Buckeyes backcourt defense provides challenges for Gophers

Jace Frederick

It’s no secret that the Gophers offense is carried by its perimeter production.

The Gophers four top scorers are guards. 
Nearly 40 percent of Minnesota’s field goal attempts have been from deep (388 of 975 FGAs).
That type of perimeter reliance wouldn’t seem to bode well for a team going up against what’s perceived to be the best defensive backcourt in the Big Ten.
Buckeyes guards Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott were both All-Big Ten Defensive team performers a year ago and are regarded as two of the best perimeter defenders in the conference today.
“Those are two of the best perimeter defenders in the country,” Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said. “[The Buckeyes] pose a lot of challenges for us.”
The guards spark what is the best defense in the country according to Adjusted Defense by KenPom.com. 
The Buckeyes are also eighth in the nation in defensive three-point percentage.
So the matchup with Ohio State may force the Gophers to start going down low. 
“That’s been a point of emphasis over the past week,” senior guard Malik Smith said. “Coach has been telling Elliott (Eliason) and Mo (Walker) that they need to demand the ball more.”
But while throwing the ball into the interior would help balance out the offense, the Gophers best offensive threats reside on the outside. Those guys need to score.
They just have to do it in a specific fashion.
“We can’t just get stagnant and try to go at them one-on-one, or that’ll hurt us a lot,” Smith said. “We have to keep the ball moving.”
And the Gophers will continue to fire up triples.
“Bombs away,” Pitino said. “We will keep shooting.”
It’s not impossible to score on the vaunted Buckeye backcourt. The teams who have competed with Ohio State this year have done it.
In the Buckeyes lone two losses this season — back-to-back defeats at the hands Michigan State and Iowa — the opposing starting backcourts have averaging 33 points per game. 
And in Ohio State’s narrowly-contested 79-69 over Ohio in November, the Bobcats prolific combo of Nick Kellogg and Stevie Taylor (who’s averaging  7.7 points per game this year) each dropped 21 on the Buckeyes.
Minnesota's guards must have similar success if the Gophers are to compete on Thursday.
“I don’t think there’s any particular weaknesses that [Scott and Craft] of them have that I feel we can expose,” Pitino said. “We’ve just got to play our game. Certainly we can’t run from them. We’ve got to try to play our game.”