Duke takes on Ohio State in the ACC/B1G Challenge.
Ohio State enters Tuesday night with a 4-2 record with withs against #21 Seton Hall and losses to #23 Florida and #25 Xavier. The Buckeyes of Ohio State present a unique challenge to the Blue Devils. Hungry for a win after losing falling out of the top 25 the lack of a number next to their name should not dissuade the Blue Devils from respecting this team. The Buckeyes are 1-2 against ranked teams with the three games settled by a combined 12 points. They are a physical team led by versatile 6’7 forward E.J. Liddell. Liddell is the engine for Ohio State and can beat you in a multitude of ways. The only double figure scorer for the Buckeyes, Liddell is an adept post-up player but can also take his man off the dribble and drift out to hit the 3 where he is shooting it at 41%. Liddell also rebounds the basketball at 6.2 per game clip and is averaging 22.5 points a game. Liddell is eighth nationally in scoring. Only 15 players in the country have been to the free throw line more this season than Liddell’s 45 attempts.
The Buckeyes also have 4 other players who average within a basket of being double figure scorers. Kyle Young leads the team in rebounding at 6.4 per game and Jamari Wheeler leads the team in assists at 3.8 per game. Their 2 losses on the season have come by a combined total of 9 points.
A lot has been made of E.J. Liddell being the only true star for this Buckeye team but that very well be by design. Chris Holtmann’s team truly spreads the wealth around with 10 players averaging over 11 minutes a game. Even deeper into the numbers shows that this team averages 25 points from their bench. Kyle Young is contributing 9.6 off the bench, and Meechie Johnson Jr., who has hit some clutch shots for the Buckeyes, is up to 8 points off the bench in 23 minutes per game.
Duke moved up to 7-0 and claimed the number 1 spot in the AP poll gaining 51 of the 61 first-place from AP voters. Duke is coming off arguably their biggest win in the last 2 seasons taking down a Gonzaga team and handing them their first regular season loss in 2 seasons. It’s very natural to assume a drop-off and the Blue Devils and the Blue Devil coaching staff will have to stave off human nature against this tough opponent. Smothering defense has been the calling card of this Duke team 7 games into the season both on the perimeter and on the interior. Averaging juts under 5 blocked shots per game the Devils rank 47th currently in that category and 41st in steals at 9.6 per game.
The statistic that isn’t talked about as much for this Duke team is their valuing of the basketball. The Blue Devils are averaging 8.7 turnovers a game which is 7th in the nation heading into Tuesdays matchup with Ohio State. Paolo Banchero leads the Blue Devils in both scoring at rebounding with 18.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He’s shooting over 50% from the floor and dishing 2 assists per game. Banchero gets help from junior guard/forward Wendell Moore Jr. who has been Duke’s most versatile player averaging 17.9 points, 6.3 boards and 5.7 assists per game. Moore is Duke’s leader in assists. Sophomore Mark Williams anchors the Duke defense and is averaging 3.1 blocked shots per game which puts him at number 16 in the nation.
Thoughts on the Matchup
There are several things the Blue Devils need to guard against going against Ohio State in Columbus. There is going to be a palpable energy in Value City Arena that will spur this team on. They will be comfortable in their home gym and could begin the game on a huge run. They will be aggressive and will look to get into the paint early and often with Liddell. Duke must guard without fouling and match the energy of the Buckeyes early. This will be the most raucous environment that the majority of this team has seen and the captains are going to have to keep the team focused and communicative.
Harassing the guards, which has been Duke’s calling card will be very important for them – making it hard to get post passes into Liddell. If Duke can avoid having to double team the post their job becomes much easier. Not having to scramble to guards that are relocating would give Duke an advantage.
Offensively I can’t see the Blue Devils having any issues that aren’t self-created. If they continue to take care of the basketball and take good shots they should be fine. The big game drop off is always a concern – and a difficult factor to coach through and express – especially to a young team. I think the Blue Devils win here but within a 5-10 range.