Man, there are some great sporting events this weekend. I couldn't be more excited about the college football and basketball that we'll have at our disposal on Saturday. I'm headed to Indy for the Lucas Oil doubleheader. Should be an outstanding event.
Some quick thoughts on the ND-Ohio State game.
1) No Harangody - How will we respond to playing without our best player on Saturday?? With the announcement that Harangody is not playing on Saturday, it seems like people are starting to worry about the game against the Buckeyes.
Guess I'm just not that worried about how we'll play without Harangody. Luke is obviously a very important part of our team, but Mike Brey coached teams have never shied away from lighting it up on the perimeter. Until Harangody arrived on campus, we were a perimeter-oriented team. As long as guys like McAlarney and Ayers are knocking down shots from the outside, we'll find ways to score plenty of points. Ohio State relies on a zone defense this year, so KMAC and Ayers will get plenty of looks from three point land. Harangody will be missed, but I expect that we'll use a Harangody-by-committee to make up for him.
Harangody is not exactly a premier defender, so we won't suffer much if at all defensively. I am a little worried about our rebounding, but Ohio State is even shakier on the boards than us. I've watched every Buckeye game this year, and they are not a good rebounding team at all. They are starting a 6'4" power forward (David Lighty) who is not exactly a power rebounder. BJ Mullens and Dallas Lauderdale are their other big men, and both those guys are very raw and still learning how to play college basketball.
2) Tory Jackson - Tory is always a key player for the Irish, and he has a great matchup on Saturday. Ohio State is currently starting a junior college transfer, Jeremie Simmons, at the point, and their backup point guard is a highly-touted freshman, Anthony "Noopy" Crater. Simmons is a pretty good shooter, but he's still getting into the flow of the Buckeye offense. He doesn't appear to be a guy who can get to the bucket and distribute. Crater looks like he has some potential, but he hasn't played that many minutes so far.
Either way, Tory Jackson is an experienced, All Big East caliber junior. Big mismatch in favor of the Irish.
3) ND supporting cast - With no Harangody, we are going to need the Zellers and Hilleslands and Nashes to step it up.
Just a hunch, but I have a feeling that Hillesland might have a nice day on Saturday. With his size and skill set, he has a potential mismatch on Lighty if he takes advantage of it.
4) Experience - KEY factor in this game. Ohio State is a VERY young team. Ridiculously young. They start 3 true sophomores, 1 junior, and a JUCO transfer at point guard. Their bench is basically all freshmen. I think they will be much better at the end of the year, but they are going to have some struggles until guys discover their roles on this team.
From what I have seen about Ohio State, they are very streaky. When they get a little confidence, they can get into a rhythm offensively. But on the whole, they have problems scoring. In that Miami game, they could not do anything offensively in the first half, and they had a lot of games like that last year. It just seems like they are going to need some time until they start to gel as a team. In college basketball, you need defined roles, and you need to know who can rely on game in and game out. While I think Ohio State has some big time talent, they've had issues last year and this year with guys being on the same page.
On the other hand, this Notre Dame team seems like it has been together for 10 years. Ayers, Jackson, KMac, Hillesland, and Zeller have been playing together for 3 years. They have experienced just about every situation in every environment. There are very few teams in the country as experienced as this Notre Dame team. The Maui trip was a great way to get our team ready for the season right out of the chute, so we should be in midseason form heading into Saturday.
5) Buckeyes young guns -
I've watched most of the Buckeyes' games so far, so here's my quick rundown on their key players.
Evan Turner - sophomore shooting guard; probably the best all-around player on the team, but he is still very inconsistent. Case in point, he picks up two charges in the first five minutes of the Miami game, sits out for about 18 minutes, and then dominates the last 15 minutes of the game. He's going to be a star if he stays all four years at Ohio State, but he's not ready to be the go-to guy just yet. He's a slasher with a good mid-range game, but probably needs to work on his shot. Turner is a good defender, good passer and playmaker, but he's not quite ready to carr the team at this point.
Jon Diebler - Probably the most controversial player on the Buckeyes team; highly-touted, all time leading scorer in Ohio high school hoops history, but he was turrrrrrible last year. He just didn't seem to be ready physically for D-I hoops, but he has looked much better this year as a sophomore. Very streaky shooter who can absolutely light it up when he's hot. Should be an interesting matchup with Ryan Ayers.
BJ Mullens - Mullens came to Ohio State as a five star recruit and likely NBA lottery pick, but I haven't seen it with this guy yet. He's a legit 7 footer, but I haven't been as impressed with him athletically as I thought I would be. He's still pretty raw, and sort of lumbering. I don't know, maybe he's just not comfortable in D-I hoops yet, but Mullens is a long way from being a big time player. At the moment, he's not even starting for the Buckeyes. His biggest strength at the moment is rebounding, but he's pretty soft defensively and hasn't shown much offensively yet.
Dallas Lauderdale - Yet another sophomore. This dude is a physical freak with a big time body and a 7'3" winspan. Looks like he should be playing tight end for the Buckeyes. He's still very raw though and has limited offensive skills. He's been starting at the center spot, but he's basically splitting time with Mullens. Lauderdale has a bright future if he keeps working on his game.
William Buford - Five star freshman recruit who has not played a whole lot so far. I'll say this about Buford. He might be the most talented player on the team. Honest to god, he has a Lebron type body, and he can jump and shoot. But he also looks like a typical freshman who doesn't know what he's doing. I don't expect to see him much in the game against ND though.
The Buckeyes have some serious talent in the freshman and sophomore classes, but these guys are all really inconsistent. If Thad can actually hang onto some of them, they could be a real good team down the road.
6) Michael Montgomery Brey vs. Thaddeus Montgomery Matta!! -- Two of my favorite coaches in all of sports and two of the classiest guys you will ever see. Should be fun to see those two pacing the sidelines on Saturday. Hopefully Brey will be sporting his trademark mock turtleneck, and hopefully Thad will be chomping on that bubble gum.
Quick Thad update: It seems like his foot still hasn't healed. His limp has been even worse this year. Sounds like the nerve damage in his foot may not ever be fixed, so the talk is that his condition may become permanent. He's been using a cane at times this year. Very sad stuff. I hope for the best for Coach Matt.
Pick: ND 75 Ohio State 65
ND has too much experience for the Buckeyes in this game. We obviously need some people to step up without Harangody, but I feel confident about this game. The Buckeyes could be formidable down the road, but they are still growing up as a team. ND has already grown up, and guys like Tory and KMac have been playing in these types of games for years. We are battled tested, and will be ready to go.