Maui Invitational Preview: Ohio State To Be Tested in Three Tough Matchups in Three Straight Days During Eight-Team Tournament in Hawaii

By Griffin Strom on November 21, 2022 at 9:20 am
Felix Okpara
Adam Cairns – Columbus Dispatch

It’s time to crank the danger level up a notch.

Ohio State enjoyed a stroll down easy street through its first three contests of the season, mid-major warmups against Robert Morris, Charleston Southern and Eastern Illinois, and the Buckeyes took care of business accordingly. Ohio State dispatched with each of those teams by at least 22 points, holding an average margin of victory of just under 29 points.

To say the competition gets stiffer during this week’s Maui Invitational would be an understatement. Of the eight teams participating in the annual early season tournament, five are ranked, and three are within the top 15 teams in the AP poll. No. 9 Arkansas, No. 10 Creighton, No. 14 Arizona, No. 17 San Diego State, No. 23 Texas Tech and unranked Louisville and Cincinnati will all be potential foes for Ohio State in its three-game run in Hawaii.

“It is a very good field. I think it may be the best field of any tournament I've competed in as a coach, to be honest with you,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said Wednesday. “We are going to play grown men. And then obviously, you got to respond and play another good team – win or lose – followed by another good team. So we'll learn a lot here this next really 10 days.”

Ohio State starts its three-day gauntlet stretch with San Diego State in a 9 p.m. showdown on Monday, and could play either Arizona or Cincinnati the day after. Depending on the results of the first two days, the Buckeyes could end up in any of four possible matchups on Wednesday.

Buckeye captain Justice Sueing said this tournament represents a dive into the deep end for Ohio State and that the competition it faces will serve as an early measuring stick before the program reaches conference play.

“From now on, our schedule is pretty intense. We have this tournament, we have Duke, we have a couple good non-conference games before we go to New York (to play North Carolina). From here on out, we’re in the deep end,” Sueing told Eleven Warriors. “I’m just really excited to get out there with the guys and get challenged right from the start really. And get through those hurdles and see how far we’ve grown and as well as get to learn what we need to continue to grow on to have a successful season. But yeah, I’m excited to play against these good teams here in this invitational.”

2022 Maui Invitational Field
ARKANSAS No. 9 No. 14 3-0 Louisville (5 p.m.)
CREIGHTON No. 10 No. 23 4-0 Texas Tech (2:30 p.m.)
ARIZONA No. 14 No. 11 3-0 Cincinnati (11:30 p.m.)
SAN DIEGO STATE No. 17 No. 17 3-0 Ohio State (9 p.m.)
TEXAS TECH No. 23 No. 26 3-0 Creighton (2:30 p.m.)
OHIO STATE N/A No. 29 3-0 San Diego State (9 p.m.)
CINCINNATI N/A No. 63 3-1 Arizona (11:30 p.m.)
LOUISVILLE N/A No. 123 0-3 Arkansas (5 p.m.)

Three Important Buckeyes

Justice Sueing

A native Hawaiian, Sueing returns home to play competitive basketball in the Aloha State for the first time since his sophomore year of high school. Sueing said some members of his family will get the chance to watch him play for Ohio State for the first time, and as many as 10 of his family members could be in attendance for the action.

Sueing started the season hot with a 20-point performance in the season opener but has since cooled off, hitting just 2-of-10 shots last time out in an effort that suggested he still has some rust to shake off after missing nearly all of last year. But Hawaii may be the perfect place to do it, and Sueing said Ohio State is aiming for a 3-0 record in the Maui Invitational.

“I think going into any situation, we’re there to win. We’re trying to come out undefeated, just like all the other teams that are going to the invitational,” Sueing said. “It’s a competitive slate of teams, so it’s gonna be really good games. High intensity, high competition. It’s something that we look for. Coach (Holtmann), he loves that. He loves getting challenged, and every single guy on this team wants to get challenged too. We’re going into this trying to win every single game.”

Brice Sensabaugh

Who will be the first option on an Ohio State roster loaded with new faces and underclassmen? So far it’s been true freshman Brice Sensabaugh, who has not yet cracked the starting lineup but leads the Buckeyes with an average of 17 points per game.

Sensabaugh’s first two games saw him score many of his points late in blowout victories, but his 20-point showcase against Eastern Illinois was crucial to the end result. Ohio State led by only six points at halftime, and Sensabaugh had half of its points at the intermission. That performance might have earned him more minutes in the Maui Invitational, possibly even a starting role as the season progresses.

“Listen, we want him to stay aggressive. I think his minutes obviously will increase here,” Holtmann said. “But I think there's been a couple (shot attempts) that maybe I'd say that's not the best one. Maybe one or two (on Wednesday) looked like kind of long, contested twos. But outside of that, I think it's been pretty good. And I love how aggressive he's been.”

Zed Key

The Buckeye big man has been Mr. Double-Double for Ohio State in the first three games. Key’s notched at least 10 points and 10 boards in every game he’s played so far, and hit those marks before halftime in the second game of the season. Key’s averaging 13.3 points and 12.3 rebounds so far, and he’ll need to continue that torrid pace for Ohio State to stay competitive with some of the upper-tier teams it may face this week.

Holtmann still thinks Key’s gas tank needs some work, and it will certainly be tested in Maui as the Buckeyes play three games in three days. But Key’s productivity can’t be criticized thus far, as he’s been the most consistent player on the team through the first three games.

