Gunning For The Gators

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes, ranked no. 3 in the polls, take on the Florida Gators, ranked no. 8, at Value City Arena.

Such early games make college basketball a lot of fun.  It’s great to see the powerhouses play each other, and unlike college football, an early season loss isn’t fatal to your chances to win it all.  In the meantime, you get a rough sense of how your team matches up and how far they have to go.  Ohio State and Florida have developed a pretty good basketball rivalry recently, and last year’s game, in which the Buckeyes beat the Gators at Florida, helped to show that the 2010-2011 team was going to be special.

This year, the Buckeyes have a lot of unanswered questions.  Last year’s team featured three great seniors — David Lighty, Jon Diebler, and Dallas Lauderdale — and this year’s team has only one in William Buford.  This year’s nucleus is strong, with Buford, Jared Sullinger, and Aaron Craft, but we don’t know whether the other pieces of the puzzle will fit well together.  It appears that Coach Thad Matta has tons of talent, but chemistry and playing defense count for a lot, too.  Florida, on the other hand, has a great team that will light up the scoreboards this season.  The Gators are led by guard Kenny Boynton — one of the best in the country — as well as point guard Erving Walker and forward Patric Young.

This is a game with many intriguing story lines.  Can Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes’ defensive whiz, harass and shut down Boynton?  Who’s going to guard Jared Sullinger?  And which heretofore unheralded player is going to step up and make a name for himself in this nationally televised clash?

Carving Up The Gators

Tonight Ohio State’s men’s basketball team passed a tough early-season test, and did so in impressive fashion.  The Buckeyes carved up the Florida Gators in the second half and won going away, 93-75.

The first half was entertaining.  Ohio State played well on offense but was soft on defense, and Florida took advantage.  It seemed like every Florida player made a hook shot from the low post, and Florida ended the half ahead 41-38.  The second half was a different story, and the story started on defense.  Ohio State pressured the ball and stepped out on Florida players all over the court.  The Buckeyes forced some turnovers, and then put on a clinic on offense.  Jared Sullinger and David Lighty sliced up the Gators down low, and William Buford, Jon Diebler, and Aaron Craft knocked down open shots.  In all, Ohio State scored 55 points — 55 points! — in the second half and notched a very memorable win.

What can we take from this early season game?  I wouldn’t draw too many definitive conclusions, but some things seems clear.  First, Jared Sullinger is good.  He doesn’t play like a freshman, and his presence will help Jon Diebler and William Buford get more open shots.  He seems to have the full package of low-post moves and displays a nice, soft shot.  Second, David Lighty had improved tremendously during his collegiate career, and he is just a fun player to watch.  He hustles, he plays great defense, and he is fearless taking the ball to the rack.  Third, Aaron Craft doesn’t seem to play like a freshman, either.  Florida threw a variety of presses and traps at him, and he handled them well.  Get this — Craft played 29 minutes bringing the ball up against a pressing defense in a hostile arena in his first away game as a college student, and he committed only three turnovers.

If the Florida game is any indication, Ohio State’s inside-outside game will pose some real challenges for its opponents.  But the season is young, so we shouldn’t get carried away.  In the meantime, we’ll just enjoy the sweet taste of some fresh Gator meat.

An Early Season Test

Today the Ohio State men’s basketball team takes to the road for one of those early season match-ups that make college basketball so interesting.  (And, unlike football, an early season loss isn’t potentially fatal to your chances of winning it all.)

Tonight the Buckeyes take on Florida in Gainesville.  Every Buckeye fan would like a bit of payback from Florida.  We’re still smarting from the year in which the Gators thrashed the football Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game and then beat the Buckeye roundballers in the NCAA Championship Game.  This game, however, is interesting for reasons that go beyond possible revenge.  Both teams are ranked in the early season Top 10.  Florida has a good team, and the Buckeyes have a  corps of seasoned veterans and a bunch of youngsters who will be playing their first road game — a game that will just happen to be nationally televised.

I think this game will be a real challenge for Ohio State.  The Gators play a pressing defense and Ohio State has no experienced point guard.  That probably means that freshman Aaron Craft will be asked to try his hand at breaking the press in a hostile environment in an ESPN game.  It is a lot to ask of a freshman — and if you can’t get the ball up court, all of your front court talent won’t mean much.  This will be a learning experience for the youngsters, a leadership challenge for the veterans, and a teaching opportunity for coach Thad Matta and his staff.

I’m hoping the Buckeyes can prevail.  It would be nice to take a bite out of the Gators for a change.