1. Ohio State is 13-3 overall and has started out 2-1 in Big Ten, including a big road win Tuesday night against Minnesota in overtime. What are your overall thoughts on the team so far, with about half the season gone by?
Chris: Overall thoughts of the team so far is that our best players are too young. With the slight exception of Sam Thompson from time to time, our upperclassmen have completely fallen off. Scott was there in the beginning of the season, but has completely shrunk against greater competition than Sacred Heart. Are we a decent team? Yeah. Will we make the tournament? Barring catastrophe, I believe so. But unless something happens that allows players to step up in bigger games, we will struggle all year (tournaments included) against quality opponents.
2. This game will feature two highly-praised freshman guards in James Blackmon Jr. and D'Angelo Russell. While Blackmon has been in a slump for IU recently, Russell scored 25 first-half points against the Gophers on Tuesday. Has Russell exceeded Buckeye fans' expectations, or were you planning on him making this much of an impact right away?
Chris: I think its fair to say that Russell has exceeded expectations. Most thought he would be a day-one starter, but shouldering the scoring load almost entirely at times has been a pleasant surprise. There are runs in games in which he can seemingly do anything offensively (see: First half of last night's game). However, he does have his shortcomings. Look no further than the wonderful 0 he spotted us in the second half of the Minny game. Further, with little exception, he showed his age in the games against Louisville and UNC. He turned the ball over far too much and displayed questionable shot selection. Overall, though, he is a great player who I think could benefit from another year (possibly wishful thinking).
3. At 6-11, Amir Williams has a size advantage on anyone in the Hoosiers' frontcourt. Is Williams skilled enough on both sides of the ball to make life miserable in the paint for Indiana on Saturday?
Chris: Absolutely not. I can say with the utmost confidence that Amir Williams is the biggest disappointment for me personally since I truly started following the Buckeyes. Physically speaking, the guy projects to be an absolute terror. But, he has possibly the worst hands I've ever seen, looks disinterested well over 50% of the time he's on the court, and gets eviscerated regularly by guys over which he has a distinct height advantage. If the Buckeyes win this game it will most decidedly have nothing to do with Amir Williams.
4. The Buckeyes rank third in effective FG% and sixth in three-point FG% on the year so far. With the Hoosiers' penchant for living and dying by the three-ball, could this game turn into a shootout? And who besides Russell will the Buckeyes be counting on to score points?
Chris: If the Bucks and Hoosiers get hot, then yeah it could very well be a shootout. I will temper those numbers though by pointing out the meager competition we faced earlier in the year. However, this team can certainly score quickly and are much more skilled offensively than last year's team. Aside from Russell, Sam Thompson and Marc Loving would be the guys I would expect to contribute most offensively. Loving could actually be the most consistent and reliable scorer we have. A couple of weeks ago I would have noted Kam Williams as a contributor too, but after the zone seems to be dead his minutes will really diminish. He is just too much of a liability defensively in a man scheme.
5. I think Thad Matta has been a great coach for the Buckeyes, but as we Hoosier fans know, there are always plenty of naysayers for whoever coaches a team, whether or not it's fair. How has Matta been successful in building a team that has made two Final Fours and five Sweet Sixteens during his decade in Columbus?
Chris: Thad Matta is an absolutely fantastic coach. Few people around Columbus are ever really critical of him in down years or dry stretches, but that can also be attributed to the "football school" mentality. I would say that Matta has been able to put together great teams because he has recruited well. Look at his recruiting classes over the past 5-6 years. They have been pretty outstanding, especially when you match them up against the O'Brien years. Sure there have been flops (See: Williams, Amir), but when you can regularly bring in All-Americans that goes a long way in putting together successful teams.
6. The Buckeyes are a lot more tolerable for opposing fans now that Aaron Craft is gone. Is OSU missing his contribution this year, or has his departure freed up the offense? And how has Shannon Scott done as his replacement at the point?
Chris: This team really is only missing Craft in the leadership department. As I mentioned earlier, the older guys have shrunk a bit against stronger competition. That would not happen with Craft. However, Craft was so limited offensively that his absence has freed things up a bit. Also, while he was a junkyard dog defensively, Scott does a fine job on ball. But, while we were running the zone that didn't even matter. Scott has been fine as his replacement, but he really hasn't taken the jump that I had hoped. Over the first 5 games it looked like he was ascending, but he has come back down to earth. At his core, he is a reliable ball handler with above average speed and excellent defensive abilities.
7. Football talk: I hear you guys have an important game or something on Monday. What are the keys for Ohio State beating Oregon, and what's your prediction for the final score of the title game?
Chris: The two keys for beating Oregon are (1) continue to run the ball like we have the past two games and (2) get to/irritate Mariota with any opportunity. I think the Ducks are going to get a heavy dose of Elliott and the rest of our track team which is going to milk the clock and keep the ball out of Mariota's hands. If Alabama couldn't stop this run game, I just don't see Oregon coming up with an answer. I don't expect to stop Mariota whatsoever, but if we can make him look human that would go a long way. They're going to score their points undoubtedly, but if the run game keeps him on ice for long stretches on the sidelines I'm hoping the defense can make something happen. It all starts and ends with the run game for the Bucks. Final Score: 52-34.
8. Prediction time: Who wins in Assembly Hall Saturday, and by how much?
Chris: I think its a tough atmosphere, but the Bucks pull it out in Assembly Hall. Russell performs well and keeps the offense firing. Also, our weak front court won't kill us against you guys like it can against others. Final Score: Buckeyes over Hoosiers 75-71.
Thank you Chris, and thanks to Matt Brown for coordinating this Q&A. The Hoosiers and Buckeyes tip off tomorrow at noon from Assembly Hall on ESPN.