Basketball Preview: Ohio State Looks to Keep Building Momentum Against Central Michigan

By Andy Anders on November 29, 2023 at 8:35 am
Bruce Thornton

Big Ten play is right around the corner for Ohio State, meaning the Buckeyes need to keep building on the momentum they built at the Emerald Coast Classic last weekend.

Central Michigan
2 - 4
value city arena
columbus, ohio
BtNOSu -23.5

No. 17 Alabama, the nation’s No. 1 offense in points per game and points per 100 possessions, fell at Ohio State’s hands 92-81. The Buckeyes followed that up with a 30-point win over then-undefeated Santa Clara – a mid-major with two Power Five victories already this season – to take the Emerald Coast Classic title.

“I thought their aggressiveness was great,” Holtmann said of his squad’s performance. “I thought we really shared the ball for the most part. I thought, after a little bit of a rocky start there (against Alabama) with some turnovers, I thought our guys settled in.”

Now OSU gets what should be a gimme game before opening conference play vs. Minnesota on Sunday. Central Michigan comes to Value City Arena holding a record of just 2-4, with two of those losses coming to fellow mid-major schools. While the Chippewas picked up their first two victories of the season on Nov. 15 and 20, first at South Florida and then against Siena in the Sunshine Slam, they added a defeat to Stetson to their ledger in their most recent game.

Central Michigan is 330th in the country for points scored per game, tallying 64.8 per contest. Last year the Chippewas went 10-21 with a ninth-place finish in the MAC.

Need to know

Predecessor to Pearl

Central Michigan is coached by Tony Barbee, a man with SEC head coaching experience, even if it wasn’t winning experience. Barbee oversaw Auburn for four years where he went 46-75, including a 9-23 campaign in his third year there in 2012-13 before being fired following the 2013-14 season. His successor, Bruce Pearl, has been with the Tigers ever since and has led them to five NCAA Tournament appearances with a Final Four trip in 2018-19.

Barbee did see success at UTEP prior to his time at Auburn, winning Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2009-10 after leading the Miners to a conference title and NCAA Tournament berth with a 26-7 record. Now in his third season, he has a 19-48 tally with Central Michigan.

Inefficient on both ends

Central Michigan is ranked 321st in points per 100 possessions and 324th in points allowed per 100 possessions. That puts it in the bottom 50 of college basketball for both categories. Last season, the Chippewas were an even worse 347th in points per 100 possessions, though they managed to finish 272nd in points allowed per 100.

Three Important Buckeyes

Bruce Thornton

If the theme of this game is maintaining momentum for the Buckeyes, there’s one place to look for the most momentum right now on the team – the backcourt. Thornton leads the charge in that area. Ohio State’s star point guard tops the team in points (17.2) and assists (4.8) per game. He racked up a career-high 29 points against the Crimson Tide and a career-high seven assists vs. Santa Clara.

Roddy Gayle Jr.

Thornton’s backcourt running mate and roommate also recorded a career-high against Alabama with 23 points. He’s put up 15.0 points and 3.7 assists per game to be second behind Thornton in both categories, and the bond between the two on and off the court is a big aid for the Buckeyes this season.

“I see Roddy every day,” Thornton said. “We live in the same dorm, in the morning, during tutoring, I see him all the time. We’ve been working out with each other since last year. We just know our tendencies, our weaknesses and our strengths. We use that to our advantage.”

Felix Okpara

After averaging just 2.7 rebounds in Ohio State’s first three games, the Buckeyes’ starting 6-11 center has finally started to hit the glass in addition to the block numbers he’s been putting up (2.3 per game) during the first month of the season. He pulled down 11 boards against Western Michigan on Nov. 19 before racking up 10 against the Crimson Tide and seven against the Broncos in the Emerald Coast Classic. He’s now up to six rebounds per game.

“Felix is our guy, he’s our defensive anchor,” Gayle said. “When he’s rebounding and blocking shots the way he was over the weekend, I feel like we can battle with some of the best teams in the country. It’s a huge responsibility for him, but I feel like he’s capable.”

Three Notable Chippewas

Anthony Pritchard

Projected Starting Lineup
No. Player Position Height Weight 2023-24 Stats
30 Anthony Pritchard G 6-2 185 14.5 PPG, 5.3 APG
2 Cayden Vasko G 6-6 190 5.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG
13 Aidan Rubio G 6-6 200 6.2 PPG, 1.2 BPG
0 Brian Taylor G 6-6 220 11.2 PPG, 6.7 RPG
15 Markus Harding F 6-10 255 11.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG

Pritchard has enjoyed a breakout campaign so far after transferring to Central Michigan from Tulsa this offseason. He’s pacing the Chippewas in points with 14.5 per game and assists with 5.3 per game, shooting 40% from 3.

Brian Taylor

A fifth-year senior in his third season with Central Michigan after transferring from the University of Illinois-Chicago, Taylor is the most experienced player the Chippewas have. He has parlayed that experience into 11.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. His numbers were even better a year ago when he averaged 14.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game.

Markus Harding

Central Michigan’s 6-10 forward is the second-leading scorer on the squad with 11.4 points per game but has surprisingly only pulled in four rebounds per contest. He’s added 1.8 assists and one block per game.

How It Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -23.5, O/U 142

Central Michigan should provide the Buckeyes with a comfortable win before conference play starts on Sunday, and they’ll need to soak up those easy victories while they can with only two tune-up games against mid-majors remaining after this one.

Prediction: Ohio State 87, Central Michigan 61

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