Basketball Preview: Ohio State Plays Penultimate Mid-Major Tuneup vs. Miami (Ohio) Before Schedule Ramps Up

By Andy Anders on December 6, 2023 at 8:35 am
Scotty Middleton

If one were still caught up in the throes of football season, it might be a surprise to find out that only two mid-major opponents remain on the Ohio State men’s basketball schedule.

4 - 3
value city arena
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B1G+OSu -21

The Buckeyes play their second Big Ten game of the season at Penn State on Sunday and will see UCLA and West Virginia sandwiched around their final mid-major, New Orleans, before they hit the conference-only portion of their schedule starting in January.

First, however, Ohio State clashes with Miami (Ohio) on Wednesday. The Buckeyes are riding a six-game winning streak with a victory in their first conference contest against Minnesota on Sunday, and Chris Holtmann says his squad will need “great preparation” to maintain momentum before its first true road game against the Nittany Lions.

The RedHawks have a 4-3 record after a 0-2 start to the year, but Ohio State will be their first opponent of the season from a power conference.

“(Miami) is playing well right now, just won at Marshall, won four of the last five games they’ve played,” Holtmann said. “They’ve got a great, very skilled group that is difficult (to defend), their effective field goal percentage is really good. They’re a disciplined group and well-coached and (we) need to have a readiness to play tomorrow.”

Need to know

Suboptimal scoring

Miami ranks 243rd in college basketball with 71.7 points per game, and its rate statistics aren’t any better. The Redhawks are only 240th nationally with 102.7 points per 100 possessions. Only one player on the team averages double figures, that being the 13.4 per contest scored by Darweshi Hunter.

To Holtmann’s point about effective field goal percentage, however, a big contributing factor to that statistic is 3-point percentage, which Miami is 42nd nationally in at 38.1%. Conversely, however, it is 240th converting from inside the arc at 49.8%.

Xavier behavior

Travis Steele, head coach of the RedHawks, has experience from another, larger basketball program in Ohio. Steele spent four seasons as head coach of Xavier from 2018-22 after spending nine seasons as an assistant for the Musketeers. However, his four-year stint as head coach coincided with Xavier’s only four-year NCAA Tournament drought since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. He had a 70-50 career record with the Cincinnati-based university and was fired immediately following a first-round victory in the NIT in 2022.

The system Steele ran at Xavier is alike in some ways to what he’s running at Miami and different in others, Holtmann said.

“There are some similarities for sure, but there’s also some differences there,” Holtmann said. “They’re different offensively than what they were when he was (at Xavier), (Miami) is predicated on great spacing and skill. They’ve got some really good young players, a couple are returning players that have done some really high-level things for them.”

Gray Unis

Ohio State will be pulling out its gray alternate uniforms for the first time this season when it faces Miami.

Three Important Buckeyes

Evan Mahaffey

Mahaffey has been contributing in myriad ways for Ohio State with ballhandling, passing and versatility on defense. His offense has been a negative of late, however, as he’s shot a combined 3-for-23 across the Buckeyes’ last five games and 0-for-11 in the last two. The scarlet and gray have gotten plenty of offensive contributions elsewhere, but Mahaffey’s efficiency when he’s the one taking shots needs to improve as the season ramps up.

“His shot selection has been pretty good,” Holtmann said. “He’s shot a couple of walled-up shots where he wasn’t playing with offensive force, which he doesn’t need to do. Time and space threes he needs to continue to take, we know he can make those, and then the ability to drive and play off of that is something that he’s good at.”

Scotty Middleton

If all goes according to plan, Wednesday’s contest should provide an opportunity to continue growing some of the young talent on Ohio State’s roster. The freshman Middleton has started to find some offense of late, scoring seven and eight points in the Buckeyes’ last two games on a combined 6-of-8 shooting, and will look for more opportunities against the Redhawks.

Zed Key

Holtmann wanted to lean on the size of Felix Okpara against Minnesota forward Dawson Garcia – who still racked up 36 points despite Okpara’s five blocks – which meant Key played his fewest minutes of the season at just 15 and scored his fewest points with four. Ohio State’s depth should get plenty of run against Miami, giving Key, its top bench scorer this year, a chance to get back in rhythm.

Three Notable RedHawks

Darweshi Hunter

Projected Starting Lineup
No. Player Position Height Weight 2023-24 Stats
11 Mekhi Cooper G 6-1 160 8.9 PPG, 2.7 APG
2 Evan Ipsaro G 6-0 200 9.1 PPG, 2.9 APG
4 Darweshi Hunter G 6-5 180 13.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG
25 Bryson Bultman G 6-5 200 8.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG
21 Jaquel Morris F 6-8 220 8.1 PPG, 1.6 BPG

Hunter is far and away the RedHawks’ leading scorer so far, as mentioned above. He’s also second in rebounds (5.1 per game) and shoots 35.7% from 3-point range, leading the squad in 3-point makes.

Jaquel Morris

Miami’s leading rebounder with 5.4 boards per contest, Morris is also the team’s tallest starter at 6-8. He provides some interior defense as well with a team-high 1.6 blocks per game to go alongside 8.1 points per game.

Evan Ipsaro

The freshman Ipsaro’s 2.9 assists per game lead all Redhawks and his 9.1 points per game are second on the team. He’s shot a blistering 47.1% from distance this year, though that’s on a small sample size of 17 attempts.

How It Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -21, O/U 146.5

It’s clear Miami doesn’t have the horses to run with Ohio State, but a few lulls in production while the Buckeyes bridge the gap between their first two Big Ten games wouldn’t be a surprise. Expect an easy win for OSU in the end, though.

Prediction: Ohio State 87, Miami 63

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