After less than a month of the season, we are at the point now where things are already win or go home. It's a bit dramatic, but honestly? Pretty true.
The Buckeyes have missed out on the tournament the past two years, and missed the B1G tournament last year thanks to a gut-wrenching loss. The time to make that right is now. This team needs to leave no doubt on where they're going to be in May. And it all starts with the Fighting Andy Bernards of Cornell.
This is a game where you can't be sure what will happen until around 7:30 of Q2. There's so much that is unknown about these teams. And about how they will respond to the events of the past week and a half.
Cornell comes in riding high off some big wins against lower-tier teams. The Big Red have beaten their opponents soundly in all three games, averaging a nearly 9-goal margin of victory. Much like Bucknell, however, all of Cornell's gaudy stats come with the caveat that they haven't really played anyone of note. And that really gives me pause as we move through this preview.
Both of these teams have some really strong statistical markers. But Ohio State has a bad loss to a mediocre UMass squad, and Cornell has blown out some poor opponents. We will see which of these teams are serious contenders Sunday.
Offensively, Cornell is probably the strongest it has been in years.
The Big Red have had senior Jeff Teat (#51) for the past 3 years, but now other pieces have been brought in to offset the attention Teat brings. Teams locked off Teat in the past, and went 5v5 to stifle the Cornell offense. Teat is currently tied for the points lead this year with junior middie Jonathan Donville (#3), and is 1 of 4 players in Ithaca with double digits points.
One of those is superstar freshman Michael Long (#1), who registered zero points in his first game, but has exploded for 8 goals and 4 assists in his last two games. Additionally, junior attackman John Piatelli (#41) has 13 goals this season, providing the Big Red with one of the best attack units in the country.
At middie, the Big Red has a gigantic straw to stir the drink in senior Connor Fletcher (#27). He is 6'3", 230 pounds, and plays like it.
Fletcher loves to score down the alley, and then set up an inside pass that will completely catch the opposing defenders off guard. Against Towson he had multiple opportunities moving downhill (towards GLE), and an assist. He isn't the primary offensive option every game, but Fletcher can certainly cause a tremendous amount of problems for opponents.
As an offense, the Big Red have two phases, really. The team loves dodging from very high with a man setting a pick in the middle of the field just below the restraining box.
The picker will roll to space, setting up a throwback against the grain from the dodger. There is the most dangerous part of the offense from above GLE. If that doesn't work immediately, the ball immediately is pushed below GLE to the amazing attack unit, who will find a way to slice apart an opposing defense.
Jeff Teat is sort of being eclipsed by Michael Long, as defenses are aware of him and have a plan for shutting Teat down, but are struggling to adjust to the new face in the lineup with equal or better talent. That will be Ohio State's biggest problem, dealing with Michael Long. Fortunately, the Big Red haven't dealt with a defense like Ohio State's all year.
Michael Long and Jeff Teat are formidable, but so is pretty much every other B1G attack line. The challenge will be in keeping tabs on the backside offensive players when the ball goes below GLE.
Jeff Teat loves bringing the ball up the left side and hitting a cutter from the opposite side. Michael Long as well. With the addition of Jacob Snyder and Ben Williams, Ohio State has some very upgraded firepower on D. And they will need it.
On the defensive side, Cornell LOVES to pressure. They will come out and play anyone who has the ball all over the field. This can be a positive, or a negative for the Bucks. It's going to be a cold day again, and Ohio State struggled mightily with the conditions against UMass. Offensively, OSU is still looking for a middie who can beat an opponent regularly.
JT Bugliosi has the quickness, but his shooting has been subpar at best. Johnny Wiseman can scoot, but has really not been a major part of the offensive midfield lately. The Mitchells can score, but I haven't seen them dodge like they could in HS. There still hasn't been a game-changing middie since 2017 roaming the middle of the field for OSU.
And they will need one to deal with Cornell's pressure D. On the plus side, Ohio State's played a much tougher schedule than Cornell defensively, with Bucknell winning more games than Cornell's entire schedule combined to this point. That should provide a leg up to Ohio State as they grapple with the elements and the Big Red.
In goal, Cornell starts sophomore Chayse Ierlan (#22), who has been solid, if unspectacular, during his Big Red career. Ierlan has moments where he is pretty good, but will then give up some soft goals. This year, Ierlan has never had more than 10 saves against a pudding soft collection of offenses, and has a season save percentage of .481.
That is certainly not great, and should provide the Buckeyes with plenty of opportunities. If they can get shots on goal, obviously. This is pretty much a push for the Buckeyes with Josh Kirson, maybe even a slight advantage to the Buckeyes. We will see who shows up on Sunday, though.
At the faceoff X, Cornell is starting senior Paul Rasimowicz (#7), who has a winning percentage of .672 on the year. The Big Red do rotate significantly, however, though that may be a result of the schedule more than anything else.
With Justin Inacio seemingly back for good this season, Buckeye Nation can breathe a sigh of relief. Inacio really brings a whole different presence to the team, and will allow Ohio State to have a fighting chance at winning the possession battle. We will see just how good Rasimowicz is at the opening whistle.
On special teams, Cornell has an interesting mix of really good and really bad. The Big Red convert their Man Up chances at a 44% rate (4-9), which is outstanding. Unfortunately for Cornell, they also allow opponents to convert 47% of their opportunities (7-15). That is definitely a source of concern, and if you read my statistical rundown a year or two ago, Man Down really indicates the quality of the defense as a whole.
To give up 47% on that many chances is troubling to say the least. Especially since Ohio State is only allowing opponents to convert 15% of their chances this year (2-13). That is outstanding, and a huge jump from last year. This gives me a lot of hope, and really could indicate what is to come.
On the whole, this is a game where there are a lot of unknowns. We don't know how good Cornell's offense really is. We don't know how good Cornell's defense really is. Ohio State's offense is not a known quantity, with some bright spots and a really big black mark against UMass.
This should be a back and forth affair, which could go either way. In the end, it will come down to who can be more consistent. At home, in a rough set of conditions, I think there's a better than average chance.
Final prediction: Ohio State 13, Cornell 12.