Date: March 11, 2011
Game Time: 12:00 EST
Ohio State has been an unstoppable juggernaut all season. Laying waste to any team that had the unfortunate task of playing them at The Value City Arena and beating all but Purdue and Wisconsin in away games. Currently positioned to be the number one seed in the tournament that matters, the Buckeyes want to solidify their place as the team to beat in the NCAA Championship and not slip down the top seeds.
Northwestern looks to use its consecutive beat downs of Minnesota to propel it to an elusive tournament birth. Currently projected to be a six seed in that other tournament, the Wildcats only chance of going to their first dance would be to run the table, and win the final. Unfortunately for them they need to find a way to beat the number one team in the country. A feat they were not able to accomplish earlier in the season.
The Last Meeting
Northwestern will look to finish what they started in the only regular season meeting of these two teams in January. Ohio State looked human away from Value City arena in a hotly contested game that came down to the final possession.
The Wildcats battled back on a 21-7 run in the second half to take the lead late in the game. Ohio State eventually prevailed thanks to the stout final second defense of David Lighty. The Wildcats showed heart with their leading scorer John Shurna sidelined for the game, but they were unable to capitalize on the late momentum.
Ohio State has yet to take the floor at Conseco, but the hype surrounding them is undeniable. They are far and away the favorite to win the B1G Tournament and complete the season sweep of the B1G team hardware. This will be their first match up of the postseason tourney, but will certainly be nothing new to Thad Matta's team. They look for their third sweep of the regular season and conference tournament titles during Matta's tenure in Columbus.
The Buckeyes need to do what they have been doing all season. They are such a complete team that any one of their starters can give opposing teams fits. The offense needs to continue to flow through Jared Sullinger. The First Team All Big Ten Player has had a monster season and, despite tailing off toward the end of the conference schedule, has shown that he should not be left to do as he pleases down low.
Jon Diebler has been on the best streak of his career from three point land, hitting 17 of 20 shots in his past two games. That kind of production from starters and Sullinger's consistency down low are what make Ohio State so hard to stop on the offensive end. They also need to look to Aaron Craft and David Lighty to lock down Northwestern's two studs, John Shurna and Michael "Juice" Thompson, and prevent the Wildcats from owning the three point line.
Northwestern is coming off two much needed wins against a moribund Minnesota team. They need to build on the momentum from these two victories if they are going to have any chance against Ohio State. Juice Thompson is riding two great performances, including the new Big Ten Tournament single game scoring record. He will be critical to the Wildcats success on Friday.
Bill Carmody's boys do not match up well against Ohio State, but who does? They will need to have a phenomenal night shooting the ball. This game is going to weigh heavily on who shoots the three ball better, and it has to be Northwestern if they are going to have any shot at stopping the regular season champions. Controlling the glass will also be critical at slowing the vaunted Buckeye attack, and it is one of Northwestern's main weaknesses.
Taking advantage of Ohio State's aggressive defense is what Northwestern's entire offense is based around. Bill Carmody's modified Princeton offense may not be the most interesting basketball to watch, but it is effective when played against an over active defense. Simply put, the stars must align for the Wildcats. Michael Thompson, John Shurna and Drew Crawford all need to step up in this match up and have a great game against the Buckeyes.
Crystal Ball Prediction
The second meeting of these two teams could be a very good match up. The Wildcats had the advantage of hosting the Buckeyes in their last meeting, but also exposed weaknesses in Ohio State's game play without John Shurna. It will be hard for Northwestern to duplicate that environment and effort against a much better Ohio State team, but it is also very possible considering they are playing for their schools first NCAA tournament invite. The game will be close, but a better Buckeye squad will pull away when it matters. Northwestern 62, Ohio State 75