Following a narrow escape against Iowa, a win that broke Maryland’s 11-year road losing streak against ranked teams, the Terps return home. As Maryland is pushing for a high seed in the big dance, it welcomes an Ohio State team that’s trying to stay on the bubble.
Ohio State faces four ranked opponents in its last five games, with Maryland being the first. How important is this final stretch to a Buckeyes team that’s still on the bubble?
To put it simply, success is vital in this final stretch. After a conference play schedule filled with inconsistencies, Ohio State has five games to prove to people that when you watch the Buckeyes, you know what you are going to get. The Buckeyes’ win against Northwestern on Wednesday was as close to consistent as this team has been recently.
Ohio State stayed with what head coach Chris Holtmann defined as his team’s identity for the beginning of the season, and what many players considered to be the reason behind the team’s offensive struggles: its defense. The Buckeyes limited the Wildcats to 31.6 percent from the field, making 7-of-24 from shots in the first half. Northwestern was even worse from deep, making 5-of-29. Defense will be the key factor if Ohio State wants to have success in what could prove to be one of the hardest stretches of the season.
Ohio State is just 4-4 in true road games this season. How has the team fared against tough crowds like the one expected in the Xfinity Center?
I think it’s as the record shows: it has been inconsistent. I think the last two true road games Ohio State has been through, Indiana and Michigan State, prove to be good examples of how the Buckeyes have played on the road. In Bloomington, the Buckeyes and Hoosiers played a close game in what I consider to be one of the biggest home-court advantages in the conference. But on the road in East Lansing facing a top-10 Spartans team, Ohio State came out to a hot start and struggled in the second half due in part to the crowd. However, playing against the quality of team Maryland is, I think playing on the road is pretty low on the list in terms of worries.
Three-point shooting played a big factor in Maryland’s first meeting with Ohio State, as the Terps went 11-for-17 from beyond the arc compared to the Buckeyes’ 6-for-26. How much has outside shooting plagued Ohio State this year?
Opposing defenses have forced the Ohio State offense to become one-dimensional. With only one true post option in sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State has been forced to try and and score from the outside. However, this team has decreased its attempts from deep. Ohio State it in the middle of the pack in terms of threes attempted. The team did attempt 20 3-pointers in its last game against Northwestern, the first time Ohio State has attempted at least 20 since Feb. 2.
The Buckeyes have two players that can hit threes consistently in senior guard C.J. Jackson and freshman guard Luther Muhammad, who each shoot over 40 percent from the field. In terms of three-point defense, the Maryland matchup from earlier this season has proved to be an anomaly. The Buckeyes have limited opponents to shoot 31.6 percent from deep, sixth-best in the conference. That number has increased a bit in conference play, up to 32.9 percent, but not drastically.
While Bruno Fernando is a tough matchup for any team, Anthony Cowan was Maryland’s leading scorer in Columbus in last month’s matchup. How can Ohio State’s guards attempt to slow down Cowan?
For what it’s worth, no player has impressed me more than Bruno Fernando did when he faced Ohio State.
One of the things Anthony Cowan did well when he faced Ohio State in the previous matchup were the two things that plagued the defense as a whole: three-point shooting and drawing fouls. He hit 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, making half of the Terrapins’ makes from the line in addition to going 3-of-7 from deep, which seems normal for the junior guard. If he has a day like he did in his last time out against Iowa, making 5-of-10 from deep, that’s going to prove to be difficult for Jackson and Muhammad.
Ohio State wins if...
...it contains Maryland’s forwards, Jalen Smith and especially Fernando. Kaleb Wesson will have to have the game of his life in terms of forcing Fernando to be limited in the paint. If Fernando has any sort of day like the one he had in Columbus, recording 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting with 15 rebounds, Ohio State will not win.
Maryland wins if...
...it plays with the exact gameplan it had against the Buckeyes in January. The Terps must limit Ohio State’s ability to find success in the paint and force them to create offense on the outside, something the Buckeyes have not had consistent success with last season. Offensively, Fernando and Smith have to be huge factors, using their size to overpower Wesson and whichever player head coach Holtmann attempts to use in the second post spot. It’ll be either Andre Wesson or Kyle Young, who the head coach said has been on a minutes restriction because of injury.