Northwestern looks for its fourth straight win Sunday when it takes on Ohio State in Columbus. We talk with Luke Zimmermann of Ohio State’s SB Nation site, Land-Grant Holy Land, to preview the game.
Inside NU: An 0-4 start to conference play couldn't have been much fun, but the Buckeyes have now won two straight (Michigan State and at Nebraska). What's changed?
Luke Zimmermann: Desperation may be a stinky cologne but it can be a powerful motivator. With second best player Keita Bates-Diop lost for the season in the midst of the losing streak, Ohio State dug deep and played some of its best basketball of the season. In fairness, it's worth noting, beyond a game in which they were outclassed by arguably the league's best team, Ohio State hasn't been bad-bad; primarily the Bucks just haven't been able to identify a go-to scorer or maintain much in the area of consistency.
INU: With Keita Bates-Diop done for the year, who has been forced to step up, and how have those players performed?
LZ: Perennial (and mostly unfairly so) Buckeye faithful scapegoat Marc Loving has been the Buckeyes' best player for around a month and change, even before KBD was officially done, but he remains far too streaky to be much beyond a second or third option. OSU's only about six deep overall. Little heralded third string big man Dave Bell randomly stepped up in the win over Nebraska. If he can bring something, anything — even just minutes as a seventh player in the rotation — that'll continue to be huge.
INU: There aren't a whole lot of fresh faces on this team, but the Buckeyes have two freshmen in Micah Potter and Andre Wesson. What do those guys bring to the table?
LZ: Potter gets big minutes and you can see the potential there in. Wesson really didn't start getting much burn in league action until Ohio State's tailspin. He's not much in the way of an impact player right now, but JUCO transfer (and fellow newcomer) point guard C.J. Jackson's had some flashes here and there.
INU: Who is the X factor for Ohio State?
LZ: I'll stick with Loving. Effort and attitude have always been sticking points with him but to me at least he's got more of the Tim Duncan stoic thing going on which leads to a lot of that unfair criticism. I think it is fair to say he's mentally and/or literally checked out of some plays in the past. He's done a better job of limiting those kind of mistakes this season, though. If he's on and OSU gets their usual from Jae'Sean Tate and Trevor Thompson, they can hang with anyone in the Big Ten.
INU: Prediction time: Who leaves with a win Sunday afternoon?
LZ: KenPom says NU by 1 and while I think Northwestern's having itself a season, I'll stick with momentum and go against our advanced stats overlord; Buckeyes by 2.
INU: We have to ask ... Is this the year for Northwestern?
LZ: Man, I hope so. Ending the bowl streak was great as a neutral and this would be even bigger. Selfishly, hopefully Sunday isn't the day, though.