No. 10 Villanova Brings Tough Early Test for No. 16 Buckeyes

BruceHooley

Kaleb Wesson grew accustomed to being swarmed in the post last season when he led Ohio State in scoring, so he worked himself into the best shape of his life to become quicker and more agile in hopes of have more weapons to combat those double-teams.

He'll likely find out Wednesday night if that's going to work for him in the Big Ten when 16th-ranked OSU plays host to No. 10 Villanova in a Gavitt Games match-up at Value City Arena (7 p.m., FS1-TV).

The Wildcats are the gold standard in college basketball, with two NCAA Championships in the last four seasons, and are likely the best comparable for what Ohio State's Chris Holtmann wants to build in Columbus.

It's not that Holtmann won't take one-and-dones, but the foundation of his program is likely to be the multiple-year player who can contribute immediately, but will also develop over time.

That's how Jay Wright has succeeded at Villanova, a Big East powerhouse that's averaged more than 30 wins a season for the last six years, winning the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and 2018.

Holtmann went head-to-head with Nova throughout his three seasons at Butler and defeated the Wildcats when they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in his final year at Butler, 2017, before being hired at OSU.

"It's going to be hard," Holtmann said. "They are great -- not good -- they are elite at keeping the ball out of the post. They are an elite defensive team, but they are elite at keeping the ball out of the post. Even when you think you have a mismatch, they are tremendous at it."

The 6-9 Wesson dropped 34 pounds in the off-season to become more adept at escaping trouble and gaining quickness to work in the lane or get free on the perimeter.

He's hit half his six three-point attempts this season and is averaging a modest 10.5 points per-game, a number that will certainly increase, but not necessarily against the length Villanova can throw at him.

The Wildcats (1-0) feature five-star freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds in a season-opening win against Army.

The Wildcats rotation also includes 6-8 Saddiq Bay, 6-9 Damir Cosby-Roundtree, 6-9 Cole Swider, 6-7 Jermaine Samuels and 67 Brandon Slater.

The Buckeyes will not have Wesson's brother, Andre, their only senior and a normal starter, because of a fractured eye socket suffered in a Sunday win over UMass-Lowell.

Without 6-5 Andre Wesson, OSU gets smaller in the starting lineup with 6-3 guard Duane Washington Jr.

"Kaleb is one of the best centers in the country," Washington said. "If the focus is going to be on him, he needs to be ready for it, double-teams, traps, whatever they try to send at him. We've been preparing for that since the summer and we prepared last year for it. The more you prepare for it, the better you'll be."

OSU has more weapons this year to offset Wesson being taken away than it had a year ago, but Holtmann isn't comfortable yet that his freshmen and sophomores are capable of assuming that role.

If Villanova does make it hard for the Buckeyes in the half-court, freshman D.J. Carton's skill in transition and ability to create off dribble-drives might be OSU's best option.

"We can't be as dependent on Kaleb as we were last year and a be a really good team," Holtmann said. "He understands that, but having said that, he is so important. Right now, what we see when he comes out of the lineup, we're still too young.

"We're still growing into our roles, so he is very critical to us. If he were to get into foul trouble, it would really impact us. Hopefully, we'll be able to grow as a group and get to that point, but right now we're still highly, highly dependent on him."

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