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Ohio State men’s basketball vs. Northwestern: Game preview and prediction

Ohio State will try and sweep the regular season series with Northwestern when the Buckeyes host the Wildcats tonight.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament Nebraska vs Northwestern Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Following a 77-69 loss up in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Ohio State returns home tonight to take on Northwestern. The Buckeyes will be trying to sweep the regular season series against the Wildcats. The last time these two teams met was on the first day of 2023, with Ohio State easily defeating Northwestern 73-57 in Evanston.

The Buckeyes had no answer for Hunter Dickinson on Sunday, with the Michigan big man scoring 26 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. The Wolverines led 41-36 at halftime, and didn’t allow Ohio State to cut into the deficit much in the second half. The Buckeyes were able to pull to within three points a couple times early in the second half before the home team pulled away for good.

One bright spot for Ohio State in the game was Bruce Thornton, who was 10-for-13 from the field, finishing with a career-high 22 points. Thornton was about the only Buckeye that took good shots in the game. Head coach Chris Holtmann thought his team took too many unbalanced, low percentage shots over length on Sunday. Holtmann also believes his team needs to take more threes. Ohio State was just 5-of-16 from behind the arc against Michigan.

Thornton’s output on Sunday marked the first time since Ohio State hosted Rutgers back in December that Brice Sensabaugh didn’t lead the Buckeyes in scoring. Sensabaugh came off the bench on Sunday, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 26 minutes. Unfortunately, the freshman’s day ended a little early, as he fouled out for the second consecutive game. Justice Sueing also scored 14 points in the loss.

An area that really hurt the Buckeyes against Michigan was in the paint. Dickinson had a big game for the Wolverines, recording a double-double. Zed Key is still dealing with the shoulder injury he suffered in the Purdue game, limiting his effectiveness on the court. To try and make up for some of the defense and rebounding lost because of the injury to Key, Holtmann turned to Eugene Brown III.

It sounds as if Brown will see more playing time the rest of the year. Against Michigan, Brown played 13:41, which was his second-highest total of the season.


NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Wisconsin Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

With the loss, the Buckeyes have only won two of the 11 games they have played in 2023 One of those wins came on the first day of the year against Northwestern. Ohio State never trailed in the game, winning 73-57. Sensabaugh led the Buckeyes with 18 points, while three of his teammates also were able to reach double figures in the scoring column. Key recorded a double-double in the victory, finishing with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

While Ohio State has stumbled mightily since beating Northwestern, the same can’t be said about the Wildcats, who enter tonight’s game with a 16-7 record this year. In Big Ten play, Northwestern is 7-5, which puts them in right in the middle of a gaggle of teams that sit three or four games behind Purdue in the conference standings. Following tonight’s game against Ohio State, Northwestern hosts Purdue and Indiana the next two times they take the court.

Like Ohio State, Northwestern also played on Sunday, earning a regular season sweep of Wisconsin with a 54-52 win over the Badgers in Madison. Boo Buie scored a team-high 13 points in the win, including four free throws over the last 31 seconds to give the Wildcats the lead and secure the victory. Chase Audige added 11 points and seven rebounds.

Even though Ohio State beat Northwestern last month, head coach Chris Holtmann still has a ton of respect for the Wildcats. Holtmann knowns their formula is having veterans guards along with great overall coaching. Northwestern head coach Chris Collins is in his 10th season at the school, with a 149-157 record heading into tonight’s game.

While Collins might have a losing record after a decade in Evanston, he was able to do something no other Northwestern head coach has done. In 2017, Collins was at the helm when the Wildcats made their first NCAA Tournament, beating Vanderbilt in the first round before falling to Gonzaga in the round of 32.

Even more surprising about what Northwestern has done this year, is they are finding success without Pete Nance and Ryan Young, who both transferred out of the program following last season. A lot of the credit can be attributed to point guard Boo Buie, who is in his fourth year with the team. Buie is leading the team with 16.1 points per game, as well as 4.5 assists per game. The point guard is four assists away from reaching 400 career helpers.

Along with Buie, Chase Audige is averaging 15.3 points and 3.0 assists per game. After starting his career at William & Mary, Audige transferred to Northwestern following the 2018-19 season. Ohio State is going to have to be aware of where Audige is when they have the basketball since the senior has eight games this season where he has been credited with at least four steals. With 181 career steals, Audige should be able to reach 200 career steals before the end of the season.

Rounding out the key Northwestern contributors are guards Ty Berry and Brooks Barnhizer, forward Robbie Beran, and center Matthew Nicholson. Berry is hit-or-miss on the offensive end, failing to score more than seven points in six of the last seven games. The lone game in which he crossed that mark came against Nebraska when he netted 26 points. Even with his offensive inconsistencies, Berry always brings it on the defensive end. When Northwestern’s trio of guards needs a break, Barnhizer is usually the first one to come off the bench for the Wildcats.

A third senior that Northwestern relies heavy on is Robbie Beran. While Beran isn’t going to wow people with his stats, he gives Northwestern at least 20 minutes of hard play every time out. Berman might not shoot as much as Buie or Audige, but when he does there is purpose behind his shot. The forward teams with Matthew Nicholson to give the Wildcats some size to compliment Buie, Audige, and Berry in the back court.


NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Ohio State Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

How is this game different from most of the others we have seen from Ohio State since the calendar turned to 2023? It has almost become routine that the Buckeyes put themselves in an early hole that they are unable to dig themselves out of. We saw it against Minnesota, Indiana, Wisconsin, and numerous other games in Big Ten play. This team doesn’t have the mental toughness to have to play from behind on a regular basis.

Having said that, the Buckeyes can at least come into this game with a bit of confidence since they have already beat Northwestern this season — on the home court of the Wildcats. Ohio State doesn’t actually match up that bad with Northwestern, since the Buckeyes have the guards that can make life difficult for Buie, Audige, and Berry. Ohio State also won’t have to deal with a ton of size against the Wildcats. While Northwestern does have a seven-footer in Matthew Nicholson, he doesn’t have the offensive game of guys like Trayce Jackson-Davis or Zach Edey.

Unless Ohio State somehow is able to go on a lengthy unbeaten stretch to close out the regular season, as well as a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes aren’t going to make the NCAA Tournament this year. One thing Ohio State can do is play spoiler. This is a perfect situation to do just that. Northwestern is looking to make their second NCAA Tournament under Chris Collins.

The Buckeyes do just that tonight. Maybe Northwestern is looking ahead to home games against Purdue and Indiana over the next week. Ohio State shows some fight on their home court tonight and send the Wildcats into their important upcoming contests with a bit of doubt after the Buckeyes complete the regular season sweep.

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 77.8%
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

LGHL score prediction: Ohio State 67, Northwestern 63