Despite all-but losing out on the Big Ten regular season title, the Ohio State Buckeyes head into their regular season finale as one of the best teams in the conference as they face the Indiana Hoosiers this evening in Bloomington, Ind.
Earlier this week, the Buckeyes bounced back after two-straight losses for a 79-52 win over Rutgers on Senior Night in Columbus. Junior point guard C.J. Jackson led all scorers with 18 points on the night, with a total of 11 players putting up points for the Buckeyes. It was an impressive win on an emotional night, as Buckeye nation honored four seniors--Jae’Sean Tate, Kam Williams, Keita Bates-Diop (redshirt junior) and Andrew Dakich (graduate transfer)--who have made a strong impact in their final season with the program.
The performance was a far cry from what the Buckeyes were able to produce in games against Penn State and Michigan last week, when the offense struggled to find a rhythm and when Bates-Diop, previously thought to be the runaway candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year, struggled immensely against physical defenses. Despite the losses, Ohio State is having its best conference season since 2011. Even while dropping two of their last three, the Buckeyes are one game back from Michigan State in the conference standings with a 14-3 record in the Big Ten and a 23-7 overall record on the season.
Indiana, meanwhile, is sitting at 16-13 on the season, including 9-8 in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are seventh in the conference standings, six games back from conference leader Michigan State. First-year head coach Archie Miller has improved things marginally for the Hoosiers this season after the departure of long-time head coach Tom Crean at the conclusion of the 2016-17 season when Crean was fired after spending nine seasons with the Hoosiers. In his final year, Crean went 7-11 in-conference.
In their last meeting at the end of January, Ohio State led the Hoosiers for nearly the entire game on the way to a 71-56 win. Tate led the Buckeyes with 16 points on the night with four players scoring in double figures. It was the first game following Ohio State’s first loss of the conference season to Penn State, and the Buckeyes responded with a vengeance. Even with an intervening matchup against Rutgers earlier in the week, Ohio State will need to bring the same sort of intensity to Bloomington as it looks ahead to the Big Ten Tournament next week.
Numbers to know
How many turnovers Indiana had against Nebraska. Of these, 11 were committed by the Hoosiers’ starting guards, including six from sophomore Devonte Green. Nine first half turnovers directly translated to 11 points for the Huskers in a game which Indiana only lost by nine. Turnovers have been an issue for the Hoosiers all season, but one that has been wildly inconsistent. While Indiana committed just 10 against Iowa, they gave up 18 versus Illinois (granted, Illinois is one of the best teams in the nation in forcing turnovers). IU is averaging 13 on the season, slightly worse than Ohio State’s 12, but an improvement over last season’s 15. The last time the two teams faced off, however, Indiana had just eight turnovers to the Buckeyes’ 14.
The days of rest that Ohio State will have before their first game in the Big Ten Tournament after facing Indiana tonight. In a season with a compressed conference schedule, there has been little time for days off. The Big Ten Tournament starts next week in Madison Square Garden a full week ahead of its normal schedule, which means that teams have had to play more games in less time. Perhaps it is good practice for the NCAA Tournament, but it will certainly help the Buckeyes--who at one point played three games in six days--to have a short break before facing the rest of the Big Ten in the conference tournament. Ohio State cannot go lower than the No. 3 seed in the tournament, which means that the team will play its first tournament game March 2, while lower seeds will have to play as early as Feb. 28.
Indiana’s free throw percentage. That’s 13th in the Big Ten and 334th nationally. For a team whose scoring margin has been just +2.1 per game this season, those critical missed free throws mean the difference between wins and losses. Ohio State, meanwhile, has been shooting 73 percent from the line, led by C.J. Jackson’s 81.4 percent shooting. While the Hoosiers’ loss to the Buckeyes earlier this season was not that razor thin, IU still only went 10-for-18 from the free throw line, while Ohio State was 8-of-10. In their last meeting, Ohio State was able to control every aspect of that game so that it did not come down to free throws, but in a game in Bloomington at the end of a long regular season, Ohio State will need to maintain the edge from the line.
Cast of characters
The freshman forward has been getting stronger as the season has worn on, but one of his best games of the year came in the Buckeyes’ last matchup against Indiana. Wesson was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field for 14 points back in January--one of two perfect shooting games for the freshman. In fact, Wesson is one of the best shooters in the conference, connecting on 57 percent of attempts from the field. Unfortunately, Wesson has missed time in two of the past three games with sprained ankles, including nearly five minutes against Rutgers. With the big man off the floor, Rutgers went on a 16-2 run that closed Ohio State’s halftime lead to five. Fortunately, the injury was not too serious, and Wesson was able to come back on the floor, but it goes to show what an impact that the first-year player has made on his team this season.
Despite being the hero of most of the season for Ohio State, Bates-Diop has had a rough couple of weeks on the floor for the Buckeyes. Tuesday against Rutgers, the junior forward had just six points--his lowest total of the season. Against Michigan, he shot under 30 percent from the field, though he finished with 17 points on the day. And in the Buckeyes’ loss to Penn State, Bates-Diop could not slow down the Nittany Lions’ Tony Carr, who finished with 30 points. There’s no doubt that opposing teams have been prepping for Bates-Diop, who is second in the Big Ten in scoring with 19 points per game, but the junior had previously been able to overcome tough defense or get the ball to someone who could, thereby opening the floor back up. Holtmann acknowledged that teams have been more physical lately with his star player, and that Bates-Diop needs to do a better job of getting through those situations.
A four-year player for the Hoosiers, Johnson has been a leader on the court all season for Indiana. He scored 16 points against Nebraska Tuesday--his fifth-straight game scoring in double figures. Unfortunately, he was the only guard for the Hoosiers who had any success against the Huskers, with Devonte Green, Josh Newkirk, Zach McRoberts and Aljami Durham combining for eight points. Previously against Iowa, Johnson scored a career-high 29 points in a comeback win on the road, and he tied a program record with nine three-pointers on the night. Throughout the season, Johnson has also Indiana’s best shooter from range, hitting 37.4 percent of his shots from three.
The freshman power forward was a rare bright spot for the Hoosiers against Nebraska Tuesday, scoring 16 points off the bench to match Johnson’s total. Miller credited Smith with playing “probably as well as he has all year” on defense. Smith has been wildly inconsistent during his freshman campaign, scoring a career-high 20 points in 26 minutes against Minnesota, but connecting on just two earlier this month at Rutgers. His last outing against Ohio State fell on the lower end of the spectrum, as Smith scored just two points in 21 minutes. However, he is close to finishing his first year at Indiana on a high note, as he has scored in double figures off the bench in each of his last three games and been one of the Hoosiers’ best players in those matchups. Over that stretch, he has shot greater than 72 percent from the field.
How to watch
Game time: 8 p.m. EST
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM
Streaming: FOX Sports GO