Basketball Preview: Ohio State at Minnesota

By Tim Shoemaker on January 8, 2017 at 6:00a
Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate drives to the basket earlier this season.
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There's no time for Ohio State to think about what went wrong.

The Buckeyes need to turn the page — and do it quickly.

On Thursday, Ohio State lost yet another close game, falling 76-75 to Purdue at home. On Sunday, it returns to the floor against a surprisingly difficult opponent: Minnesota.

WHO WHERE WHEN TV
Minnesota (14-2, 2-1) Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minn.) 7:30 p.m. BTN

The Buckeyes travel to Minneapolis to face the Gophers at 7:30 p.m. on BTN. And it's safe to say this is the most important game of Ohio State's season.

"We’ve got to get ourselves ready to go on Sunday in Minneapolis," Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta said following his team's loss to the Boilermakers. "Minnesota is playing great basketball right now.”

Let's dive into this matchup between Ohio State and Minnesota a little bit more.

Opponent Breakdown

Things have turned around rather quickly for Richard Pitino's team.

A year after finishing just 8-23, Minnesota currently sits at 14-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. The Gophers have won back-to-back road games in the conference and are one of the surprise teams in all of college basketball this season.

Minnesota poses a balanced attack led by point guard Nate Mason, who is averaging 14.5 points and 5.9 assists per game. In the Gophers' last two wins, Mason is averaging 21.5 points, 9.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds. 

Additionally, Amir Coffey (12.3 ppg.), Dupree McBrayer (12.3 ppg.) and Jordan Murphy (10.8 ppg., 8.4 rpg.) average in double figures for Minnesota while Akeem Springs (8.6 ppg.) and Reggie Lynch (8.5 ppg.) also contribute heavily. The Gophers' balance offensively is strikingly similar to Ohio State's.

After losing its Big Ten opener at home to Michigan State in overtime, Minnesota registered back-to-back wins on the road against Purdue and Northwestern. The Gophers dropped the Boilermakers by nine in overtime and defeated the Wildcats by four points Thursday.

In Ken Pomeroy's advanced statistical ratings, Minnesota currently sits at No. 34 overall. The Gophers rank 17th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing just 92 points per 100 possessions. Offensively, however, they rank 82nd, scoring 108.4 points per 100 possessions.

Buckeye Breakdown

After another shot at a quality win escaped Ohio State on Thursday in its loss to Purdue, the Buckeyes were hit with another blow as Matta announced junior forward Keita Bates-Diop would be out for the season due to a stress fracture in his leg. 

If there's a silver lining it's that Matta said Bates-Diop should qualify for a medical redshirt, but he's slated for surgery next week and there's no question it's a huge blow to the Buckeyes' NCAA tournament chances.

Ohio State certainly has no time to sulk as the loss to the Boilermakers dropped it to 0-2 in Big Ten play, and with a brutal stretch still to go — which begins Sunday against Minnesota — the Buckeyes are at somewhat of a crossroads.

Despite the slow start in the league, Ohio State says it's not worried — yet. There's still plenty of time for the Buckeyes to get the ship turned around.

“I wouldn’t say concern because we work our butts off every day. We’re in here every day. We’ve just gotta keep grinding it. We’ve just gotta to keep working. We’ve just gotta keep trusting coaching," Ohio State junior forward Jae'Sean Tate said. "We’re working hard and eventually we’re going to hit our stride. I know it. I can feel lit.”

With Bates-Diop now officially done for the year, expect a few more minutes for Andre Wesson off the bench, but also expect Ohio State's core five — Tate, JaQuan Lyle, Kam Williams, Marc Loving and Trevor Thompson — to play even more than they already have. 

“We’re going to have to do it," Matta said. "There’s no if ands or buts about it."

How It Plays Out

Following Thursday's loss to Purdue, Tate and Loving were rather emotional in the postgame press conference, unlike either has been over the last couple of years following similar defeats. Loving's eyes were red; Tate fought back tears at times as they tried to deliver answers to so many of the same questions.

It was pretty clear all of these close defeats are getting to Ohio State, but at the same time, it was clear they care. And care a lot. That's not something we saw a ton of last season.

Winning on the road in the Big Ten is an incredibly difficult task and with the league's bottom teams much stronger than they were a year ago, there are very few "sure things" in this conference. Winning at Minnesota last season wasn't all that difficult; that's far from the case this year.

Even though it has yet to prove much in must-win games, something tells me Ohio State gets it done Sunday night. The Buckeyes need this one too badly.

KenPom projects a six-point win for Minnesota and gives the Gophers a 70 percent chance to win, but I'm going to take Ohio State in a close game even though I don't necessarily have a great reason as to why.


Tim's prediction: Ohio State 72, Minnesota 70

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