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Interview with a Buckeye: Ohio State Q&A

Matt Tamanini of our SB Nation cousins Land-Grant Holy Land drops by to give us a preview of the Buckeyes.

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Ohio State Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

After a win on New Year’s Eve over non-conference foe Rider, the Wisconsin Badgers (8-5 overall, 1-1 B1G) travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the No. 3 (KenPom)/No. 5 (AP and Coaches Polls) Ohio State Buckeyes (11-2 overall, 1-1 B1G).

We asked our friends at Land-Grant Holy Land a few questions about the Buckeyes season so far and Matt Tamanini was kind enough to answer them for us!

1) Ohio State has had a great start to the season. Can you give us a quick rundown of how they got to 11-2 and what their best win of the season is?

The Buckeyes have been remarkably balanced this season and incredibly stout on defense. They have three players averaging in double-figures and another five with more than 7.5 points per game. This has been a problem for them in recent years. Whether it was Keita Bates-Diop or Kaleb Wesson, if their star wasn’t scoring, it was difficult for the offense to be productive. However, so far this year, while Kaleb is still the leading scorer, there is a lot more support and variety to the offense. When the younger of the Wesson brothers goes to he bench, there is not a huge void left on the floor.

Then in terms of the D, they are allowing only 58.2 points per game, which is second fewest in the Big Ten, and are outscoring opponents by 19.5 points per game (the best in the B1G). Head coach Chris Holtmann has always preached intensity and fundamentals, and those have both been the backbone to the team’s success this season.

In terms of their best wins, obviously beating North Carolina in the Dean Dome is always great, especially when it is by the score of 74-49, but UNC is pretty down this year. So, I would say their 71-65 victory over Kentucky in Las Vegas was pretty great. But, honorable mention goes to their first conference game of the season against Penn State. In the 2017-18 season, the Nittany Lions beat Ohio State three times in a season that the Buckeyes finished tied for second in the B1G. So, to open up the conference slate with a 106-74 victory over a pretty good PSU team was a lot of fun, and helped exorcise some demons from a few seasons ago.

2) What has Kaleb Wesson done to get even better for his junior season? What sort of future do you see for him in the NBA?

As I am sure that they will mention on the broadcast, Kaleb lost about 30 pounds since the end of last season, and it has paid huge dividends this year. Most importantly, it’s allowed him to stay on the floor longer, both from a conditioning standpoint, and in the fact that he’s just not fouling as much as he had in his first two seasons. Last season, he averaged 25.9 minutes per game and 3.2 fouls. This year he is only up to 26.2 minutes per game, but he has cut the fouls down to 2.8 per contest.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In fairness, the lack of a substantive minutes increase has been because OSU has been blowing teams out, and he hasn’t played as much in the second half. So, I would expect this numbers to get closer to 30 as we get into Big Ten season, assuming that he can keep the foul totals where they are now.

In terms of NBA future, the fact that he has added a pretty impressive outside shot will definitely help him. He is the second best shooter for the Buckeyes from beyond the arc this year, hitting on 44.2 percent of his shots from distance. But, I still don’t see him as much more than an NBA bench contributor, but more likely an overseas player. I will be delighted to be wrong, but despite getting in better shape and working on his shot, I’m just not sure that his specific skill set really works in today’s NBA.

3) Who is an under the radar player on the Buckeyes that Badgers fans can sound smart about at the bar when they say “watch out for this guy”?

There are two guys that normally I would use to answer this question, but one of them (Kyle Young) is out indefinitely after having an appendectomy, and the other, D.J. Carton, is the subject for your next question, so, I will instead go with a guy who you may or may not actually consider to be under the radar, Duane Washington Jr. He’s the team’s second leading scorer behind Kaleb Wesson, and is second in the Big Ten hitting 49 percent of his three point attempts on the season.

He was out for Ohio State’s first loss of the season against Minnesota with a rib injury, and his absence was pretty glaring. Without his presence on the outside, it allowed the Gophers to collapse on Kaleb down low and really force OSU’s guards to settle for jumpers, when their game is much more about creating going towards the hoop. If Washington is able to get hot, it really opens up opportunities, not only for Kaleb Wesson, but for Carton, C.J. Walker, Andre Wesson, and everybody else to have room to move.

Also, fun fact for Badger fans while they are discussing Washington at the bar with friends, his dad is former NBA player Duane Washington, and his uncle is five-time NBA champ Derek Fisher.

4) Has freshman point guard DJ Carton met your expectations?

I’d say so, in fact, I think that he’s actually exceeded my expectations. I knew that he was going to be incredibly talented coming into Ohio State, but I didn’t expect him to be as fundamentally refined as he has proven to be. He’s a much better shooter than I anticipated (60 percent from the field and 38.9 percent from three), but he’s also pretty adept at running the offense. That is where I assumed he would need some time to come into his own on the collegiate level.

NCAA Basketball: Morgan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

However, the one area that he still plays like a freshman is in terms of holding onto the ball. He has just a slightly better than 1:1 assist to turnover ratio, and this has been a problem for the Buckeyes this season as they are 10th in the Big Ten in turnover margin at exactly 179 turnovers committed and from their opponents.

Overall though, he’s been tremendous and has shown incredible sparks at times that show just how special he can be.

5) What is your score prediction and your game MVP?

I will go with a pretty close and competitive game, but with the Buckeyes pulling it out at home. I will say Ohio State 69, Wisconsin 64. And, just because it’s the most likely scenario, I will take Kaleb Wesson to be the game’s MVP pulling in a healthy double-double of 22 and 13.

Also, can I just say #FreeMicahPotter! (Editor’s note: yes, you can!)