With all 10 toes now fully submerged in the pool known as Big Ten play, the Ohio State men’s basketball team (12-2, 2-1) will face one of many tough conference opponents on Saturday night, as they hit the road to take on the Indiana Hoosiers (10-4, 2-1) in Assembly Hall.
Mike Woodson’s IU squad is one of many near – but not at – the top of the B1G standings, thanks to a 2-1 conference record and early wins over Maryland and Michigan. However, the Hoosiers have struggled with top-tier competition, and suffered their first conference loss (to Nebraska) this past Wednesday.
The Buckeyes own an identical 2-1 record in Big Ten play, but unlike Saturday’s visitor, are looking to build on a four-game winning streak, with their most recent victory coming against Rutgers — also on Wednesday. In that game, Bruce Thornton led the Scarlet and Gray with 24 points and seven assists, while Jamison Battle drilled six threes and added 22 points of his own.
Though OSU and IU are tied record-wise within their conference, it is the latter still in search of its first “resume-worthy” win of the 2023-24 season. Indiana boasts just a single Quad 1 victory (barely), and Woodson’s team had their doors blown off by both UConn and Auburn. To be fair, the Hoosiers also gave No. 2 Kansas all they could handle in Assembly Hall, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Indiana’s strength is its productive frontcourt, led by seven-footer Kel’el Ware (an Oregon transfer) and do-it-all forward Malik Reneau. Both sophomores, Ware and Reneau are first and second on the team in both points and rebounds. The former leads IU with 1.5 blocks per game, while the latter dishes out 2.9 assists — also good for second on the team. Ware and Reneau will certainly test Ohio State’s big men, as both Hoosiers can get buckets down low and from beyond the arc... yes, even Ware, the seven-footer.
At guard, IU is led by Trey Galloway and Xavier Johnson, both of whom have seemingly played in Bloomington for a decade. True freshman and 2022 Ohio Mr. Basketball Gabe Cupps also sees plenty of time in the Hoosiers’ backcourt (24.4 minutes per game), though he has struggled with his efficiency, shooting just 38% from the field. But the former OSU target will undoubtedly be looking to play his best ball against his home state team.
While these two teams boast similar records, Indiana has simply not been as sharp as they were last year. They have fallen well short of their 2022-23 performance, which was buoyed by the likes of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino. Ohio State, on the other hand, has improved immensely across the board... thus far.
The Hoosiers currently rank in or near the bottom half of the NCAA in both points scored and points allowed per game, and the only metrics in which they rank inside the top 50 (as of Friday) are two-point field goal and free throw frequency — meaning makes and attempts, but not efficiency. As for production and/or efficiency outside the arc? Not great, Bob. IU ranks outside the top 350 (out of 362!) in three-point makes and attempts.
Conversely, Ohio State is scoring and defending at a much higher level than last season, which is something the team hopes to continue for the remainder of this season. The Buckeyes’ biggest improvement has been on the defensive end, where they are holding opponents to 65.4 PPG — down from 69.0 in 2022-23.
Because Indiana has struggled with efficiency and offensive rebounding, while at the same time giving up tons of open three-point looks to their opponent(s), I feel that this game might play squarely into the hands of Ohio State. Not only are the Buckeyes defending at a high level, but they are also hitting the boards and knocking down 38% of their 22 three-point attempts per game. Saturday night’s matchup could play out as a classic strengths over weaknesses game.
However, winning in/at Assembly Hall is no easy task. Last time OSU visited “The House That Knight Built”, former Buckeye Brice Sensabaugh was nearly impaled by a falling piece of scoreboard. So there is a danger element to deal with, as well as the raucous home crowd that typically fuels the Hoosiers. And Chris Holtmann’s squad has not fared well in Bloomington recently, dropping their last three road games against IU.
That being said, I think Ohio State gets it done on Saturday night, winning in Assembly Hall for the first time in nearly four years. Indiana’s offense doesn’t have the firepower to overcome their porous defense, and the Buckeyes are hot right now. This should be an exciting back-and-forth game, but one that I expect OSU to win.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 58.8%
Time: 8 p.m. ET