The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Williams Arena (14,625) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Ohio State 16-0, Minnesota 11-1. Away Record: Ohio State 7-0, Minnesota 2-5. Neutral Record: Ohio State 0-0, Minnesota 3-0. Conference Record: Ohio State 10-0, Minnesota 5-5. Series Record: Ohio State leads, 77-55.
GAME NOTES: The top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes figure to be tested in today's Big Ten Conference road clash with the 18th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Buckeyes were most recently in action on Thursday night when they knocked off rival Michigan in a 62-53 final. With a 23-0 record and a 10-0 mark in Big Ten play, Ohio State owns the No. 1 ranking in the nation for the third consecutive week. The Buckeyes are atop the rankings for the second time under head coach Thad Matta, who directed the program to a 35-4 record and a spot in the national title game during the 2006-07 season. The longest winning streak in program history was 32 games which occurred over the course of two seasons a half century ago.
Minnesota clearly needs a victory to get back on track, as it has suffered back-to-back losses to fall to 5-5 in Big Ten action, overshadowing a far more impressive 16-6 overall record. Last Wednesday, the Golden Gophers weren't able to do enough at the offensive end in a 60-57 loss to Indiana on the road. There is some reason for confidence tonight, however, as 11 of the 12 home games to date for Minnesota have resulted in wins.
Ohio State owns a 77-55 series lead over Minnesota, which includes a 67-64 triumph over the Golden Gophers in Columbus last month.
Through 23 outings, Ohio State leads the nation is scoring margin (+20.4 ppg), proof of the squad's dominance. While the Buckeyes are generating a healthy 77.7 ppg on 49.8 percent shooting from the field, it is limiting opponents to 57.3 ppg on 41.1 percent efficiency. There is no shortage of talent on the roster, although freshman phenom Jared Sullinger does steal most of the headlines. A 58.2 percent shooter from the floor, Sullinger is netting 18.0 ppg to go along with 10.0 rpg. William Buford (13.5 ppg), David Lighty (12.2 ppg) and Jon Diebler (11.2 ppg) are all experienced and consistent contributors, while freshman point guard Aaron Craft leads the way with 107 assists and 40 steals. Sullinger scored 19 points and ripped down 15 rebounds in 40 minutes of action against Michigan on Wednesday. Buford tallied 13 points for the Buckeyes, who earned a 36-28 rebounding advantage and a 15-1 edge in points from the foul line.
The Golden Gophers have played 22 games to date, and they are scoring 72.0 ppg while permitting 67.3 ppg to opponents on 39.4 percent field goal efficiency. Clearly, strong defense is the calling card for Tubby Smith's squad. Blake Hoffarber paces Minnesota offensively with his 14.1 ppg, and he is tops with 90 assists as well. Trevor Mbakwe checks in with 13.3 ppg on 60.7 percent field goal efficiency, and he is grabbing 10.5 rpg as well. As for Ralph Sampson III, he adds 10.7 ppg to the mix. Hoffarber scored 15 points against Indiana on Wednesday, and Austin Hollins registered 13 points off the bench. Unfortunately for the Golden Gophers, they only connected on 37 percent of their field goal attempts and missed half of their 22 free throws.
Ohio State will extend the nation's longest active winning streak to 24 games with a narrow triumph over Minnesota today. It is hard to doubt the Buckeyes, who have all the ingredients necessary for an NCAA title run.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 72, Minnesota 68