Chris Holtmann, always a competitor and never one to willingly give opponents any extra motivation, wouldn’t publicly admit it. But after a 1-5 stretch, Ohio State finally has a manageable three games in a row coming up.
It begins with Minnesota at home on Thursday night, followed by a trip to face Northwestern on Sunday before the team heads back to the Schottenstein Center to play host to Indiana six days later. For the Buckeyes, the opportunity to get back on track starts with a rematch with the Golden Gophers that tips off at 6:30 p.m.
“Obviously another really good team coming in here,” Holtmann said on Wednesday. “We know that from playing them up there. Really good players. Richard (Pitino) and his staff have that group playing really, really well.”
The first time Ohio State and Minnesota faced off, they did so in Minneapolis and the Gophers won, 84-71. At the time, it was an upset and the first loss of the season, which kept the Buckeyes from getting ranked No.1 in the Associated Press top-25 poll.
The second round between the Buckeyes and Minnesota will take place on Thursday.
Three Important Gophers
How could we begin with anybody else? Less than two months ago when he faced the Buckeyes, Carr dropped a season-high 35 points, hitting 12-of-17 shots, going 3-for-6 from beyond the arc and making 8-of-9 free throws. Ohio State had no answers for anything he did.
On Thursday, it’ll get a second chance at the 6-foot-2, 195-pound guard who averages 16.1 points, 7.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds in 36.8 minutes per game.
Only one player in the Big Ten averages at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks per game: Oturu.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound sophomore center has turned into a menace this season, controlling games on both ends of the court with 20.2 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in 33.7 minutes per game. Since the Gophers fully became immersed in the Big Ten play, Oturu put himself in conference Player of the Year award conversations. He had at least 19 points and 14 rebounds in three of his past six games, in which he had two wins and a double-overtime loss. Oturu recorded a modest 14 points and 13 rebounds versus Ohio State in December.
In December against Ohii State, Kalscheur joined Carr and Oturu as one of the three Minnesota players on the court for at least 35 minutes. In the rematch, he’ll have a similarly large role. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore guard scores 11.8 points on a relatively inefficient 38.5 percent shooting. He adds 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 33.6 minutes per game.
Recently Kalscheur has gone cold, not scoring in double figures in any of the past five games while shooting below 30 percent in four of them. To put that into perspective, he didn’t reach double-digit points in only four of his first 13 games this season. He’ll try to get back on track against Ohio State.
Three Important Buckeyes
Duane Washington Jr.
Quietly, Washington had an efficient offensive performance in the recent loss to Penn State. He scored 20 points, making 6-of-10 shots, 3-of-5 3-pointers and 5-of-6 free throws. As evidenced early in the season, the best version of the Buckeyes has Washington contributing significantly on offense. Against Minnesota, a team that doesn’t thrive defending shots from beyond the arc, he’ll have a chance to thrive. Plus, he might have the ball in his hands more often as the Buckeyes try to figure out who to trust to minimize turnovers.
“He's a really good ball-handler,” Holtmann said. “I'd like to see him facilitate a little bit more at times, but he's a really good ball-handler. While his assists haven't been high, his turnovers also have not been high. So certainly he's a guy that we could see kind of playing with DJ as a primary ball-handler, both guys kind of switching back between the one and the two.”
Holtmann, the past couple weeks, has harped on how he hasn’t ever seen a conference with as many quality big men as the Big Ten this season. That will continue on Thursday with Oturu. Physically, he’s tough for anybody to handle, even Wesson, which makes this matchup so pivotal for the Buckeyes on both ends.
Ohio State will slowly try to recover from the Mike Tyson-esque blow it took in the past month, dropping from the top five to outside of the top 25 with five losses in the past six games. In order to make that happen, Carton will need to figure out how to become more proficient as a ball-handler and decision-maker. Because of his 30.8 percent turnover rate in Big Ten play, Holtmann has discussed playing him off the ball more. Either way, he needs to find a way to decrease his turnovers.
“Getting too deep in the lane, leaving my feet without having a place to put the ball and stuff like that,” Carton said. “Things that I can get away with in high school I'm starting to learn aren't working here. It's a learning situation for me. It's been hard on me. But I've also grown from it and improved in a lot of areas along the way.”
Three Numbers To Know
In games featuring two Big Ten teams, more than 80 percent of wins have come by the home squad. Minnesota has been no exception. Incredibly, the Gophers have a 9-1 record at home and an 0-6 record on the road this season, also going 1-1 at neutral sites. Beating Ohio State on Thursday would be their first road win of 2019-20.
Opponent Shooting Percentage
Ohio State has struggled to do much on offense, though shooting from the perimeter has been a strength. It currently ranks 12th in the nation with a 3-point shooting percentage of 38.5. Minnesota’s Oturu-anchored defense has the fourth-best opposing 2-point percentage, but its opposing 3-point percentage ranks 154th in the country. Expect to see the Buckeyes let some shots fly from deep.
Offensive Rebounding Percentage
Oturu changes so much, and that includes Minnesota’s quantity of second-chance opportunities. The Gophers’ offensive rebounding percentage of 33.5 ranks 41st in the country. Oturu accounts for 40 percent of those offensive boards.
- Holtmann on Kyle Young’s progress after having his appendix removed on Dec. 29: “He is three weeks into a six-week still-battling-fatigue part of his surgery. So there is some limitations that he's still going through with practice. That's really what has played into some of those decisions. It's unfortunate for him. He still does feel it. I think he's getting a little bit better, but as they reminded me, he will not feel his normal self until six weeks from the date of surgery.”
- Holtmann on why he has played Justin Ahrens more minutes recently: “I've liked his attitude and his approach. I think he just needs to keep himself ready. He's been really active and involved, and he's gotten some of his strength back too from a really tough offseason.”
- Last week, Holtmann said Alonzo Gaffney had a knee injury that was holding him out of practice. He appeared optimistic about the freshman forward on Thursday: “He's still had some soreness, but he's been able to practice.”
- Musa Jallow will have ankle surgery on Friday and redshirt this season. Holtmann: “He'll be back in time for a good offseason.”
How It Plays Out
What more could go wrong for the Buckeyes? Well, this. This could. Thursday’s game is extremely winnable, as evidenced by Ohio State entering the day as an eight-point favorite, per Bovada, and a seven-point favorite by KenPom. But would another poor performance really surprise anybody? Nope. Not at this point.
Regardless, we’re buying the Buckeyes will win – even if we’re not picking them to cover the spread. They absolutely have to come out of this three-game stretch with a winning record, if not a spotless record, and they know that going into Thursday’s game even if they won’t say so publicly. With Kaleb Wesson and Andre Wesson leading the way, we believe Washington and Carton will contribute with more efficiency than they have lately.
Prediction: Ohio State 69, Minnesota 65