Amazingly, the 2009-10 regular season is upon us, as the Ohio State Buckeyes prepare to take the floor tonight against the Alcorn State Braves (7pm, Big Ten Network). This game is part of the Coaches vs. Cancer event, which will see the Buckeyes head to New York next week for some marquee match-ups (North Carolina and California/Syracuse). Tonight’s game, however, figures to be little more than a tuneup for Ohio State, as Alcorn was among the worst teams in the nation last season (340th in Pomeroy rank) and will be forced to give significant minutes to true freshmen (8 of the 15 players on the roster are frosh). Indeed, Alcorn has already lost an exhibition game to NAIA Tougaloo College – by 23 points!
Alcorn’s best returning players are 6’3’’ sharpshooter Jonathan Boyd (103.6 ORtg, 21.6 Shot%, 40.3% from downtown) and 6’8’’ 255 rebounder JaMarkus Holt (80.9 ORtg, 20.7 Shot%, 8.8/16.5 OR/DR). The Braves played very fast last season (6th nationally in adjusted tempo), and it appears from their exhibition games that new head coach Larry Smith is not changing that approach. This could potentially be the highest scoring game of the season for the Buckeyes, rust aside.
So what numbers should we be watching for from Ohio State? Well, considering the competition level, we won’t be able to divine much from this one game – remember that last year’s early 59-22 shellacking of Samford ranked Ohio State as an elite defensive team for much of the first month, and they only ended up at 65th nationally in defensive efficiency. David Lighty’s injury had something to do with this, but most of it was simply small sample size. So, with that in mind, we’ll try to view the numbers in an overarching “early season tea leaves” sense, and say that turnovers and rebounds are the Ohio State numbers to watch. These were big weaknesses for the Buckeyes on both ends of the court last season, and improvement in these areas is mandatory if Ohio State hopes to contend for the title in a deep and improved Big Ten. And maybe the biggest reason to watch is to see if Matta is going to make good on his promise to play more man-to-man this season.
All analysis aside, let’s all take a deep breath and appreciate one simple fact – college basketball is back. Hallelujah.