After narrowly defeating Nebraska a week ago, the Ohio State Buckeyes played another close contest Sunday, this time against Northwestern. However this time around, the Buckeyes were on the wrong side of a 74-72 game at home.
It was a disappointing loss after the Buckeyes knocked off Michigan State, and put together another win against the Huskers. But the Bucks fell flat, and it was the Wildcats’ first win in Columbus for the first time in 40 years.
We saw the same inconsistency that’s plagued the Buckeyes for at least the past year and a half. Early on they shot the ball well, but those pesky turnovers just wouldn’t stay away, and it’s what kept Northwestern in the game early. Not to mention the Wildcats crashing the offensive glass. At this point, the Buckeyes are what they are. That’s fine, we’re still going to tune in because we don’t know when we’re going to get treat to that big Marc Loving game (which, to be fair, he’s played fine anyway), or a JaQuan Lyle passing clinic, or a Kam Williams hot streak. Those are fun.
Wednesday, Minnesota will be trying to prevent any of the aforementioned events from happening. The Golden Gophers have lost three in a row coming into the game against the Bucks, with losses on the road to Michigan State and Penn State, and a 78-76 nail-biter against Wisconsin. They’re 15-5 on the year after starting off 13-2 with their only losses to Florida State on the road, and at home against Michigan State.
They’re similar to the Buckeyes when it comes to scoring distribution. Three players are averaging at least 11 points per game, and two more are averaging nine. While they initially looked like they might be a force in the Big Ten earlier this season, the recent slide has brought Richard Pitino’s team back down to Earth. That doesn’t mean the Buckeyes will have an easy time with them, and it’s almost a great time for them to break their skid, despite being on the road.
Numbers to know
Ohio State has 11 regular season games left. At 12-8, the Buckeyes seemingly almost have to win out to at least have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. It’s also going to be pretty difficult to keep Thad Matta’s streak of 20-win seasons alive. He’s at 12 right now, and Ohio State went 21-14 last season. The Buckeyes could do it, but things don’t look great right now.
That’s how many rebounds Trevor Thompson is averaging per game. Thompson has looked better this season, and his 9.3 boards per game are second in the Big Ten, only behind player of the year candidate Caleb Swanigan. If he’s able to give the Buckeyes second chances and prevent those of Minnesota, that will be key in whether or not the Bucks come away with the win.
That’s the number of blocks per game Reggie Lynch averages. It’s good for the best in the Big Ten and 4th in the nation. The 6’10 center is the anchor of the Minnesota defense, and could create problems for the Buckeyes that could be too great to overcome. The Ohio State bigs are going to have to step up in a huge way to prevent Lynch from dominating the rim.
Cast of characters
The Buckeyes have won this season when Loving is on his game. They’re going to need that Wednesday, and for the remainder of the season if they hope to keep Thad Matta’s streak of 20-win seasons alive and the (slim) chance at an NCAA Tournament berth. He played well in their two most recent wins, but it’s tough when things aren’t flowing well around him. He can get a lot of help, starting with our other Buckeye of note here...
Lyle’s ability to distribute the rock — like the rest of the team — is hot and cold. When he was in high school, and first came to Ohio State, he had to dial down some of the passes, because they were so great that his teammates couldn’t handle them. Now, it’s not a given anymore. Yet when he’s in a groove, he’s arguably one of the best passing guards in the Big Ten. He sees things out on the floor that others don’t. But it starts with cutting down turnovers and getting teammates involved. Once they get going, they’re hard to stop.
Mason’s one of the more experienced players on Minnesota’s team as a junior. He’s seen the floor since he was a freshman, appearing in every single game, and even starting eight of them. Now, he’s the Gophers’ leading scorer and passer, averaging 13.7 points and 5.6 assists per game, which is best in the Big Ten. He’ll serve as a great challenge for the Buckeye guards, who tend to have good defensive streaks. Wednesday night will have to be one of them if they hope to slow down Mason.
Murphy was a Big Ten All-Freshman team honoree last season, and started 20 games for the Gophers. This year he’s leading the team in rebounds with 7.7. The Gophers don’t lean on him for points, but he’s still fourth on the team averaging 9.9 per game. The Buckeyes match up fine with him, but if there’s going to be somebody grabbing offensive boards to our frustration, it’s going to be Murphy.
How to watch
Game time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
TV: Big Ten Network