Basketball Preview: Ohio State Heads to Florida for Meeting with Seton Hall in Fort Myers Tip-Off

By Griffin Strom on November 22, 2021 at 9:20 am
Ohio State basketball

For the second straight game, Ohio State will take on a Big East opponent away from home. But for the first time this season, the Buckeyes will be tasked with responding to a loss.

Last Thursday's meeting with Xavier was Ohio State's first test against a major conference opponent this year, and also the program's first true road game with fans in the stands since March 8, 2020. The Buckeyes weren't quite ready for the challenge on either front and dropped a 71-65 contest that went down to the wire at the Cintas Center.

Seton Hall (3-0) Suncoast Credit Union Arena 6 p.m. FS1

Now the Buckeyes have a shot at redemption in Florida against Seton Hall, as Ohio State will match up with the Pirates on a neutral floor as part of the Fort Myers Tip-Off.

Seton Hall and 12th-year head coach Kevin Willard have already notched one Big Ten upset in the opening few games of the season, knocking off fourth-ranked Michigan, 67-65, in Ann Arbor last Tuesday, and the Pirates could add another impressive name to their early-season résumé with a win against the Buckeyes on Monday night.

First-year Ohio State assistant coach Tony Skinn will go head-to-head with his former employer, as the newest addition to Chris Holtmann's coaching staff spent the past three seasons with Willard at Seton Hall. Skinn helped the Pirates go 14-13 for a fourth-place finish in the Big East a season ago, but Seton Hall is only two seasons removed from winning the conference and finishing No. 15 in the AP poll in 2019-20 before the season ended prematurely due to COVID-19.

Several key players from the Pirates’ stellar run two years ago remain on the roster in 2021-22, and Seton Hall has gotten off on the right foot with an unblemished 3-0 start that includes wins over Fairleigh Dickinson, Yale and Michigan.

Three Things to Watch For

One of the nation's top defenses

Seton Hall boasts some of the most impressive defensive numbers in all of college basketball. As of Monday morning, the Pirates have the 10th-best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 52.7 points per game, and the No. 1 3-point field goal defense, with opponents shooting just 13 percent from behind the line. Seton Hall’s opponents have hit just 31.4 percent of their shots against the Pirates, which is good for third-best in the nation. According to KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating, Seton Hall ranks 17th out of 358 Division I teams.

Widespread scoring contributions

While only two Buckeyes are averaging double-digit points so far this season (E.J. Liddell and Zed Key), twice as many Pirates are doing so for Seton Hall. Bryce Aiken, Jared Rhoden, Myles Cale and Tray Jackson are all averaging at least 10.7 points per game this season, led by Aiken’s 12.3.

Besides the aforementioned four players, three other Seton Hall players (Tyrese Samuel, Jamir Harris and Alex Yetna) are knocking on the door of double digits with scoring averages ranging from nine to 9.7 points per game.

Transfers and top-100 recruits

The Buckeyes have a transfer-laden roster, but even Ohio State doesn’t quite rely on transfer production the way Seton Hall does. Of the Pirates’ nine top contributors, six have transferred in from other programs.

Aiken spent four years at Harvard before becoming a Pirate. Jackson, the team's second-leading rebounder, is a former Missouri Tiger. Harris, a senior guard, previously played for both Minnesota and American. Yetna spent four seasons at South Florida. The Pirates also have a Florida State transfer in 7-foot-2 center Ike Obiagu and a Syracuse transfer in sophomore guard Kadary Richmond.

Three of those transfer players (Jackson, Obiagu and Richmond) were top-100 prospects out of high school. Cale, a non-transfer, gives Seton Hall a fourth top-100 recruit on its roster.

Three Important Buckeyes

Justin Ahrens

The senior captain continues to start for the Buckeyes, but Ahrens played the fewest minutes for the Buckeyes of all starters against Xavier (16) and shot just 0-for-2 from the field, finishing with three points and one assist. Ahrens’ 3-point marksmanship makes him a valuable asset for Ohio State when he’s hitting, but he went 0-for-2 from beyond the arc against Xavier and is averaging fewer attempts from three this year than he was last season. Ahrens must stretch the floor with outside shooting for the Buckeyes when he’s in the game, and he hasn’t done so enough thus far.

Kyle Young

Despite starting in 52 of his past 53 appearances entering this season, Young has come off the bench in each of the past three games for Ohio State. Against Xavier, Young played almost twice as much as Zed Key, who started in front of him at the five, and the fifth-year senior actually started the second half instead of the sophomore.

The move likely had to do with Young’s defensive mobility and toughness in a matchup that featured versatile 7-foot center Jack Nunge, but Young may supplant Key in the starting lineup moving forward. Young scored 10 points in the second half against Xavier during his best performance of the season so far on paper. If Young does play more, it will mean he has to contend with the size of Obiagu, who has played 20 minutes per game for the Pirates so far this season.

Meechie Johnson

Johnson has set career-high scoring marks in back-to-back games, and his 14-point effort against Xavier showed glimpses of his ability to create his own shot in crucial situations. With Justice Sueing out for an extended period of time, Johnson will have to continue to do that, and his strong offensive effort against the Musketeers likely helped him build some confidence after a slow start to the season.

Three Important Pirates

Player Position Height Weight Stats
KADARY RICHMOND G 6-6 200 5.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG
MYLES CALE G/F 6-6 210 11.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG
JARED RHODEN G/F 6-6 210 12 PPG, 7.5 RPG
ALEXIS YETNA F 6-8 225 9 PPG, 3.7 RPG
IKE OBIAGU C 7-2 265 1.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG

Jared Rhoden

Seton Hall’s returning scoring leader from last season, Rhoden was a preseason All-Big East selection ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, and is averaging 12 points per game to start the season. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound senior guard suffered an ankle injury during the preseason that kept him out of the season opener, but Rhoden returned for Seton Hall’s last two contests and got back into the starting lineup against Michigan. Rhoden averaged 14.9 points per game a year ago, and scored 16 points in 28 minutes against the Wolverines last week.

Myles Cale

A four-star prospect and top-100 overall player in the class of 2017, Cale is in his fifth season in the Seton Hall program and enters the matchup with Ohio State having already started 94 games in his collegiate career. Another 6-foot-6, 210-pound wing, Cale is averaging 11.3 points and 5.3 boards in three starts to begin the season and is shooting 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. At 25.3 minutes per game so far, Cale has played more than any other Pirate through three contests.

Bryce Aiken

Seton Hall’s sixth man is actually its leading scorer through the first three games, as Aiken, a 6-foot, 180-pound guard, has put up 12.3 points per game off the bench to start the year. Aiken, a former Harvard teammate of Seth Towns for four seasons, is now in his sixth year of college basketball and his second with Seton Hall. Aiken was banged up a year ago and played limited minutes in just 14 games for the Pirates, but has shown he can be far more effective with a clean bill of health this year. He is hitting .545 from 3-point range to start the season.

How It Plays Out

Line: Seton Hall -1.5, O/U 138.5

Seton Hall's roster construction is not totally dissimilar to that of Xavier, although the Pirates have played significantly more depth than the Musketeers so far. I wouldn't be surprised if Seton Hall gives Ohio State a comparable amount of problems in this matchup, and the oddsmakers seem to think so too given that the Buckeyes will not be favored going into a game for the first time this season. But perhaps the Buckeyes learned a thing or two from their first loss of the season and will benefit just enough from playing at a neutral site to avoid the same fate they suffered on the road last week.

Prediction: Ohio State 74, Seton Hall 71

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