Gophers face Fading Five

by Todd Zolecki

The Fab Five they are not, but the starting quintet for the Ohio State men’s basketball team made some noise two weeks ago when it upset Michigan on the road. The problem is, they haven’t made more than a whimper since.
That’s fine with Minnesota, which hopes to keep Ohio State quiet Saturday afternoon when the two teams meet at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
The Buckeyes are young. All their starters are sophomores, and it appears some of that inexperience has been exposed since the conference opener against the Wolverines.
They have lost to Illinois, Michigan State and Iowa. Their only other Big Ten win came against winless Penn State, which makes one believe the upset over Michigan is more an aberration than the norm.
That hasn’t been good for the security of Buckeyes coach Randy Ayers’ job. He has come under heat lately because his team hasn’t finished with a winning record since the 1992-93 season. It has been reported Ayers might be on the way out after this season.
Still, Ohio State’s play is improved from a year ago when the five freshman starters went 3-15 in the Big Ten and finished one game ahead of last place Northwestern.
“All of the experience their sophomores got a year ago is really paying off,” Iowa coach Tom Davis said. “Ohio State is probably the most athletic team in the league. They run the court well and are deeper than they have been in a while.”
The Hawkeyes pulled away from the Buckeyes in the second half Wednesday night on their way to a 76-62 victory. The win put Iowa in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, which has done it all without senior Jess Settles.
Gophers coach Clem Haskins expects the Buckeyes to press most of the game. He said Ohio State presses more than Illinois, which the Gophers played Tuesday.
Minnesota lost that game, 96-90, but Haskins isn’t worried about his players’ response to the loss. He said they responded fine when they lost to Alabama more than a month ago by winning 10 straight games.
He’s more concerned about his player rotation. Gophers sophomore guard Charles Thomas is still experiencing back pain. He didn’t make the trip to Illinois and barely practiced Thursday.
Haskins said Thomas will be in Columbus on Saturday.
He hopes Thomas, who averages 6.5 points in 14 minutes per game, can play 10 to 12 minutes Saturday. He said if Thomas can score 11 points in eight minutes like he did against Michigan last Saturday, Haskins will be more than pleased.
“It’s a day-to-day thing with him,” Haskins said. “Russ (Archambault) played extremely well for us, but Charles is my third guard. He’s big and strong and he’s a great defensive player. So we’ll miss that.”
Especially if Gophers point guard Eric Harris finds himself in foul trouble again. Harris picked up three early fouls in Tuesday’s game, which limited him to 21 minutes.
“I want him to play 30, 32 minutes,” Haskins said. “Eric played half of that time with three fouls. There’s a difference when you go all out for 20 minutes and when you play 20 minutes and you have to play careful. He played back on his heels.”
If Thomas would have been available Harris wouldn’t have had to play like that. But Haskins isn’t looking back. He just hopes Thomas will be ready.
“I don’t lose a whole lot with Charles coming off the bench,” Haskins said. “He’s been through the wars. He knows. I expect him to go out and be productive.”