1. Big man on campus
While Kentucky’s opponent on Wednesday night, the Utah Utes, had the biggest roster the Cats had faced thus far this year, Ohio State poses a different interior threat. Standing at 6’9″ and 270 pounds, junior Kaleb Wesson is the best big that Kentucky has faced this season, and it isn’t close. Wesson’s lack of true height at the center position is more than made up for by his ability to out-muscle most other bigs.
Wesson leads the Buckeyes in points with 14.3, rebounds with 9.1, and blocks with 1.5 per game. The big from Westerville, Ohio is also one of the best three-point shooters for this Ohio State team, hitting 17 of his 37 threes this season for 45.9%. The true weakness for Wesson is making him put the ball on the floor on the perimeter. He wants to either catch and shoot threes, or get deep post position for his offensive game.
2. Spreading the wealth
Chris Holtmann’s squad from Columbus doesn’t have one player that typically shoulders the bulk of the offensive load. Instead, the Buckeyes are extremely even-keeled in their offensive approach. Outside of Wesson’s team-high 14.3 points per game, Ohio State has two others scoring double-figures, with Duane Washington Jr. giving 11.4 and D.J. Carton scoring 10.7.
With just those top three in double-digits, the Buckeyes have five more players averaging at least 7.5 points per game. Compare that to Kentucky’s scoring, as there are only five players total averaging more than 7.5. Kaleb’s brother, Andre Wesson scores 8.9 points per game, followed closely by starting power forward Kyle Young’s 8.7 per game. Back up post player E.J. Liddell gives the team 8 points, while guards CJ Walker and Luther Muhammad both contribute 7.5 per game. If Kentucky wants to slow the offensive attack, it will take a lot more than just shutting down Wesson in the post.
3. Polar opposites from deep
Highlighted in Kentucky’s loss to Utah, as they missed countless wide open threes, the Cats are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. It was touched on in other posts today, but Kentucky ranks 347th of 353 teams in threes made per game, at just 4.2. Furthermore, Kentucky ranks 334th in three-point percentage at 27.5%. Kentucky has just three plauers who have made at least seven threes on the season, with the highest being Maxey and Quickley at 11 a piece. Meanwhile, for all of Kentucky’s struggles from three, Ohio State is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Buckeyes are shooting 41.6% from three as a team, which is good for fifth in the country. Their 9.6 threes made per game is 35th in the nation. Ohio State has seven players who have nine or more threes on the season, led by 22 made threes at 53.7% from Duane Washington Jr. Kaleb Wesson’s 45.9% is next, followed by his brother, Andre Wesson’s 41.2% with 14 makes on the season. Luther Muhammad is 15 for 30 for 50% on the season, and D.J. Carton, CJ Walker, and Justin Ahrens all hit between 36 and 38.5% from deep.
4. Deserving of a top 5 ranking?
Ohio State started the season with nine straight wins, including a season-opener over Cincinnati, a 25-point win over then 10-ranked Villanova, and a 25-point win over then 7-ranked North Carolina. The Buckeyes lost their first game of the season, falling at Minnesota by 13 points in a large upset. They picked up an easy win earlier this week against Southeast Missouri State to bring their overall record to 10-1 on the year.
The résumé looks the part of a top team in the country, but there are holes there when you look a little deeper. Their opening win over Cincinnati looks to be a below-average win, as UC has now lost to Bowling Green State and Colgate recently. The win over North Carolina has proven to be less than impressive, as the Tarheels are in the midst of losing five of their last six games. The loss to Minnesota is a bad loss, as the Gophers were 4-5 going into that match up. Lastly, the win over Villanova may be the lone quality win on the schedule, as they remain a top-20 team in the country, plus knocked off top ranked Kansas earlier this afternoon.
5. Third match up of the Cal era
Today’s match up between the Wildcats and Buckeyes is the 21st all-time meeting between the two schools. Kentucky leads the overall series by a small margin, with a record of 11-9 over Ohio State. The two teams have met twice prior to today in the John Calipari era at UK. The Cats and Bucks split the two meetings, with Kentucky wining the first back in the Sweet 16 of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and Ohio State winning the second in the Barclay’s Center in the 2015 CBS Sports Classic.
The potential good news for Kentucky today? The underdog team has won each of the previous match ups since Cal took over at UK. In 2011, Ohio State was the number one overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, led by Jared Sullinger who had 21 points and 16 rebounds against UK. However, we all remember Brandon Knight hitting the big game winning pull-up to move the Cats to the Elite 8 as a 4-seed. The next time the two played, Kentucky was ranked No. 4 in the country, but came out flat in the first half against the unranked Buckeyes, losing by 12 at half. Jamal Murray went off the second half, finishing with 33 points on 7 of 9 from three, but it wasn’t enough to complete the comeback, as Ohio State won 74-67. Kentucky opened as a 4-point underdog for today’s game and it will be interesting to see how they come out after the loss to Utah on Wednesday night.
Go Cats. Beat Buckeyes.