After an underwhelming 2013-14 season that saw Indiana finish 7-11 in the Big Ten and pass on an NIT invitation, coach Tom Crean has the Hoosiers back to their winning ways in one of the most basketball crazed states in the country. Now they are looking to defeat Ohio State (15-5, 4-3) for a second time Sunday in Columbus.
The Hoosiers have been on a roll since defeating Ohio State, 69-66, in Bloomington, Ind., Jan. 10. Indiana (15-4, 5-1) has strung together four consecutive Big Ten victories to put them into a tie with Wisconsin atop the Big Ten standings at 5-1.
The most impressive victory during the stretch could have been Indiana's 19-point home victory against Big Ten newcomer Maryland. Guards James Blackmon, Jr. and Yogi Ferrell combined for 46 points to take down the 13th-ranked Terrapins.
Indiana has been the model of consistent effort and will that Ohio State has been searching for all season. Senior forward Sam Thompson spoke Saturday about Indiana's fire in the two teams' first matchup.
"From the start, they had more energy than us," Thompson said. "They executed better than us. They played harder than us early on... I think just from the jump they came out with more energy, more intensity, and we have to change that tomorrow."
With a full slate of road games ahead, the Buckeyes need to make sure they take care of their home court and build momentum for the stretch run of the Big Ten season.
"It's so tough to win on the road in this conference," Thompson said. "Night in, night out, with all those fans screaming at you, with teams giving you their best shot -- Any time you have a chance to get two in a row at home, you have to get it."
Coach Thad Matta tried to infuse some energy in his team by switching up the starting lineup on the road against Northwestern Thursday night. He inserted fifth-year transfer Anthony Lee and true freshman Jae'Sean Tate into the lineup and saw some immediate results.
Despite Tate's poor shooting -- just 2-of-9 from the field -- he grabbed four offensive rebounds in 21 minutes during Ohio State's 69-67 victory. He said Saturday that his mindset didn't change when he found out he was going to start.
"Starting wasn't really a big deal," Tate said. "Just as long as we win."
The Buckeyes need Tate's energy and ability to defend Sunday against Indiana's prolific backcourt. Blackmon leads Indiana in scoring with 16.9 points per game and it should be a treat to see him against freshman standout D'Angelo Russell for a second time.
Russell shot 3-of-15 from the floor when Ohio State traveled to Indiana, but the Louisville, Ky., native might be getting more comfortable playing in hostile environments. His career-high 33 points in Evanston, Ill., willed Ohio State to victory in a game it had to have.
Russell will have to be special again to keep pace with Indiana and give the Buckeyes a chance to catch up in the Big Ten standings.
Numbers to Know:
Despite trailing in the overall series against Indiana all-time, Ohio State is 51-35 when the games are played in Columbus. Could home court advantage play a role for the Buckeyes with a charged up, football drunk crowd? We'll have to see.
81.9 & 79.9
Indiana and Ohio State rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference in scoring offenses. Both teams love to get out and run off turnovers and have skilled wing players that can finish at the rim. It should be a high-flying contest.
Ohio State ranks second in the conference in steals with 8.7 steals per game. Much of the Buckeye offense is predicated on transition opportunities after forced turnovers.
Cast of Characters:
Russell has been lighting it up recently, averaging 27 points per game in his last three contests. Every point will matter against Indiana's attack and his scoring should open up opportunities for others as well. We're all aware of Russell's vision on the court at this point.
As much as Buckeye Nation loves to get on Williams, he's been a beast defensively this season. He leads Ohio State with 38 total blocks on the season and is second in the conference with 2.0 blocks per game.
James Blackmon, Jr.
Blackmon is just as much of a killer with the ball in his hands as Russell. He's deadly from long distance, shooting 42.3 percent from three, and has the strength to get to the rim. He and Russell will be battling for Big Ten Freshman of the Year all season long.
Williams put together a nice highlight reel against the Buckeyes in their first matchup. The sophomore is a tremendous leaper and averages 13.5 points per game. Ohio State has to plan for him the way opponents normally do for Sam Thompson.
How to Watch
TV: 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Radio: 97.1 The Fan