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Game Preview: Ohio State vs. UMass-Lowell

The Buckeyes get set to tip off the new season against the River Hawks

Jared Wickerham

Who: Ohio State vs. University of Massachusetts-Lowell

What: 2014-15 regular season opener

Where: Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio

When: Friday, November 14th, at 7 pm EST on BTN Plus

Why: Because the Buckeyes have to start the season against someone.

Numbers of Importance:

Ohio State Buckeyes

Team

UMass-Lowell River Hawks

0-0

Record

0-0

20 (AP)

Ranking

NR

14

KenPom

347

Skinny:

When the buzzer sounded on Ohio State's season last March in Buffalo against the Dayton Flyers, it capped a disappointing campaign that saw the Buckeyes fall from being the third-ranked team in the country in January to its earliest NCAA tournament exit since 2009. With the departure of the team's three leading scorers from a season ago and a host of new faces in scarlet and grey, Thad Matta's squad is perhaps entering this year with more questions than answers. But make no mistake, there is an abundance of talent, athleticism, and versatility on the roster. Reports out of preseason practice have been overwhelmingly positive (aren't they always?), and fans of Ohio State are eager to see what the revamped team will look like. The Buckeyes enter the season ranked 20th in the AP preseason poll.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Ohio State Buckeyes

Position

UMass-Lowell River Hawks

Shannon Scott

G/G

Chad Holley

D'Angelo Russell

G/G

DJ Mlachnik

Sam Thompson

F/G

Marco Banegas-Flores

Anthony Lee

F/F

Tyler Livingston

Amir Williams

C/F

Dontavious Smith

Ohio State Players to Watch:

D'Angelo Russell: The top incoming recruit for Ohio State has more pressure and higher expectations than any other Buckeye freshman in years. After a couple of the most horrendous shooting seasons in program history, the sharpshooting Russell is seen as the perimeter threat the team has been lacking. The Florida product is also an elite athlete, adept ball-handler, and skilled passer, who has been drawing raves from coaches, teammates, and scouts.

The spotlight will be on Russell all season long. The matchup with the River Hawks will be his first opportunity to deliver on the hype when it counts.

Shannon Scott: Anyone who has been reading my preseason previews of Ohio State the past couple of months has got to be getting sick of all the words I've devoted to Scott. But the senior is perhaps the most important player on the team for the Buckeyes, and how he plays will greatly impact how successful this season will be. Scott averaged 7.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2 steals per game a year ago, and was named to the All-Big Ten Defensive team for the second consecutive season. Reviews out of preseason practices have been overwhelmingly positive, as the Alpharetta, Georgia native tries to finally meet the expectations his coach has for him.

"I want Shannon to run this basketball team. I want Shannon to play with no fear. I want Shannon to play consistently," Matta said at Ohio State's media day.

This is Scott's team to run, and the marathon begins now.

UMass-Lowell Players to Watch:

I'm going to be honest, I know very little about the America East Conference, other than Albany gave Florida a little bit of a scare as a 16-seed in the NCAA tournament last March. UMass-Lowell was tabbed 9th in the conference in the preseason coaches poll, lost its two leading scorers from a season ago, returns only five players, and has eight freshman on the roster. The River Hawks finished with a 10-18 record in their first season in Division I, but were 8-8 in conference play. Transitioning from Division II, UMass-Lowell is not eligible for the postseason. Second year head coach Pat Duquette has his work cut out for him in developing a quality program at this level.

"We are in year two of an incredibly tough transition that is going to take time," Duquette said. "I think we were all happy with the success we had in our first year of Division I last year, but we have a long way to go. We hope to continue to build a strong foundation, establish our culture within our team and develop an identity. Those are the most important aspects of establishing a successful basketball program."

Chad Holley: Holley is a two-year starter and the only returning player for the River Hawks that averaged double figure scoring last season. The New York City native played the most minutes on the team, averaging 10.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game, while shooting 34.4 percent from the field, including 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. Holley was fourth in the America East in assists per game, and second in assist-to-turnover ratio.

This is Holley's team, and his emergence will go a long way towards determining if the River Hawks can improve upon their showing last season.

DJ Mlachnik: Joining Holley in the starting backcourt for the second season, Mlachnik is a 6'2" southpaw who must improve his perimeter shooting to become the offense's second option. As a sophomore, the Muskego, Wisconsin native averaged 7.8 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game, but shot just 33.2 percent from the field, including 31.7 percent from three-point range. With such a young roster, the veteran starting guards will be expected to carry a lot of the production for Duquette, and Mlachnik needs to pick up his game to do so.

Prediction:

Is there any doubt who the victor will be in this game? Ohio State should have no problem cruising to a lopsided win of 25 or more. More important will be how the Buckeyes look. Is Scott facilitating the offense fluidly? Are open shots getting knocked down? Do the freshmen look up to the task on the defensive side of the ball? Ohio State faces a much stiffer test in game two of the season against Marquette, and it's fans will rest a little easier with a good showing against the River Hawks.

Buckeyes win 80-45.