Columbus, OH (Sports Network) - The 13th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes are reeling a bit, but a home game against an inferior opponent may be just what the doctor ordered as the Northwestern Wildcats invade Value City Arena for a Big Ten Conference clash.
Northwestern brings a 13-11 overall record and a 4-7 league ledger into this contest, the team clearly struggling against the bigger, more athletic teams in the Big Ten. The Wildcats suffered a 71-57 setback at Iowa in their most recent outing, falling a game below .500 on the road (3-4) in the process. NU has lost three of its last four, all three of which took place outside of Evanston.
While it's true Ohio State limps into this fray off of back-to-back losses, it's important to note that they came against teams (Michigan and Indiana) that have been or are now ranked No. 1 in the country. It took overtime to decide the game against the Wolverines (76-74), but the Hoosiers claimed a double-digit win in Columbus last Sunday (81-68), which was certainly surprising considering OSU's 12-1 home record coming into the bout. Still, at 17-6 overall and 7-4 in conference, the Buckeyes remain in the mix in the race for the Big Ten regular-season title.
Ohio State owns a commanding 111-45 lead in the all-time series with Northwestern, and the Buckeyes have won the last 28 meetings played on their home floor. OSU has won 17 of the last 18 encounters overall. The Wildcats will host the Buckeyes on Feb. 28 to wrap up the regular-season series.
Northwestern isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut, the team averaging just 63.6 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .416 overall, .351 from 3-point range, and .660 from the free-throw line. The team lost Drew Crawford (13.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg) after only 10 games, and now it will have to make due without Jared Swopshire (9.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) as he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the recent loss to Iowa. That leaves Reggie Hearn (14.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and Dave Sobolewski (11.0 ppg, 4.2 apg) as the top performers for an NU squad that will need to have a host of players step up if it's to be competitive the rest of the way. Hearn was the only Wildcat to reach double figures against the Hawkeyes, netting 13 points. The team as a whole shot a mere 35.1 percent from the field, missing 19 of its 25 3-point attempts along the way. Iowa on the other hand, made good on 48.0 percent of its total shots, and went 19-of-22 at the foul line. While both teams committed 12 turnovers, the Hawkeyes scored 17 points, while the 'Cats tallied only four. Also expected to miss this game is starting center Alex Olah, who is dealing with the effects of a concussion.
Led by Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State is excelling at both ends of the court with averages of 71.7 ppg for, and 59.1 ppg against. Thomas leads the league in scoring at 20.1 ppg, and he also grabs 6.1 rpg to pace the team. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (10.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is the only other double-digit point producer for the Buckeyes, but Aaron Craft (9.6 ppg, 4.4 apg) is close to joining the ranks, while also serving as the club's primary playmaker. Overall, OSU is hitting 46 percent of its field goal attempts, which includes a 37.2 percent effort from 3-point range, while its foes connect on only 38.9 percent of their total shots while committing an average of 13.3 turnovers per outing. Thomas was once again high man for Ohio State in its recent loss to Indiana, netting 26 points while also grabbing seven rebounds. Craft tacked on 16 points and six boards, while LaQuinton Ross came off the bench to tally 11 points. As a team, the Buckeyes shot 42.4 percent from the floor, and converted a dismal 3-of-13 long-range launches. By comparison, the Hoosiers were 53.1 percent efficient from the field, draining 7-of-18 3-point tries, and they outscored the home team from the charity stripe, 22-15.