Ohio State squares off against the Northwestern Wildcats today in search of their 15th win on the season. This Ohio State team has seen its fair share of ups and downs this season. There have been some confidence inspiring wins and there have been some miserable losses. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they are coming hot off the heels of their second tough loss Iowa. It was another difficult loss to swallow for this Ohio State team that still seems to be searching for crunch time leadership, effective lineups, and early energy.
While D'Angelo Russell truly had himself a game with 27 points and 14 rebounds, few other Buckeyes looked like they came to play this past Saturday. Continuing a difficult trend, the Bucks failed to start the game with the type of energy you expect from a Thad Matta coached team. Before the blink of an eye Ohio State was down early and found themselves on the wrong side of an 11 point differential at half.
Although the Buckeyes outscored the Hawkeyes in the second half, their slow start proved to be too much and Iowa bested the Buckeyes for the second time this year. The team's senior leadership was, for all intents and purposes, no where to be found. In order for teams to succeed on the road in a tough conference matchup, they need their seniors to step up and shine. That just didn't happen for the Buckeyes and continues to be an issue for the team. Ohio State needs more from Amir Williams, Shannon Scott, and Sam Thompson.
On the other side of the coin, Iowa's upperclassmen played exceptionally well in the matchup. Aaron White proved to be too much for the Buckeyes down the stretch as he was particularly effective in the second half. Additionally, Adam Woodbury shot effectively from the field and acted as a force in the middle, altering shots and pulling down 10 rebounds.
The Northwestern Wildcats are fresh off of a gut-check loss to the Michigan Wolverines this past Saturday. Despite an inspired performance from Alex Olah, the Wildcats were not able to put the Wolverines away and let a solid road win slip through their paws. Now, as they welcome Ohio State into town, Northwestern is looking for their second conference win and eleventh win overall.
Perennial bottom feeders of the Big Ten, Northwestern is the perfect team to square off against as the Buckeyes continue to search for leadership, energy, and identity. As the season progresses, these concerns become dramatically more serious. If the Buckeyes don't right the ship soon and find some much needed leadership on the court, they could be on the outside looking in come March.
Numbers to Know
The Buckeyes do not have any wins against teams currently ranked inside the RPI top 50 as of today. While this game against Northwestern is not an opportunity to remedy that, the dearth of quality wins needs to be stated. If this team is going to make the tournament this year, they are going to have to step up and assert themselves against quality opponents like Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Maryland down the line. In order to have a fighting chance to do so, the Buckeyes need to develop some leadership and early energy mid season. With the game against Northwestern today, the Buckeyes should have an opportunity to experiment with some lineup changes and gain some much needed confidence with ranked Indiana and Maryland up next.
Northwestern is currently on their longest losing streak of the season, which has stretched to four games. Some of those games have been close while others have not. The Wildcats are generally struggling in Big Ten play as has been the case for a number of years now. In fact, Northwestern has not had a winning Big Ten season in over 13 years. While it is still a road game, Northwestern is an opponent that should allow the Buckeyes to gain some confidence and set the table for bigger opponents coming up. However, Ohio State shouldn't let its guard down entirely as many other Big Ten teams have been bitten by the upset bug already this year. A bad loss could easily sink the Buckeyes' tournament hopes.
Ohio State is shooting 31.4% from 3 in the month of January. Their three point shooting has dipped each month since the start of the season. That is a 10% decline dating back to the beginning of the season in November when the Buckeyes were shooting 41.8% from 3. That could be a result of playing more quality opponents, but no matter how you justify it the Buckeyes are in the middle of a shooting slump from behind the arc and its getting progressively worse. This is not the trajectory Ohio State is looking for offensively and it will need to be rectified on the fly throughout Big Ten play.
Cast of Characters
If Jae'Sean Tate isn't your favorite player on this team, then you need to watch more Buckeye basketball. Sure, Russell is a supreme talent that makes many difficult aspects of the game look easy. However, Tate is an absolute animal on the court. Every minute he is on the floor he is consistently giving every ounce of effort he has. For a guy who only stands 6'4 he plays bigger than anyone else on the team, Amir Williams included. 50-50 ball? Tate's got it. Rebound in traffic? Tate's the guy. While he struggles from the floor a bit, he makes up for it in his ability to get to the line and convert his free throws. No one on this team plays harder than Tate. It has been rumored that Matta is considering inserting Tate into the starting lineup as early as today. Considering this team has come out flat in what seems to be every game, Tate's emergence into the starting lineup could be an important swing in the Buckeyes' favor.
As mentioned earlier, the Buckeyes upperclassmen have generally underwhelmed so far this year. Shannon Scott started out hot but has fizzled in big games. Amir Williams will never be a difference maker on the court. The last hope for this group of upperclassmen is Sam Thompson. He needs to step up and impose his freakish athleticism on the rest of the Big Ten. He needs to start to knock down open jumpers with the regularity he put on display in the beginning of the season. Simply put, he needs to be a difference maker for this Buckeye team. Russell cannot handle the scoring load on his own. Thompson needs to step up, contribute, and help carry this Buckeye team through the rest of Big Ten play.
At 7'0 tall and 270 pounds, Alex Olah should worry the Buckeyes tonight. Amir Williams has effectively shown that he is utterly ineffective at guarding bigger opponents and Olah is a big opponent. Coming off of a 22 point performance against Michigan, Olah has shown that he can have a major impact offensively when given the opportunity. Given our entire front court and its notable shortcomings, Olah is probably going to get his buckets today. The Buckeyes just need to limit him as best they can and make sure no one else gets hot. Getting Olah in foul trouble early would go a long way for the Buckeyes in getting this win tonight.
Despite being a freshman, Bryant McIntosh has had a significant impact on this Wildcat team already. He leads the team in scoring at a hair under 12 points per game and is the team's assist leader at 4.7 per game. He has been lights out from the free thrown line as well as from behind the arc. The Buckeyes will see a lot of McIntosh throughout this game and it will be up to Russell and Scott to shut him down. Hopefully Scott can apply his signature ball pressure and put this young blood on notice. Throwing McIntosh out of rhythm is another pivotal goal for the Buckeyes heading into tonight.
How to Watch/Stream
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Radio: 97.1 The Fan