The Matchup: Northwestern (17-11) @ Ohio State (19-9)
Location: Value City Arena (Columbus, OH)
TV: Big Ten Network (4:00 PM CT)
Radio: WGN 720 AM
Fun Fact: Northwestern hasn’t beaten Ohio State in Columbus since 1977.
About the Game
When the season started not many people expected Northwestern and Ohio State to meet with this much on the line on the season’s final day. As the two teams enter this game, both Northwestern and Ohio State are fighting for a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Right now the Buckeyes are in better shape with 2 more wins overall and a better Big Ten record. However, the Wildcats beat the Buckeyes in Evanston on the strength of John Shurna’s clutch three pointer. If the Wildcats beat the Buckeyes twice it will put them above Ohio State in the Big Ten standings and possibly in the selection committee’s mind.
The key to Northwestern’s victory in the first game between these two teams was outstanding shooting by Craig Moore and Kevin Coble. Coble scored 26 points and Moore 23 points. Both took major advantage of the Buckeye zone by finding wide open shots. If NU’s top guns can find similar openings NU has a good chance. However, Ohio State’s effort in their zone was somewhat passive in Evanston. In other games, the Buckeyes play a much more aggressive brand of zone defense. I suspect Thad Matta will stress the importance of staying aggressive in the zone on Sunday. It certainly helped them squeak out the victory over Iowa.
Another key to the game will be the battle in the post. When Northwestern pulled off their comeback from a 12-point deficit in the second half they got great play from Kyle Rowley down low. Rowley was as quick and aggressive on that night as he has been all year. With size and athletic skill of Buckeye centers B.J. Mullens and Dallas Lauderdale similar play from Rowley and a healthy Luka Mirkovic will be critical. If Northwestern can get some inside points and stay close in rebounding they have a chance for the monumental win.
Finally, in the first defense the Wildcats played great defense against Buckeye star Evan Turner. NU used the 1-3-1, which hasn’t worked as well since, and forced the Buckeye star into a ton of turnovers. The odds are Turner will be looking to rebound in big way and make up for his poor game in Evanston. How will NU stop Turner? Coach Carmody might need to go back to the 1-3-1, but I would also not be surprised to see Jeff Ryan, who played great defense on Purdue’s Robbie Hummel, get some time on the court to try to contain Turner.
This is a tough game to predict. Right now I think Northwestern can beat anybody, but Ohio State is a team with a lot on the line in this game as well. As a result, the intangibles of this matchup don’t really favor either squad. Before NU played Purdue I really thought if the Wildcats were to win either of their last two games it would be this contest. I like the matchup of the NU shooters against the Ohio State zone and despite their size, Ohio State actually has a negative rebound margin this year. Coming into this game Northwestern seems to have momentum and Ohio State has struggled recently. However, the Buckeyes have the home court advantage and this game has a lot riding on it for them as well. The truth is I’m having a lot of trouble making an objective prediction for this game. Part of me just wants to pick the NU, but the other part knows there is a reason Ohio State is the favorite in this contest for a reason. The early line from Las Vegas has Ohio State as 7 point favorites, I definitely think that’s too large a spread. If Ohio State wins I think it’ll be something like 66-61. If Northwestern wins I think it’ll be something 61-59. Objectively, I have to say the game will probably be more like the first of those two scores, but this seems like the year for NU to buck the odds and make the score more like the latter.