The Big Ten has been a bloodbath early on, with almost every team capable of beating all of the others. “Almost” is the key word there. The exception appears to be Minnesota, which has opened Big Ten play at 0-4 and has no impressive wins this season.
The Golden Gophers are coming off close games against Wisconsin and Nebraska, but going on the road against an Ohio State team with a powerful offense will be a colossal challenge. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Thursday’s matchup in Columbus.
Minnesota vs. Ohio State Odds
Ohio State enters as a 14.5-point home favorite, sitting at -1700 on the moneyline. The over/under is set at 136.5 points.
The Buckeyes are predictably heavy favorites against the Big Ten’s worst team, but Minnesota has made a case for a closer than expected game with a pair of near-misses over the past week. Can one of the conference’s worst offenses keep up with one of the best?
Minnesota vs. Ohio State Prediction & Pick
The questionable status of big man Zed Key is the biggest storyline going into this game. Ohio State was badly outrebounded by Maryland on Sunday, and that allowed a Terrapins team that was out-shot to win pretty handily.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, they’re talented enough from a shooting standpoint to survive that kind of absence against Minnesota – the Gophers are also not a good rebounding team. However, with Ohio State battling a lack of depth and Minnesota clearly starting to play just a little bit better, Gophers +14.5 feels like the more sensible pick.
My pick: Minnesota +14.5
Minnesota vs. Ohio State Key Matchups
Ohio State has dropped its last two games, but this Buckeyes team can still score. Averaging just shy of 80 points per game, Ohio State is 23rd nationally in three-point percentage (38.4%) and 18th in field goal percentage (48.9%).
Right now, the offense runs through freshman Brice Sensabaugh, who is only getting better similar to the way Malaki Branham gradually took over last season. Sensabaugh is averaging 20.5 points over his last six games, playing well even in losses.
Ohio State is able to win games because of the experience around Sensabaugh, including Justice Sueing and Zed Key, but Key was missing in this weekend’s loss to Maryland. His status, which Chris Holtmann calls day-to-day, will be critical here, as he’s the Buckeyes’ top rebounder and Ohio State was badly outrebounded by the Terrapins. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Minnesota doesn’t rebound well at all, ranking 215th overall and 330th in offensive rebounds.
Ohio State has some experienced transfers on the bench, but Holtmann heavily relies on his five starters from an offensive standpoint. That can put too much pressure on Sensabaugh or Sueing when someone like freshman Bruce Thornton isn’t making shots.
Ohio State doesn’t have a special defense by any means, but the rebounding issue was the biggest reason for giving up 80 points to a struggling Maryland team. Minnesota should be an even easier test. The Gophers average only 64.3 points per game and are one of the nation’s worst free-throw shooting teams at just 59.4%.
Ohio State has a bit of a leaky defense near the basket at times, but the Buckeyes defend the three very well and should handle a poor three-point shooting Minnesota team well. Jamison Battle and Dawson Garcia are the Gophers’ top two scorers, and Battle is almost exclusively a three-point shooter. If Minnesota is going to keep up with Ohio State’s offense, most of the responsibility might fall on Garcia to do work inside the three-point line.
Battle, who missed a portion of the season in November, has taken on a huge workload of late. Considering his efficiency wasn’t great against Wisconsin or Nebraska, the Buckeyes should have enough in the tank to make sure he doesn’t go off.