“I think his conditioning is solid. I wouldn't say – I think it's good, I don't think it's great. I think we're gonna have to continue to watch it,” Holtmann said. “I thought there were stretches in this game (Eastern Illinois) where he could, as an older player, I expect him to play a little bit harder than what he did. But Zed's had a really good opening to the season. There's just high expectations for a junior.”

Scouting San Diego State

It’s been four years since Brian Dutcher’s San Diego State program lost double-digit games in a college basketball season, and the Aztecs are already off to a running start in the 2022-23 season. SDSU has wins over Cal State Fullerton, BYU and Stanford, and is favored to add Ohio State to that list on Monday.

No. 17 San Diego State (3-0) Lahaina Civic Center 9 p.m. ESPN2

Despite losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament each of the past two years, Holtmann thinks San Diego State is destined for a much deeper run in the Big Dance come March.

“The team we're playing to open can get to a Final Four, clearly. I mean they were the second-best defensive team in the country, and they return everybody almost. They are phenomenal. They will be one of the best teams we play the entire year. I mean, San Diego State is a phenomenal team. They're old, they are incredibly physical, they're tremendous defensively, they're really good offensively.” 

Buckeye fans will recognize at least one name on the Aztec roster, as former Ohio State forward Jadeon Ledee is the Aztecs’ leading scorer (16.0 points per game) through three contests. Ledee is in his first season with SDSU after a previous stop in TCU, which followed his decision to transfer out of Columbus in 2019.

Ledee has yet to crack the starting lineup, but the 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward appears to be putting it all together in his fourth year of college basketball. Ledee scored a career-high 23 points in the Aztecs’ second game against BYU and is shooting well over 50% from the field so far this season.

Two-time All-WAC guard and Seattle transfer Darrion Trammell is another standout first-year performer for San Diego State, averaging 15 points and 3.7 assists through three games. Trammell is also hitting 58.3% of his 3-point shots so far.

Per KenPom, San Diego State is the eighth-best defensive team in the country, and the Buckeyes are coming off their worst offensive showing of the season in their most recent effort against EIU.

Line: SDSU -2.5, O/U: 138.5

Prediction: SDSU 72, OSU 63

Cincinnati/Arizona (Tuesday)

If Ohio State upsets the Aztecs to start the week, it will play the winner of Monday’s Cincinnati-Arizona matchup. Should the Buckeyes lose to SDSU, they’ll draw the loser.

Either way, Ohio State will have another tough matchup on tap. But there’s little doubt the Wildcats represent the more dangerous opponent of the two. Arizona ranks 11th overall in adjusted efficiency margin, per KenPom, and possesses the fifth-best offense in the country.

Four Wildcat players are averaging at least 15 points this season, and Arizona’s two leading scorers stand 6-foot-11 (Azuolas Tubelis, 20.0 points per game) and 7-foot (Oumar Ballo, 17.0). Both big men weigh upwards of 245 pounds and would give an undersized Ohio State team problems down low.

The Wildcats also have two guards putting up big scoring numbers this season with Lithuania’s Kerr Kriisa and Sweden’s Pelle Larsson both averaging 15.7 points per game. The former is also dishing eight assists a night.

Cincinnati started its second season under head coach Wes Miller with three straight wins, but enters the Maui Invitational on the heels of a 13-point loss Northern Kentucky of the Horizon League. Three senior guards lead the way for the Bearcats this season, with David DeJulius headlining the group with a team-high 18.3 points per game thus far.

The Bearcats rank No. 63 in KenPom with the 65th-rated offense and No. 61 defense in the nation.

Ohio State will play at 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday on ESPN if it beats San Diego State. The Buckeyes will play at 5 p.m. on ESPN2 if they lose to SDSU.

Four potential Game 3 opponents (Wednesday)

An opponent for Ohio State’s third Maui Invitational matchup will be determined by what happens in the first two days of games and whether the Buckeyes are playing for first, third, fifth or seventh place. The Buckeyes could run into any one of four teams on Wednesday based on how the first two rounds of the tournament play out.

The highest-ranked team in the tournament is No. 9 Arkansas, which is coming off of back-to-back Elite Eight appearances under head coach Eric Musselman. The Razorbacks are led by Wichita State transfer guard Ricky Council IV, who leads the group with an average of 18.7 points per game.

Arkansas opens against Louisville, which is off to a dreadful 0-3 start under first-year Kenny Payne, and will likely move on to face the winner of Texas Tech-Creighton. A No. 3 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Texas Tech ranks 23rd in the AP poll and is led by another name Buckeye fans will recall: Oral Roberts transfer Kevin Obanor, who helped defeat Ohio State in the first round of the Big Dance two years ago and now leads the Red Raiders with an average of 12.3 points per game.

Greg McDermott’s Bluejays are the second-highest-ranked team in the tournament at No. 10 and feature four double-digit scorers. Leading Creighton is 7-foot center Ryan Kalkbrenner, who is putting up 16.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game this season.

Wednesday’s games are scheduled for Eastern Time tip-offs of 2:30 p.m. on ESPN2 for the fifth-place game, 5 p.m. on ESPN for the championship game, 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU for the seventh-place game and 10 p.m. on ESPN2 for the third-place game.

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