Basketball Preview: Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia

By Tim Shoemaker on November 30, 2016 at 10:10 am
Marc Loving dribbles against Virginia last season.

We're going to find out an awful lot about Ohio State on Wednesday night.

The Buckeyes, who are 6-0 on the young season and riding high following a 41-point victory over Marshall last Friday, travel to Charlottesville for their ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup against No. 6-ranked Virginia.

It provides a great litmus test for where exactly Ohio State is six games into the season.

No. 6 Virginia (6-0) John Paul Jones Arena (Charlottesville, Va.) 9 p.m. ESPN2

"We’re playing, not a really good basketball team, but a great basketball team," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said Tuesday. "I’m very, very impressed with Virginia."

The Cavaliers bring their vaunted defense to the forefront, one that will provide a stiff test for an Ohio State offense that recently found its footing in that 111-point outburst against Marshall last week. Tony Bennett's team ranks No. 1 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to

The Buckeyes will be playing their second true road game of the season as their first contest away from home came in game No. 1 against Navy. It certainly figures to be a tall task, but one Ohio State says it is looking forward to.

"I’m excited to see what we’re able to do against a top-10 opponent at their place,” senior forward Marc Loving said. 

Opponent Breakdown

Virginia basketball is not a secret. It's quite clear what you'll see from the Cavaliers each and every time they step on the floor under Tony Bennett.

“They’ve played the same defense for the last couple years, a heavy gap team," Loving said. "It's us just being able to swing the ball from one side to the other and hopefully get the best shot possible and minimize the bad shots we have.”

Virginia enters Wednesday's game with a 6-0 record with just one of those games being decided by fewer than 10 points. That was the Cavaliers' last contest, a 63-52 victory against Providence.

The defense for Virginia has been outstanding thus far. The 52 points scored by the Friars was a season-high for points allowed and only one other team (UNC Greensboro) has been able to top the 50-point mark against the Cavaliers through six games. 

Virginia allows just 86.1 points per 100 possessions, the No. 1 mark in the country.

"You definitely have to make shots," Matta said. "They’re very, very sound and they’re a lot bigger than people think at each position. They don’t appear to be disruptive, but they are. They can really disrupt your flow."

Offensively, the Cavaliers are strong, too, coming in at No. 10 in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. Virginia is well-balanced and only has one player currently averaging in double-figures — barely.

Through six contests, junior guard Darius Thompson is the Cavs' leading scorer averaging just 10.0 points per game. He is trailed by fellow junior guard Marial Shayok (9.5 ppg.) and senior guard London Perrantes (9.2 ppg.) Perrantes also averages a team-high 4.3 assists per game. 

Overall, Virginia has seven different players who currently average at least 7.0 points per game. It's death by a thousand cuts, so to speak.

"The thing you have to do is sort of brace yourself," Matta said. "There may be a stretch where you don’t score, but don’t let them score. In a game like this, you can’t let your offense affect your defense."

Buckeye Breakdown

Playing its third game in five days last Friday against Marshall, Ohio State certainly picked the right time to play its best game of the season. The Buckeyes surely wanted to be clicking on all cylinders as they head into Wednesday night's matchup with the Cavaliers.

Ohio State scored 111 points — tying a Value City Arena record — and put six players in double-figures. Loving and Jae'Sean Tate led the way with 20 points each, while Kam Williams added 17, Trevor Thompson scored 15 and JaQuan Lyle and Micah Potter both finished with 12.

But while the Buckeyes rolled against a solid mid-major opponent, Wednesday provides an entirely new challenge and Ohio State needs starting forward Keita Bates-Diop back in the lineup. Bates-Diop missed all three games last week with a high ankle sprain and Matta said Tuesday Bates-Diop will be a game-time decision against the Cavaliers.

"He went part of yesterday and we’ll see what he can do [Tuesday]," Matta said. "It’ll be kind of a game-time type decision. He’s running and moving, but it is the cutting that’s slowing him down a bit.”

If Bates-Diop can't go, that's obviously a huge blow to the Buckeyes' chances. Williams started the three games in his place and has shot it well, but it's hard to replace Bates-Diop's length at the defensive end and just his overall offensive output.

A year ago, Ohio State played Virginia close in Columbus though the Cavaliers did not have Perrantes in that matchup. Virginia won the game, 64-58. The Buckeyes hope to flip things a bit this time around.

"To go in there against a top-10 opponent, it’s big, it’s huge. It’s another opportunity for us to make our mark," Tate said. "We’re still going to do the same thing we do, the same principles. We’ve got to go in there with a good mindset because it is a good ballclub we’re going against.”

How It Plays Out

Wednesday night will tell us a lot about Ohio State, and that doesn't even necessarily mean the Buckeyes need to win the game. Matta and Co. certainly aren't into moral victories, but if you're a fan of this team, if Ohio State plays a competitive game on the road against a legitimate top-10 team, that's a really good sign for where this team is at at the end of November.

KenPom gives Ohio State just an 18 percent chance to knock off Virginia, which is KenPom's No. 2-ranked team. The Buckeyes currently sit at No. 21, but the Cavaliers are projected to earn a 64-55 victory. 

All things considered, that'd be a decent showing for Ohio State, and the Buckeyes can certainly win a game like this especially when you consider how closely they played Virginia last season in Columbus. Ohio State is going to need to play its best game of the season and make some shots, but it's not an impossible task, either.

Still, it's tough to envision the Buckeyes going on the road and pulling this one out. But the team has no shortage of confidence based on how it played over the last week.

“I think we can play with any team in the country. I think we can be a good matchup for any team," Tate said. "We’ve gotta defend the way we’ve been defending. That’s going to be big.”

Tim's prediction: Virginia 67, Ohio State 60

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