The Matchup: Northwestern (13-4) @ Ohio State (13-5)
Location: Value City Arena (Columbus, Ohio)
TV: Big Ten Network (6:00 PM CT Tuesday January 19th, 2010)
Radio: WCPT 92.7FM
Fun Fact: This is the only scheduled meeting between these teams this season. They split last year in two games which both came down to the final minute.
About the Game
Northwestern travels to Columbus Tuesday night to fact the Big Ten’s best player at a location where his team is unbeaten. Both the Wildcats and the Buckeyes defeated ranked teams in their last outing with the ‘Cats beating Purdue and OSU beating Wisconsin. Before their win over Wisconsin, OSU also beat Purdue behind a career night from Evan Turner.
As I’ve said before, there is no question in my mind that Turner is the best player in the Big Ten. His numbers 18.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, and 5.3 apg tell some of that story. Watching him play against Purdue and Wisconsin pretty much told the rest of the story. When the Buckeyes needed someone to push them to victory over top flight opponents all they had to do was give the ball to Turner and get out of the way. It was the same story last year in Columbus when NU took a lead with just under 4 minutes left, but then Turner took over and essentially ended NU’s chances at victory.
So, how will NU try to stop Turner this year? Well, the ‘Cats played a great switching man-to-man defense against Purdue for most of the game. The only negative was that E’Twaun Moore was virtually unguardable for the ‘Cats. This is somewhat of an issue because Evan Turner is better than Moore. Last year, the ‘Cats played some man-to-man against Ohio State and forced some turnovers. However, it was injured guard/forward Jeff Ryan who was the ‘Cats primary defender on Turner. With Ryan out, it might be a lot to ask of Drew Crawford or Jeremy Nash to guard Turner with his 6-7 size.
Ohio State is still turnover prone because they don’t have a set point guard. Getting pressure on them is critical. NU’s 1-3-1 zone might be useful in doing this, but OSU has some very good shooters in Jon Diebler (45.2% 3PT), Jeremie Simmons (42.9% 3PT), and William Buford (36.9% 3PT). Those guys could pick apart the 1-3-1 if NU doesn’t force turnovers.
The best move for Northwestern might be to switch defenses regularly and not let the turnover prone Buckeyes get comfortable. NU has at times shown some press when playing man-to-man and the Buckeyes might be a good team to breakout the press against for extended periods. If you force them to make decisions in the backcourt, Minnesota showed those decisions are often bad. The other advantage NU would have in switching back to man-to-man regularly is how well playing man allowed the ‘Cats to rebound. Despite some inside beef from Dallas Lauderdale, OSU isn’t the best rebounding team. In fact, Turner and Buford get more boards than Lauderdale. As a team, OSU gets 33.7 rpg game. That’s about two more than their opponents.
This is a tough game to predict because while it looks like Ohio State has some big advantages, Northwestern’s John Shurna and Luka Mirkovic could offer some matchup problems for the Buckeyes. Of course, Evan Turner might neutralize those matchup issues all by himself because I don’t think anybody on NU’s roster can guard him. The biggest advantage Ohio State has, though, might be playing at home where they are 11-0. Part of me thinks it’s about time OSU’s current home winning streak and the home winning streak against NU (which dates back to before every player who will compete in the game was born) comes to an end. Another part of me thinks NU will have to wait to go to Minnesota to pick up their second Big Ten road win. Ohio State, 69 Northwestern 68
I’ll say that prediction could get reversed to a 1-point NU win if the Wildcats three point range, which has been mostly absent the last two games, returns to make up for some of the easy twos Turner will get breaking down NU’s defense. With as much as OSU likes to zone, I do think it is possible NU will hit about 14 threes and pull off the big upset.