The Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Ohio State Buckeyes will help close out one of the best days of non-conference basketball we will see in quite some time. It will also be quite the change from usual Thanksgivings: today isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon because this game is starting rather late.
The Zags are coming off of an up and down game against the Utah State Aggies on Tuesday, which hopefully was just what they needed to not do that again against the Buckeyes. There is a lot of talent in this tournament, but the top talent only comes when you win your first game.
Ohio State has rattled off four solid wins against four solidly overmatched opponents (hey there Texas Southern!). They haven’t played since Sunday, and you have to think that the time change will play into Gonzaga’s favor just a little bit.
Meet the opponent
Ohio State Buckeyes, 4-0, KenPom #67
It has been a rough couple of years for the Buckeyes, who used to be annual participants in March Madness. Couple that with the the tearful departure of Thad Matta from the coaching ranks due to health issues, and it is easy to see why most of the Big Ten media picked Ohio State to finish somewhere towards the bottom of the conference.
Still, Big Ten teams provide Big Ten players, and this will be a good test for the Zags, who so far have shown the ability to dominate over much smaller players. Johnathan Williams, for example, will have his hands full with junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, a double-double machine who leads the team in points (19.3), rebounds (10.0) and blocks (1.8).
Jae’Sean Tate is the x-factor for the Buckeyes. Like all good x-factors, he plays mostly at the three spot, and will provide a good challenge for Gonzaga’s rotating band of merry wingers. Tate averages 15.2 points per game, and he does that largely from attacking the hoop.
What to watch out for
Don’t foul too much down low.
Through four games, Ohio State’s backup center Kaleb Wesson is drawing fouls and an insane rate. He has attempted more free throws than he has field goals. Luckily, he is the backup, but the Zags need to make sure that they are smart down low. Ohio State’s strength is in its frontcourt, and the players can’t be committing garbage fouls to the likes of the backup center.
Control the glass.
Ohio State is a great rebounding team. If the Zags want to have a much easier time, it would behoove them to throw the Buckeyes off their game through this aspect. Bates-Diop and Tate, in particular, are great at defensive rebounding. The Zags will need to be aggressive on the offensive glass to generate those second-chance points. On the flip side, the Buckeyes are ranked No. 26 overall in offensive rebounds. If the Zags control the glass, they will have a much easier time in securing the win.
Use size to our advantage.
Specifically, the Gonzaga guards have a height advantage over Ohio State, although this applies broadly to most of the team. Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins and Silas Melson should all work hard and body the Ohio State Buckeyes off the ball. The Gonzaga defense hasn’t shown it is very adept at forcing turnovers quite yet. They don’t need to force turnovers to be a solid defense, but it goes a long way in generating extra possessions. The Gonzaga frontcourt will have its hands full with the Ohio State frontcourt. The backcourt will need to step it up in this one.