Ohio State vs. Louisville: A game of differing styles

The identity of Rick Pitino teams holds true for this new Louisville squad: The Cardinals once again possess athletic defenders who close off passing lanes and revel in a high-energy, helter-skelter style of basketball. The victim Tuesday night was Ohio State, a team which — unlike Louisville — thrived in settled halfcourt situations.

The Cardinals’ relentless defense — firmly established in the top tier of the national defensive rankings — allowed Louisville to hold off the pesky Buckeyes for a 64-55 victory.

The biggest key for Louisville is when the defense turns into a strong transition offense, which the Cards were able to ride in first half to a 35-18 advantage at the intermission. The only question for the Cardinals is if they can score as efficiently in the halfcourt when they face a team as athletic and fast as they are. Louisville’s struggles with halfcourt sets kept Tuesday’s game close, when the contest could have and should have been a blowout. For the game, Louisville shot just 35.2 percent from the floor, which could present an issue with some matchups, particularly in the ACC. The ball movement has to improve for the Cardinals if they plan to improve their halfcourt offense.

When watching Louisville, it just appears that the Cardinals are faster and play harder than the competition, two aspects of competition Pitino preaches about. This reality is embodied most of all by junior Montrezl Harrell, who decided to return to school after last season rather than going into the NBA draft. Harrell has size, length, and the ability to stretch the defense. While that outside shot is still a work in progress, Harrell had shot over 60 percent from the floor coming into Tuesday on the way to a 17.4 points-per-game average. The trend held true against Ohio State, as he scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while shooting 5-8 from the floor. Harrell led four Cardinals in double figures.

In addition to Harrell, the Cardinals have other experienced players on the roster as well, headlined by senior Wayne Blackshear, who added 22 points and six rebounds Tuesday. Senior Chris Jones also starts alongside freshman Chinanu Onuaku and sophomore Terry Rozier, who scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and dished out seven assists. Freshman seven-footer Anas Mahmoud also produced some quality minutes on Tuesday — he could play an important role in the rotation as well. This mix of youth and experience sets the Cardinals up well for the season.

While setting a tone on defense, Louisville was also strong on the boards against the Buckeyes, affirming one of its more consistent basketball virtues in the young season. At times on Tuesday night, Louisville players had more competition for the rebounds against their own teammates, rather than the Buckeyes. That is not an insult to Ohio State, but a compliment to how long and athletic the Louisville squad is.


For Ohio State, the first game out of Columbus this season did not go as planned. The Buckeyes hit only two of their first 13 shots from the floor. With five minutes remaining in the first half, Ohio State was shooting 3-18 from the floor and had nine turnovers. While much of the credit it due to the Louisville defensive effort, the Buckeyes settled for way too many 3-point attempts in the first half.

In the second half, Ohio State was much more effective offensively, as it made more of an attempt to get the offense going toward the rim. This effort showed why the Buckeyes entered the game shooting 66.7 percent from the floor for the season and were able to cut what had been a yawning 42-24 deficit to five points with four minutes remaining in the contest.

While Ohio State is trying to gel as a new group, the Buckeyes do have a great deal of experience. Thad Matta’s bunch starts three seniors. This is experience that will help them on the long run during the duration of the Big Ten schedule once the group comes together.

D’Angelo Russell had an up-and-down night for Ohio State, but he was incredibly strong down the stretch to get the Buckeyes back in the game. He was fearless in taking perimeter shots and taking the ball to the basket — he will need to learn when a “fearless perimeter shot” is a bad thing, of course. Russell scored 17 points and had six rebounds to go with seven assists. However, Russell shot just 6-20 from the floor after a tough first half. Shot selection will be something he’ll need to work on, but the season is early, and Russell did prove to be the most dynamic offensive threat on a team that has struggled with scoring droughts in recent seasons.

When the game became more of a halfcourt affair, Ohio State showed its best offensive and defensive abilities. With the style of play being more consistent across the conference in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes should fare well when conference play begins. Ohio State’s success in the halfcourt serves as a reminder to Louisville that the Cardinals have much to improve upon, even in victory.


While each team showed some good qualities Tuesday night, the weaknesses of each team were also exposed. The improvement of these weaknesses will determine how far Ohio State and Louisville are able to go in March.