Basketball Preview: Ohio State Preparing To Host Morehead State As Third Low-Major Opponent In A Row To Start Season

By Colin Hass-Hill on December 2, 2020 at 10:16 am
Kyle Young
Joshua A. Bickel/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

High-major opponents await Ohio State, which will face Notre Dame, Purdue, North Caroline, Rutgers, Northwestern and Nebraska this month. But until Dec. 8 when the Buckeyes travel to South Bend, Indiana, they're charged with a season-opening slate featuring four low-major teams in succession.

Who Where When TV
Morehead State (1-2) Covelli Center 5 p.m. BTN

They rolled Illinois State in the season opener, got past UMass Lowell with a 10-point win on Sunday and now will look to stay undefeated when welcoming Morehead State (1-2) to the Covelli Center on Wednesday evening.

The Eagles, a late addition to Ohio State's abbreviated seven-game non-conference schedule, opened the season with a pair of losses – 81-45 to Kentucky and 82-64 to Richmond – before topping Arkansas State on Sunday. As the nation's No. 313 team, per KenPom, they'll be a significant underdog to the Buckeyes on Wednesday.

"Morehead plays really hard. They play really hard," head coach Chris Holtmann said on Tuesday. "They've got a talented big guy, freshman, 6-10 kid (Johni Broome). They've got really talented guards. I think they play together really well. Very much a competitive game versus Richmond in their tournament game at Kentucky. Very much a competitive game. And then they follow that up with a win over Arkansas State.

"But they play extremely hard, well coached. You can tell they have got a clear vision for what they want to do on both ends. And they're physical. They're the most physical team we played I would say, for sure, with their size and just how physical and hard they play.

Three Important Buckeyes

Kyle Young

All due to the lack of depth on the interior, Young will show up in this section a lot this year. He's just 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, but he's the starting five man with the Buckeyes this year. On Wednesday, he'll be charged with matchup up with Broome, who'll have an edge on him in both the height and weight categories. 

Duane Washington Jr.

Washington dropped the dagger on UMass Lowell on Sunday, reminding everybody of his fearlessness when he rises to shoot with the game on the line. But imagine if he made his open 3-pointers earlier in the game and didn't allow the game to get so close. One of these days, Washington will put it all together – 3-point makes, 2-point efficiency, quality defense and good decision-making as a ball-handler – and it'll be a sight to behold. 

CJ Walker

Two games into the season, Walker hasn't been as efficient of a point guard as the Buckeyes need. He's averaged 11.5 points, but he's done so while shooting 33.3 percent from the field and missing all three 3-pointers. He does have a 5.5-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio, but Holtmann said he needs to see more from Walker as the guy who's supposed to initiate Ohio State's offense.

"CJ's going to be fine. I'm not worried about CJ Walker in the least," Holtmann said. "He's hungry to grow and improve from one game to the next. But I think his ability to kind of lead our team at the point of attack on both ends is critical. Tomorrow will be an opportunity to kind of show that and do a better job of that."

Three Important Eagles

Johni Broome

Morehead State's leading scorer is a 6-foot-10, 235-pound freshman from Tampa, Florida, where he turned into the 461st-ranked overall prospect in the 2020 cycle. So far he's outperformed that recruiting ranking, averaging 14 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.75 blocks in 25 minutes per game. He's shooting 61.3 percent from the field. Of his 23 rebounds, 11 have been on the offensive end of the court, meaning it'll be pertinent for Young, Zed Key and others to box him out. Broome recorded 25 points, 12 rebounds and five blows in the win versus Arkansas State.

DeVon Cooper

One of those guards Holtmann referred to is Cooper, a 6-foot-4,201-pound fourth-year junior who took a medical redshirt last year. He's averaging 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.7 points in 30.7 minutes per game. His 3.7 turnovers per contest and 38.5 shooting percentage are far from the strongest numbers imaginable, though.

Ta'lon Cooper

Cooper has come off the court less often than anybody else on his team, averaging 32.3 minutes per game so far. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore guard – who has no relation to DeVon Cooper – averages 7.3 points, 3.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game. He's hitting 50 percent of his shots from the field. 

Three Things To Watch

Ball-Screen Defense

Maybe it's not the sexiest thing in the world, but Holtmann highlighted ball-screen defense as an area that needs improvement going forward. Specifically, he noted some of the newcomers with less experience in Ohio State's system – including Key – have to get better in this area. He said that led to several breakdowns against UMass Lowell. 

Playing Time For Young Guys?

These early-season games are prime chances for some of the bench players to get some run. Because the River Hawks kept Sunday's game close, that wasn't a possibility over the weekend, but it should happen on Wednesday. Ibrahima Diallo, Gene Brown and Justin Ahrens are prime candidates to grab some minutes and show what they might offer their team this season.

Last Game At Covelli?

Up until Monday, this game was set to take place at the Schottenstein Center. But it was moved to the Covelli Center – which hosted Sunday's game against UMass Lowell – for cost reasons. Ohio State didn't want to spend the money to switch the floor back and forth between hockey and basketball an extra time, so the basketball team will play away from its typical home arena.

"I'd like to be in our own facility and shoot in our own facility, but clearly it's the right thing to do," Holtmann said. "It'll be there for at least one more game. I don't anticipate more, but if they come back and they ask me and they say it's in the best interest to do that, then I'll consider it, for sure."

How It Plays Out

There's a reason why KenPom gives Ohio State a 99 percent chance to win this one. It's flat-out better than Morehead State. Broome could pose a challenge to Young and the other bigs on the interior, but the Eagles simply shouldn't have the firepower to take down the Buckeyes.

Prediction: Ohio State 90, Morehead State 65

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