Riding an emotionally exhausting four-game losing streak, the Northwestern Wildcats (10-8, 1-4) enter the national spotlight Thursday night when they host Ohio State (12-5, 3-3) on ESPN. Rece Davis and Shane Battier, whom Chris Collins coached briefly at Duke, are on the call.
Collins better hope the presence of Battier, who won the NABC Defensive Player of the Year award in three consecutive seasons at Duke, inspires his team to play with extra intensity on defense. Ohio State ranks 14th in the nation in scoring offense and 3rd in the country in field goal percentage. True freshman guard D'Angelo Russell is a big reason why.
Russell averages a team-high 18.6 points per game and is a projected lottery pick in this year's NBA draft. The smooth 6-foot-5 lefty also averages 4.8 assists per game and leads the Buckeyes in rebounding at 5.1 boards per contest. Russell is a huge part of Ohio State's success. When he plays well the Buckeyes usually win. When he's off, they usually don't. Russell has shot 53 percent from the field in wins this season and 30 percent in losses. Obviously, the Wildcats don't have an elite defender like Battier to put on Russell, but they need to find a way to limit the lefty.
By no means are the Buckeyes a one man show--Thad Matta's long, athletic and experienced rotation poses all kinds of match-up issues for Northwestern. But Ohio State has been prone to slow starts and inconsistent effort this season, especially on defense. If the Wildcats contain Russell and compete as fiercely as they have in the last three games, they should make things interesting.
Here's how to follow the action:
Time: 6 p.m. CT
Radio: 720 AM WGN in Chicagoland and wgnradio.com
Line: Ohio State opened as a 7.5-point favorite. The line has since moved down to 7.
KenPom: Ohio State has a 75 percent change of winning, with a projected score of 68-62.
Make sure to return to this page shortly before tip-off to discuss the action with us as it unfolds on our gamethread.