What To Watch: Minnesota @ OSU

We have our preview and a prediction for Wednesday’s game as No. 18 Ohio State hosts Minnesota at Value City Arena (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).

matta 2 19 13 mpg

In the video boards, we have comments from OSU coach Thad Matta (above) and players Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith Jr. (below).

Here is our What To Watch feature for Wednesday’s game against Minnesota:

Opponent: Minnesota

* Where: Value City Arena (Capacity: 18,809); Columbus

* Date, Time: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

* TV: Big Ten Network (Announcers: Kevin Kugler and Jim Jackson)

* 2012-13 Records: Ohio State, 18-7 overall, 8-5 Big Ten; Minnesota, 18-8 overall, 6-7 Big Ten

* Poll Rankings: Ohio State, 18th in the AP poll and 18th in the USA Today coaches poll; Minnesota, unranked. (As a ranked team, Ohio State is 25-3 all-time against Minnesota.)

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* RPI Rankings: Ohio State, 28th; Minnesota, 15th. (OSU is 1-5 against teams currently in the RPI top 25, 2-7 against teams in the top 50 and 4-7 against teams in the top 100. Minnesota is 2-4 against teams currently in the RPI top 25, 4-6 against teams in the top 50 and 11-7 against teams in the top 100.)

* Key Players (2012-13 Stats): Ohio State – F Deshaun Thomas, 6-7, jr., 20.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg; G Aaron Craft, 6-2, jr., 9.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.9 spg; G Lenzelle Smith Jr., 6-4, jr., 10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.7 apg; F LaQuinton Ross, 6-8, so., 7.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg; C Amir Williams, 6-11, so., 4.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.6 bpg; F-C Evan Ravenel, 6-8, sr., 5.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg; F Sam Thompson, 6-7, so., 7.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg; G Shannon Scott, 6-2, so., 4.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.6 spg. Minnesota – G Andre Hollins, 6-1, so., 13.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.4 apg; F Rodney Williams, 6-7, sr., 11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg; G Austin Hollins, 6-4, jr., 11.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.7 apg; F Trevor Mbakwe, 6-8, sr., 9.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg; F Joe Coleman, 6-4, so., 9.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg; G Maverick Ahanmisi, 6-2, jr., 3.7 ppg; G Julian Welch, 6-3, sr., 3.1 ppg.

* Quality Of Opponent: Somewhat dangerous. Minnesota got off to a great start (15-1) before the wheels came off with four straight Big Ten losses. The Gophers come in off three losses in their last four games. The one win in that stretch, though, was an overtime home win over Wisconsin (58-53) – the team that just pummeled Ohio State in Madison on Sunday (71-49).

The Gophers won their first three road games this season, but have lost their last five games away from home. That includes a lopsided loss at Iowa on Sunday (72-51). In that game, Minnesota actually led by as many as 16 in the first half before falling apart.

* OSU-Minnesota Series: Ohio State leads the all-time series 79-55, including 48-18 in Columbus. OSU has won the last five games in the rivalry, including a 78-68 decision at Minnesota last season.

In that game, William Buford had 24 points, Jared Sullinger scored 23 and Thomas had 12 for Ohio State. Williams led four Minnesota players in double figures with 21 points and nine rebounds.

Since Value City Arena opened (in 1998-99), Minnesota is 1-10 against OSU. The lone win came in 2005 (60-56, in overtime). OSU has won its last five home games over Minnesota.

Since his arrival at OSU in 2004-05, Thad Matta is 9-5 against Minnesota. Since his arrival at Minnesota in 2007-08, Tubby Smith is 3-7 against Ohio State.

* Fun Facts: OSU is 13-2 at home this season. Since Matta took over Buckeye program in 2004-05, Ohio State is 150-14 in Columbus, the most home wins among Big Ten schools. Over the last four seasons Ohio State is 68-5 in Columbus … OSU is 17-0 against unranked teams this season. Matta’s OSU teams are also 199-21 against unranked opponents. Over the last three years, OSU is 69-1 against unranked opponents with the lone loss at Illinois in January 2002 (79-74). The Buckeyes have won 65 straight home games against unranked opponents, dating to a 2008 loss to West Virginia … Ohio State is 74-21 vs. Big Ten opponents at Value City Arena … Thomas now has 1,400 points for his career, good for 24th on the school’s all-time scoring list. He moved past Brian Brown (1,384 points) in the Wisconsin game. Next up is Larry Bolden (23rd with 1,408 points). Thomas has been in double figures in all 25 games and hit for 20 or more points in eight of the 13 Big Ten games. He has led OSU in scoring in 20 of the team’s 25 games. Against Wisconsin, Thomas became just the 14th player in OSU history to score 500 points in multiple seasons.

* Match-Ups To Watch: Austin Hollins, UM’s 6-4 shooting guard, has been in double figures in five of the Gophers’ last six games. Given OSU’s recent issues with defending the three-point line, the Buckeyes must find him. Look for Smith to work against him.

Mbakwe, who was a regular double-double performer before his injury last year, can also create mismatch issues in the paint. The Gophers, as a team, are second in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (plus-8.4), so the Buckeyes must do well on the boards.

* What’s At Stake: It is getting down to crunch time for Ohio State. The Buckeyes are watching what could have been a pretty good season pass them by. We now know that the preseason No. 4 ranking was too high for this team, which desperately misses Sullinger’s everything (scoring, rebounding and leadership) and Buford’s shotmaking ability.

The recent losses have dropped the Buckeyes pretty much out of the Big Ten championship race. Even a top-four finish – to get a bye in the Big Ten tournament – will be a stretch unless things perk up in a hurry. This game represents a chance for the Buckeyes to get this ship turned around and headed back in the right direction … before they do some irreparable harm to their seeding chances.

* Next On The Docket: Ohio State hosts No. 4 Michigan State (22-4, 11-2) at 4 p.m. Sunday (CBS). MSU won the first match-up with OSU 59-56 on Jan. 19 in East Lansing.

* How We See It: Ohio State’s offensive and defensive deficiencies were exposed for the nation to see in Sunday’s loss at Wisconsin. The players said they were embarrassed after one of the worst performances in the Matta era.

But the Buckeyes will be back at home Wednesday night against a Minnesota team that is similarly adrift at sea, at least it seems. And OSU rarely has one really bad performance after another one. Minnesota lost Coleman to injury in its loss at Iowa.

This won’t be a walkover, by any means. Minnesota got off to a great start at Iowa before imploding. OSU needs to be on top of its game from the start here and put the Gophers out of their misery. It’s time for this team to pull it together.

I’ve got it: Ohio State 67, Minnesota 58

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