Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
#23 Ohio State (10-1, 1-0) travels to The Barn to take on #21 Minnesota (12-1, 0-1) in each team’s second conference game. Ohio State snuck by Iowa in their Big Ten opener, while Minnesota was ousted by Michigan State. Both teams played an integral role in the revival of the Big Ten in non-conference play, and are fighting for a potential NCAA Tournament berth in a deeper-than-ever Big Ten. For Thad Matta’s crew, a win over a quality team on the road would be a huge boost after an underwhelming performance at home against Iowa. The Gophers must rebound from the trouncing they received from Michigan State on their home floor. Dropping two in The Barn this early on would not bode well for their Tourney aspirations.
The Buckeyes are led by do it all forward Evan Turner. The 6-7 wingman leads Ohio State in points, rebounds and assists. He goes as the team goes; in Ohio State’s lone loss, Turner was an abysmal 23% from the field. Also featured is sharpshooter Jon Diebler. Diebler has been inconsistent during his tenure at Ohio State, but at times he is among the nation’s best shooters. Had it not been for a 27 point outing against Iowa, including a 70% 3 point shooting performance, the Buckeyes would be 0-1 in conference. The biggest story coming into this season for OSU was superstar freshman BJ Mullens, widely regarded as the best incoming college basketball player in the nation. However, Mullens has been outshone by guys like Greg Monroe early on. He is only averaging 7.1 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. He has shown flashes of brilliance, such as his 19 point 8 rebound performance against UNC-Asheville, but he has yet to perform at that level consistently. With the season ending injury to the team leader, David Lighty, Mullens will have to step up his game. He may not even be the most impressive freshman on his team. That honor may belong to William Buford, who is fourth on the team in scoring, and is a very solid rebounding guard. In order for Ohio State to neutralize Minnesota’s home court advantage and win the game, they must get good performances from their stars.
Tubby Smith has this Gopher team playing better than they have in years. Despite losing a bunch of leadership, they are off to a very hot start. On offense, Minnesota features a balanced scoring attack. In typical Big Ten fashion, a myriad of guys can lead the team in scoring. They are also very deep, with 11 players averaging 10 or more minutes a game and no one gets 30. Minnesota’s frontcourt was questionable at the beginning of the season. Due to their depth, this squad will be able to hold their own with the Buckeye big men. Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson are the big guys who garner the most minutes. The stud is junior guard Lawrence Westbrook. After the loss of Lawrence McKenzie, Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson, Minnesota was in dire need of a man to take up the leadership mantle. Westbrook has been that guy. Blake Hoffarber, dubbed “Big Shot Blake” for his buzzer-beating shot against Illinois last year as well as his heroic antics in the Minnesota State Tournament, is a lights out shooter. The X-Factor is Al Nolen. Nolen’s two best games have been against Louisville and Michigan State. He is a scrappy rebounder who helps makes up for Minnesota’s height deficiency. He is also the Big Ten leader in assists. Expect him to play up to the competition as he has done all year long.
Minnesota desperately needs a win here. 2 games in the hole is not a way to start Big Ten season, and Tubby’s boys will erase the dreaded bagel in the win column. The Barn is a tough environment to win in, and despite Michigan State coming in and winning there, it isn’t likely that that feat happens so soon after.
Winner: Minnesota Margin: 2-5 points
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.