When No. 11 Ohio State travels to College Park Tuesday night, it could have more implications than an average January Big Ten game. The Buckeyes and Terrapins entered the season as the second and third ranked teams in the Big Ten preseason poll.
Despite some impressive non-conference wins against the likes of North Carolina (with Cole Anthony), No.14 Kentucky, and No. 16 Villanova, Ohio State has fallen to 1-2 in conference play. Upset losses against Minnesota and Wisconsin have put the Buckeyes in danger of losing three consecutive Big Ten games. But, Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon attributes the Buckeyes’ losses to the depth of the conference.
“I think our league is terrific…I think our league is the best league in the country. I know some other league’s argue that but top to bottom I think we have 12 in the NET top 50…it’s going to be difficult,” said Turgeon. “It’s going to be tough.”
Turgeon’s assessment of the Big Ten seems more than fair. In the latest ESPN Bracketology, the Big Ten has a nation-best nine teams in the NCAA Tournament with Minnesota right on the cusp. Every team in the league sans Michigan State has at least one conference loss and every team sans Northwestern has at least one conference win.
“We’re basically taking every game’s approach the same. Every team has a good player and every team is a good team,” said freshman forward Donta Scott. “(The) Big Ten is real hard and we just gotta approach the game the same as the last.”
The Buckeyes will likely be Maryland’s toughest test yet. Chris Holtmann’s squad, that made the round of 32 last year, is a balanced group that can hurt teams inside and out. They lead the Big Ten in three point makes per game and percentage, in large part due to five rotation players shooting over 40 percent from three. Their outside attack is spearheaded by sophomore Duane Washington Jr. who is shooting 47.5 percent from deep.
But the Buckeyes engine is undoubtedly junior forward Kaleb Wesson. Wesson averaged just nine points in two contests against the Terps last year, but has made massive leaps this season. This offseason Wesson cut body fat to improve athleticism, all while becoming a stealthy shooter from deep. The Ohio native has the chops to take the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title.
If Maryland wants to protect home court, they will need to slow down Wesson. And the brunk of that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Jalen Smith.
“Jalen’s gonna have to play with his feet. Play smart. Use his length the best he can. Make him earn everything,” Turgeon said. “It was hard for Bruno last year to guard him (Wesson), so we’ll have multiple guys guard him throughout the game.”
Offensively the Terps will need to hit shots against the stingy Buckeye defense. Ohio State allows the fewest points per game in the Big Ten at 58.4. The Terps will need to shoot the ball better than they have been, going 28 percent from deep in three conference games.
The Big Ten is a 20 game slog this year with minimal freebies outside the likes of Nebraska and Northwestern. If Maryland wants to reach the heights it believes it is capable of, including a high seed in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament, picking up their first ranked win of the season against the Buckeyes Tuesday night would be a giant resume builder.
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