What To Watch: OSU/UNC-Asheville

No. 7 Ohio State continues action with the fourth game of an eight-game homestand on Saturday as the Buckeyes host UNC-Asheville (noon, Big Ten Network).

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In the video boxes, we have comments from OSU head coach Thad Matta (above) and players Aaron Craft and Amedeo Della Valle (below). This was the first opportunity for media members to interview the freshman Della Valle and he had some interesting things to say.

On Tuesday, basketball columnist Lee Caryer shared this column on the Big Ten race, Hondo Points and much more.

Here is our What To Watch feature for Saturday’s game:

Opponent: UNC-Asheville

* Where: Value City Arena (Capacity: 19,049); Columbus

* Date, Time: Saturday, noon Eastern

* TV: Big Ten Network (Announcers: Tom Hamilton and Jim Jackson)

* 2012-13 Records: Ohio State, 7-1 overall; UNC-Asheville, 3-6 overall.

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* RPI Rankings: Ohio State, 21st; UNC-Asheville, 311th.

* Key Players (2012-13 Stats): Ohio State – F Deshaun Thomas, 6-7, jr., 20.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg; G Aaron Craft, 6-2, jr., 9.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.6 spg; G Lenzelle Smith Jr., 6-4, jr., 10.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg; F LaQuinton Ross, 6-8, so., 10.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg; C Amir Williams, 6-11, so., 4.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg; F-C Evan Ravenel, 6-8, sr., 5.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg; F Sam Thompson, 6-7, so., 7.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg; G Shannon Scott, 6-2, so., 6.8 ppg, 4.5 apg, 2.1 spg. UNC-Asheville – F Jeremy Atkinson, 6-4, sr., 18.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.2 apg; G Keith Hornsby, 6-4, so., 12.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.1 apg; G Trent Meyer, 6-3, jr., 11.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.3 spg; C D.J. Cunningham, 6-10, jr., 8.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg; F Jon Nwannunu, 6-8, sr., 7.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg; F Will Weeks, 6-6, fr., 7.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg.

* Quality Of Opponent: Middle of the road or worse. UNC-Asheville nearly shocked the world in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs, 24-10 last year, took top-seeded Syracuse to the wire and nearly pulled off the first-ever upset of a one seed by a 16 seed before dropping a 72-65 decision.

Unfortunately for veteran UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach, he only has one starter (Atkinson) back from that squad. The Bulldogs have already endured a six-game losing streak, including losses to Tennessee (75-68), Akron (82-63), Providence (72-67) and N.C. State (82-80). But they’ve won their last two games against Montreat College (85-51) and Lenoir Rhyne (66-55). Montreat is an NAIA school, while Lenoir Rhyne is an NCAA Division II school.

* OSU/UNC-Asheville Series: Ohio State and UNC Asheville have played four times previously, all wins for the Buckeyes. The teams first met Dec. 4, 1993, at St. John Arena in Columbus, a 93-59 Ohio State win. The Bulldogs faced the Buckeyes in a 2008 National Invitational Tournament contest March 18, 2008. Coach Thad Matta's Buckeyes earned an 84-66 victory to advance and eventually won the 2008 NIT crown.

Asheville returned to Columbus Nov. 22, 2008, for a regular-season meeting with the Buckeyes. Ohio State, ranked No. 15 nationally, won 83-59. The Buckeyes were ranked No. 2 nationally in the most recent meeting, a 96-49 win at Value City Arena Dec. 21, 2010. Overall, Ohio State has a record of 13-0 vs. teams representing the Big South Conference.

* Fun Facts: Against nonconference opponents, Thad Matta’s OSU teams are a combined 115-21 in his nine years. That includes a record of 74-2 at home against nonconference teams, including wins in their last 37 such games. His teams are also 189-21 against unranked opponents. Over the last three years, OSU is 59-1 against unranked opponents with the lone loss at Illinois last January (79-74) … Ohio State owns a 142-12 home record during the Matta era. The Buckeyes are 60-3 in Columbus over the past four seasons … Ross has scored in double figures for three straight games and five times this year. Over these last three games, he is averaging 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds … With 1,063 points, Thomas is currently 44th on the all-time scoring list at Ohio State. He needs 11 points to surpass Carter Scott for 43rd. He has been in double figures in all eight games this year.

* Match-Ups To Watch: Hornsby is an accomplished three-point threat (46.7 percent), so look for Smith to line up with him. And Atkinson is just a good all-around player. Thompson may get that assignment.

* What’s At Stake: With each passing game, the Dec. 22 rematch with No. 9 Kansas at Value City Arena inches closer and closer. These last three games – won by OSU by an average margin of nearly 34 points – have felt like pop quizzes. The Kansas game will feel more like a final – at least until Big Ten play begins Dec. 31.

* What They’re Saying: Matta on Scott’s recent emergence (career-high 12 points vs. Savannah State): “We have wanted Shannon to be who he was, from the first time we saw him in recruiting. We wanted Shannon to be a guy who exploited his quickness, his speed and his athleticism. He’s come to grips with who he is and what this basketball team needs. He appears to be more comfortable and confident with what he’s doing right now. I love the way he is playing right now.”

Matta on what UNC-Asheville brings to the table: "Asheville has definitely, over the course of the last few years, has solidified themselves as one of those mid-major programs. As you look at where they are this year, they lost at N.C. State by two, Providence beat them by five, they've had a couple other really really close games. They've won two in a row."

Craft on his recent shooting slump (7 for 33 in his last four games from the field): "I don't know any percentages. I don't know points or anything like that. I do know the last couple of games that we've gotten better as a basketball team and that's the biggest thing for us. The worst thing we can do is start trying to think individual."

Della Valle on his popularity with OSU’s fans: "I love it, honestly. I love the fans, they love me. I don't know why. Sometimes it's hard, you know. I get the ball just at half court and they yell at me to shoot it and I really can't do that."

* Next On The Docket: The Buckeyes will stay in the Big South and host Winthrop Tuesday night (7 p.m., Big Ten Network). Winthrop (3-4) visits Ohio U. on Saturday.

* How We See It: Ohio State has been on cruise control since the loss over Duke. None of its last three opponents could even mount much of a challenge. That can be a good thing as Matta can use more of his roster and get guys like Della Valle and Trey McDonald some much needed experience.

But the flip side is he will want his mainstays to be in a rhythm when Kansas comes calling next Saturday. That is a tough thing to balance. UNC-Asheville gave N.C. State a tough tussle in Raleigh and could play with the Buckeyes for 20 minutes. But OSU’s length and athleticism will (once again) prove to be too much.

I’ve got it: Ohio State 81, UNC-Asheville 56

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