The Ohio State Buckeyes are ready to begin their quest for the 2021 National Championship.
2021 was a wild ride for the Buckeyes and they certainly hope it's not over quite yet. After an uninspiring, albeit undefeated, beginning of the season, the Scarlet and Gray had a lot they were trying to work through early on. Injuries from before the season even started, complete uncertainty about their point guard spot, and dropping three of the first five Big Ten games made for a rough beginning of the year.
But beginning with a 79-68 win over a then-top-25 Rutgers team in early January, Ohio State ripped off 10 wins in 11 games ... including four consecutive road victories over top-15 teams in the country for the first time in program history. The Buckeyes went from being unranked to being a consensus top-5 team nationally.
And yet, in the unforgiving Big Ten, anything less than perfection often resulted in defeat. Ohio State felt that during the final four games of the schedule, during which they played competitive ball against some of the premier teams in the nation and came up short in each contest.
Far from the note they wanted to enter the Big Ten Tournament on, Ohio State erased their recent past in the blink of an eye. Wins over Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan in three consecutive days (those three teams went 4-0 against the Buckeyes in the regular season) set the stage for an instant classic Big Ten title game against Illinois. While Ohio State ultimately fell short in overtime, their ability to clear the slate as quickly as they did, get healthy and not be overburdened by losing out on a double-bye was very impressive.
Duane Washington Jr. and E.J. Liddell played fabulous for the duration of the tournament, although things ended on a sour note for Liddell.
Now the Buckeyes turn their attention to the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles after a full week of rest and rehab. ORU might be a No. 15 seed, but they are extremely dangerous.
Max Abmas is the nation's leading scorer, averaging 24.2 points per game this year. He's scored at least 30 points seven times this year, including a pair of 40-point games over the last couple weeks. He can shoot it from anywhere on the floor. His 42-point game against South Dakota State on Feb. 13 was a career-high and the single best performance from any DI basketball player in the country this season.
“I think he’ll eventually be a pro, I really do. He just has the ability to shoot it from everywhere on the floor,” head coach Chris Holtmann said this week. “Our pickup point’s gonna need to obviously be different than what it is typically, because of how dangerous he is. He really can come across half-court and raise up, and he shoots it with great accuracy.”
“(They are) One of the best shooting teams I’ve seen on film. And they shoot it from everywhere,” Holtmann continued. “They really spread you out, and they shoot it at (all five spots).”
But the Golden Eagles are far more than just a 1-man wrecking crew. Kevin Obanor is a fabulous shooter in his own right, hitting on 46.9 percent of his 3-point tries. He hit 50 percent from 3-point range, 50 percent from the field and 90 percent from the free thrown line during conference play this year.
ORU leads the nation with 11.3 3-pointers made per game and they are the best free throw shooting team in college basketball, registering a 82.4 percent mark from the line as a team. Kareem Thompson, DeShang Weaver and Carlos Jurgens can all score in bunches too, as can R.J. Glasper (if he's healthy enough to play).
That said, what they have in offensive skillset, they lack in size and in defensive presence. ORU has allowed more points per game than any other team in the field-of-68 this year, plus they are one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. Ohio State has a definite advantage in the paint. Having Kyle Young back could really help the Buckeyes, although his status is still uncertain after suffering a concussion last week.
The winner of this game will play either No. 7-seed Florida or No. 10-seed Virginia Tech on Sunday in the Second Round game, with a Sweet Sixteen berth on the line. Friday's game tips off at 3:00 p.m. on CBS.
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