Preview: #14 Ohio State Buckeyes at #2 Indiana Hoosiers

USA TODAY Sports

The stakes don't get much bigger for either team. The Hoosiers are on the cusp of winning an outright Big Ten title, while the Buckeyes have a shot at grabbing a share of the title, plus significantly solidifying their NCAA profile. Do the Buckeyes have what it takes to bounce back from their earlier loss to Indiana and spring the upset?

To say things did not go well for Ohio State in their first meeting this season with Indiana would be kind. In Columbus, Victor Oladipo launched himself into the national POY race with a career high 26 points to go with 8 rebounds and 2 steals, while Cody Zeller and Christian Watford tossed in 24 and 20 respectively, and the Hoosier rode 53% shooting from the floor to an 81-68 victory in hostile territory. Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas performed admirably, throwing in 26 and 7 for the Buckeyes, while LaQuinton Ross pitched in 11 off the bench. But outside of Aaron Craft (16 points), the Buckeyes couldn't muster the offense to hang with the high flying Hoosiers.

Since that game, Indiana summarily dismissed Iowa, Purdue and Nebraska, and beat Michigan State on the road in a classic. Only an upset at a desperate Minnesota team has kept them from running away with the league and the number 1 ranking nationally. But the Hoosiers are still thought by many to be the best team in college basketball, and baring a collapse down the stretch and into the Big Ten tournament, the favorite to earn the number one overall seed in the tournament as well.

It isn't hard to see why. Indiana's body of work is strong, featuring victories over Georgetown, North Carolina, Michigan and a sweep of Michigan State, to go with their aforementioned blowout win in Columbus. The Hoosiers are second nationally in averaging 82 points per game, a feat even more impressive given the tough natures of so many Big Ten defenses. 4 players average in top figures, lead by possible POY candidates Zeller (16.5) and Oladpio (14.0), while a 5th player, sub Will Sheehey, averages 9.8ppg. The Hoosiers are deep, they're explosive, they can defend, and have lost only 1 home game this season. By any measure, Indiana is a tough matchup.

Ohio State's offensive weaknesses have been expounded again and again on the internet, so it should go without saying that the Buckeyes cannot hope to keep pace in a game where the score hits the 80s. The Buckeyes absolutely cannot let Indiana shoot over 50% from the floor, or give them dozens of free point opportunities at the charity stripe. The Buckeyes struggled with foul trouble in the first matchup, letting Indiana shoot 28 free throws, and Craft and Evan Ravenel eventually fouling out. Playing tough, disciplined defense is a very tall order against a team with so many weapons, but OSU has shown they're capable of defending at a high level before. If Zeller and Oladipo are shooting 10+ free thows each, something entirely possible given Indiana's home court advantage and playing style, it's hard to see Ohio State winning.

The Buckeyes will also need to get career games, or at least much better production, from their much maligned frontcourt. Evan Ravenel did an admirable job rebounding during their first meeting, but fouled out, while Amir Williams was limited to only 11 minutes (but still wracked up 4 fouls). Ohio State needs both players on the court, and aggressive, to limit Zeller and the Hoosier's size advantage. Neither player will likely need to carry a significant load, but they need to find ways to make life difficult for any Hoosier that ventures into the lane or post without hacking them.

The last disconcerting note for Ohio State is the fact that Deshaun Thomas has sneakily had a few bad games in a row. Thomas has been unable to connect on his three point shot, and has struggled, especially early in games, to be efficient shooting the basketball. Thomas was 4-16 against Michigan State (somewhat forgotten thanks to a career performance from Aaron Craft), 6-16 against Minnesota and 7-16 and 0-5 from three against Northwestern (somewhat forgotten thanks to a career performance from Lenzelle Smith Jr). At times, Thomas has rushed his shot, either shooting too early in the shot clock or forcing something that isn't there. The Buckeyes obviously can't beat a team of Indiana's caliber if Thomas can't get going, but the Thomas will also need to be efficient if his long range shot isn't falling.

Final Thoughts

The idea of Ohio State somehow snagging a piece of the Big Ten regular season title is awfully tantalizing, and an upset win at Indiana would do wonders to fill a glaring hole in Ohio State's resume, namely, the lack of a signature road victory. The Buckeyes should absolutely be mentally ready to go for this game, but it's tough to see how Ohio State can grab a victory without Indiana playing substantially below their abilities. For as good of a defensive team Ohio State is, Indiana may be the one team in the country that has enough weapons to counter the Bucks, even when they are playing soundly. The mismatches down low, coupled with Ohio State's inability to keep up in a higher scoring game, plus the blowout when Ohio State was at *home*, does not bode well for an upset when the Hoosiers still have an awful lot to play for.

It certainly isn't impossible, though. With a hot Deshaun, a plugged in Aaron Craft, and a little luck with three point shooting, Ohio State can hang with and beat just about anybody in the country. But the Buckeyes will have their hands full with this matchup, and will need to play near flawless basketball to keep the dream alive.

Prediction

Holy !&!(&*!&! I see Ohio State improving a little from their previous matchup, but they just don't have the firepower to steal a victory on the road. Indiana, 75-63.

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