Fresh off their upset win over Purdue, Northwestern heads into Columbus to take on the resurgent Ohio State Buckeyes. Tip-off is at 6 PM central on the Big Ten Network, with the legendary Gus Johnson (featured below) and former NU player Tim Doyle on the call.
Ohio State is coming off an excellent week during which they beat Purdue on the road and Wisconsin at home. Their overall record is 13-5 (3-3 in the Big Ten), but they are a much better team than that as they went just 3-3 with their star Evan Turner injured. The 6'7" Turner is now healthy and back in form, and when healthy he is by far the best player in the conference. If you take out his game vs Eastern Michigan when he got hurt early, and his first game back vs Indiana when he was being eased into the lineup and played just 20 minutes, here are his per game averages: 21 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. Those numbers would be good enough to lead the Big Ten in all 3 categories. To steal a line from NBA handicapper and legendary FBC commenter AC, Turner fills up a box score like Heidi Klum fills up a bikini. Oh yeah, and he shoots 58% from the field. The one weakness for Turner is that he's turned the ball over 4.6 times a game when healthy, but that stat is a bit misleading as Turner is constantly handling the ball for Ohio State as they don't have any point guards on the roster. So when the ball is in your hands the entire game, you're bound to turn it over a few times.
The rest of Ohio State's starting five isn't too shabby either. In a strange coincidence, starters Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford have scored the exact same amount of points this season (13.3 per game). Diebler is a 3-point specialist who might be the best pure shooter in the conference. He shoots 45% from 3-point range while attempting nearly 7 per game. Last year in Evanston, he torched the 'Cats with eight 3-pointers. In his last 3 games he's struggled a bit shooting, but he is still very dangerous. Lighty is an athletic player who can score both inside and out, as he shoots 50% from the floor and 35% from the 3-point line. His only weakness is free throw shooting as he only shoots 58% from the line. Buford was the freshman of the year in the Big Ten last season, and is a good athlete and another dangerous shooter at 37% from behind the arc.
The final Buckeye starter is center Dallas Lauderdale. He's a bruising 6'8", 255 pounds, and averages 7 points and 5 rebounds per game. His offensive game is pretty much limited to dunking the ball, as he's shooting 71% from the field and is attempting fewer than 4 field goals per game. He really struggles from the free throw line at just 48%, and doesn't seem to have much interest in passing as he has managed only 5 assists in 17 games.
The Ohio State bench is pretty thin, with only 3 guys seeing significant minutes. Guard Jeremie Simmons provides 3-point shooting, at 43% on the season. Guard P.J. Hill has seen his minutes decline dramatically since the return of Turner; he's a guard who provides energy off the bench. And backup center Kyle Madsen just provides some size and rebounding off the bench.
On defense, the Buckeyes play a lot of zone. They force a lot of turnovers and block a lot of shots, led by Lauderdale's 2.5 blocks per game. They can be susceptible to 3-point shooting, as shown in their game against Purdue when Robbie Hummel went off for 8 threes in the first half, forcing them to abandon the zone. In last year's win over Ohio State in Evanston, Northwestern shot the lights out from three at 13 for 25, and it will take that kind of shooting performance for the 'Cats to steal this game. This would be a great time for Alex Marcotullio to re-emerge from wherever he's been hiding the last 4 games, NU will need his 3-point shooting.
Overall, this is not a good matchup for Northwestern. Ohio State is playing great basketball right now and they have the talent to challenge Michigan State for the Big Ten title. Also, the 'Cats have no one to guard Evan Turner. That's not really a knock as it's unclear if there's anyone in the country who could guard Turner right now, the guy is playing out of his mind. I don't know what defense Carmody will play, the matchup zone/switching man-to-man or whatever you want to call it was effective against Purdue, but Purdue has no one with the talents of Turner. You might see NU go with some 1-3-1 to hopefully force turnovers before Ohio State can get into their offense, but that leaves them vulnerable to Diebler going off again. Northwestern has allowed opponents to shoot just 28% from three on the season, an astonishingly low total given how much zone defense they play. No opponent as of yet has shot it well enough from three to force Carmody to abandon the zone, but his luck may run out tonight.
Ohio State is a 10.5 point favorite tonight, so Northwestern is a bigger underdog than they've been all year. As much as I hope the 'Cats can pull off another upset, they're playing the wrong team at the wrong time. Ohio State is red hot right now and they are a perfect 11-0 at home on the season. Furthermore, NU has never won at Value City Arena. I know that doesn't mean much as this Northwestern team is obviously far better than teams of past years, but it's still a very tough place to play. It's really going to take a lot for Northwestern to win this game.
Ohio State 70, Northwestern 54
The formula for victory tonight for NU will have to be much the same as what they did at Michigan State last year: lights out shooting and forcing a ton of turnovers. Even then, it's still going to take Ohio State not shooting well from 3-point range, and it's hard to envision all three of those things happening. I've been way off picking the last two Northwestern games, so hopefully my losing streak continues. At any rate, we'll get to enjoy the great Gus Johnson, who was in top form Sunday for the Minnesota-Indiana game. Here's an excellent highlight reel:
So awesome, if that doesn't get you excited for college basketball, I don't know what will.