetings. If Sullinger and Lauderdale can keep Mbakwe from dominating the paint, OSU will roll. But if the Gophers continue to get 2nd chance baskets and make their free throws, the game could get interesting. 


  • Ohio State is leading the nation in scoring margin (20.3 ppg.) and fewest fouls a game (14.0). 
  • Ohio State is 10-0 in league play for the first time since the 1961-62 season and for the fourth time in history. The Buckeyes finished 14-0 in 1961 and had 12-0 starts in 1960 and 1962. 
  • Ohio State leads the all-time series with the Golden Gophers 77-55 with Minnesota leading 37-28 in Minneapolis.
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