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Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio Attendance: 16,962
No. 16 Ohio State expects challenge from Syracuse
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Syracuse comes to Ohio State on Wednesday night for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the country.
Unbeaten Ohio State (6-0) is ranked No. 16 in the latest Associated Press poll, but the Buckeyes became the first No. 1 team in the NCAA's new NET rankings, which were released Monday.
The NET (Net Evaluation Tool) ranking was adopted this season to replace the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) as the primary means for the NCAA men's tournament selection committee to evaluate Division I teams. Ohio State is off to a great start this season, but the lofty No. 1 status came as a surprise to the team.
"It's early on and it doesn't really matter," graduate transfer guard Keyshawn Woods said. "We just focus on our game (and) we'll focus on what's ahead because on any given day if we don't bring it we can lose."
Ohio State hasn't lost so far. The Buckeyes posted impressive road wins at Cincinnati and Creighton, and their latest victory was by 27 points on Friday night over Cleveland State.
Beating Syracuse would add to Ohio State's non-conference resume, and Woods in particular would like that. The Wake Forest transfer is looking forward to this game against a former ACC rival.
"I kind of want this game a lot," Woods said. "I really want this game because they knocked us out of the ACC tournament last year."
Winning will require scoring against Syracuse's zone defense. Woods stressed that the zone forces a team to make accurate passes and invites opportunities for 3-point shots.
"It's like going to the dentist -- and not for a cleaning," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "It's 40 minutes of ... you've got to be able to endure that."
If freshman guard Duane Washington Jr., who is shooting 48 percent from 3-point range, and the other wing players can hit 3-pointers, that should open the middle for Ohio State's go-to big man, 6-foot-8, 270-pound Kaleb Wesson, who's averaging a team-best 14.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
"The zone can be real frustrating," Woods said, based on his experience of facing Syracuse multiple times during his college career, "but you've just got to be patient, pick your spots, get into the middle of that zone and break them down that way. And also get out in transition."
Syracuse (3-2) is off to its worst start since 2006, losing to Oregon and Connecticut in the 2K Classic in New York earlier this month.
Injured point guard Frank Howard returned from an ankle injury to play his first game of the season in a 77-56 win over Colgate last Wednesday and gave Syracuse a lift.
"It's good to have Frank back," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "When you haven't played in eight weeks, it's very hard. He had five assists and no turnovers. So I thought he was really good in what he did."
The Orange are trying to avoid a third non-conference defeat. Only six times in the past 27 years have they lost that many before ACC play begins and each time they failed to make the NCAA Tournament field.
Syracuse is shooting just 23.3 percent from 3-point range and may be without 7-foot-2 center Paschal Chukwu, who is battling a groin injury.
"Every game's important," said Syracuse guard Tyus Battle, who scored a season-high 24 points against Colgate and went 8 of 10 from the field. "Teams lose. It's early in the season. Five games in. So I'm not worried at all. We'll be ready though."
Updated November 27, 2018