Ohio State basketball is loving 2018. The Buckeyes have won their first four games of the new year, and are now 6-0 in conference play for the first time since the 2010-11 season. This week, they finally cracked the AP Poll top-25 for the first time in three years, and come into the game ranked No. 22 nationally.
Now, the surging Buckeyes face Northwestern in a late game tonight. It is the second road game in a three-game stretch away from Columbus.
The Buckeyes are 15-4 on the season and 6-0 in conference play, tied with Purdue for the top spot. Sunday, Ohio State demolished Rutgers in Piscataway, leading the Scarlet Knights by as much as 30 points on their way to a 68-46 victory. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop once again led his team with 20 points on the night, while freshman center Kaleb Wesson and senior guard Kam Williams also turned in double-digit performances.
Meanwhile, Northwestern is 11-8 on the season, including 2-4 in conference play. The Wildcats most recently fell to Indiana 66-46 Sunday, with junior forward Vic Law leading the team with nine points. Overall, they’ve been struggling in the new year, going 1-3 so far in 2018.
Head coach Chris Collins has been with the Wildcats since 2013 after spending 13 seasons as an assistant at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski. In more than four seasons at the helm, Collins has amassed an 84-68 overall record, and, last season, took Northwestern to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Northwestern returns four starters from last year’s squad, including Law, senior point guard Bryant McIntosh, senior guard Scottie Lindsey and junior center Dererk Pardon. Overall, it has been a bit of a letdown this season for the Wildcats after last season’s epic run.
The Buckeyes are 808-713 all time versus teams from the Big Ten, and 117-46 all-time against Northwestern. However, they are looking for vengeance after the Wildcats squeaked out a win the last time the two teams faced off. It was the first time that Northwestern had won in Columbus since 1977. Though Ohio State owns a 48-31 advantage on the road at Northwestern, this game is set to be played at Allstate Arena in Rosemont while Welsh-Ryan Arena is being renovated this season.
Numbers to know
The Buckeyes began the season as the No. 78 team in the country according to KenPom. They have moved up more than 60 spots throughout the season and sit now at No. 16--the third-highest team in the Big Ten behind Purdue (No. 2) and Michigan State (No. 6). Moreover, three of the four teams who have beaten the Buckeyes sit ahead of Ohio State in the rankings, and the lone other team, Butler, is still inside the top-50. While things will certainly shift through the remainder of the season, these rankings show that the Buckeyes have not endured a truly bad loss this year, which bodes well for the team’s tournament resume. Northwestern, meanwhile, is 76th in the ranking.
Keita Bates-Diop has been truly extraordinary this season for the Buckeyes, and has been the lifeblood that has fueled Chris Holtmann’s new squad. He has already won Big Ten Player of the Week honors three times this season, including for the past two weeks. Now, he is poised to enter the Ohio State record books as a member of the 1,000-point club. The junior forward needs just 14 points against Northwestern this evening to reach the mark. Bates-Diop would be the 55th player in program history to cross the 1,000-point threshold. Jae’Sean Tate joined this elite group at the end of last season and, with 1,332 points himself, is steadily climbing the all-time scoring list at Ohio State.
Somehow it is not at all surprising that Northwestern has the best free throw percentage in the Big Ten, hitting more than 76 percent of their shots from the line. That mark is good for 29th in the NCAA. Ohio State commits more than 17 personal fouls per game, with Jae’Sean Tate and Kaleb Wesson are the worst offenders with 3.1 each per outing, so they will need to keep things under control to avoid giving the Wildcats free points from the line. Ohio State, meanwhile, is shooting 72.6 percent from the charity stripe this season, which is good for sixth in the Big Ten. While that mark is somewhat pedestrian, it is far better than where the Buckeyes were last year, when they finished the season hitting just over 68 percent of their free throws.
Cast of characters
The three-time conference player of the week is also the Big Ten’s leading scorer on the season, averaging 20.3 points per game. He is shooting 52.6 percent from the field, including hitting 41 percent from three-point range, and is making more than 81 percent of his free throws. Bates-Diop has scored 20 points or greater in each of four games in 2018, including 20 points in the Buckeyes’ most recent outing at Rutgers. During that same stretch, the junior forward has had just two turnovers and six personal fouls despite playing at least 33 minutes per game. In his last two games, Bates-Diop was 8-of-15 from behind the arc. While KBD was left off the Wooden Award midseason watch list last week, he is still one of the top candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
The freshman center, who was Ohio’s Mr. Basketball last year, was inducted into the Westerville South Hall of Fame earlier this month. In his first year with the program, Wesson has made an immediate impact in his short time with the Buckeyes, even earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors back in December. He is averaging 11.2 points and five rebounds per game, and is shooting nearly 55 percent from the field. After coming off of the bench early, he has started 15 of 18 games for the Buckeyes this season. While Holtman has acknowledged that Wesson will need to lose some weight in the offseason and improve from a conditioning perspective, the head coach has been pleased with how far the freshman has come already.
The senior guard leads the Wildcats in scoring with 14 points per game, but managed just two against Indiana on 1-for-15 shooting from the field. Despite his high average, Lindsey has been highly inconsistent on the season, and is shooting under 38 percent on field goals. Prior to Northwestern’s loss to Indiana, Lindsey went off for a team-high 22-points. The senior recorded two points against No. 17 Oklahoma and none against Georgia Tech. Essentially, some teams have been able to effectively contain Lindsey, and containing Lindsey has proven an effective way to beat Northwestern. In the six games where the Wildcats’ leading scorer was held to 10 points or less, Northwestern is 1-5.
The senior point guard was out with a knee injury during Northwestern’s loss to Nebraska to open up 2018, but came back and set a school record with 16 assists in one game against Minnesota--all without committing a single turnover. His 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratios is one of the best in the Big Ten, and he is the best free throw shooter on the conference’s best free throw-shooting team, hitting 95 percent of his shots from the line. The senior is currently eighth in scoring in program history with 1,576 career points, and could move as high as the No. 6 spot with eight points tonight against the Buckeyes. McIntosh also has a program-record 655 career assists, which is also good for third in the country among active players.
How to watch
Game time: 9 p.m. EST
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM