Gameday Preview: OSU at Northwestern

By Chris Lauderback on February 13, 2008 at 1:30 pm
mattamagic.jpgIt's time for some Matta magic
Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State
16-9, 7-4 Big Ten
Roster | Schedule

9:00 PM ET - BTN
Welsh-Ryan Arena
Evanston, IL
Northwestern Wildcats
7-14, 0-10 Big Ten
Roster | Schedule

BUCKEYE BREAKDOWN: The home loss to Indiana has many fans counting the Buckeyes out of a NCAA tourney bid however the rest of the season starts tonight. On paper, this game is mismatch and I would hope Matta's kids are chomping at the bit to get back on the court but this team is so enigmatic that predicting their mindset and level of play is like forecasting when OJ will find the real killer. It's anybody's guess.

Though this team undoubtedly has more personalities than Herschel Walker, I expect to see the team play with a renewed sense of urgency, especially on defense however whether or not the effort will lead to more offense is an entirely different question.

Ohio State struggled from the field (39%) against IU's zone defense as Buckeye players not named Koufos or Diebler combined to make just 8 of 27 shots (29%) with Jamar Butler and Evan Turner combining to shoot 4/16. The Buckeyes shot 48% against Northwestern last time out so expect a few Buckeyes to get back on track from the field.

KEY PLAYERS: Lost in the Indiana defeat was the improved play of Koufos. Sure, he got dunked on by White but I don't know if he would've even gone for the block a month ago and he led the Buckeyes with 18 points and 9 rebounds. I know, he's still hanging around the perimeter like he's at a 6th grade dance for much of the game but it's time we accept he's never going to be a banger inside. At least he's providing consistent scoring (10+ points in 7 straight games) which is more than virtually every other Buckeye can say.

Koufos' scoring is surely needed as Jamar Butler is running on fumes. Butler has played 40 minutes in each of the last 4 games and it appears the wear and tear is finally taking a toll on his legs as he's shooting just 29% (10/34) during the stretch compared to 43% shooting on the season. Of course, the lack of consistent help combined with defenses designed to stop him has forced Butler to take some ill-advised shots along the way. The dream scenario is for OSU to put this one away early so Butler can watch at least 10 minutes from the sidelines. Thad knows Butler can't miss a minute of the last 5 games so he's only got this one and at Michigan on Sunday to massage Butler's minutes.

After Butler and Koufos, it's anybody's guess as to who might step up tonight. Jon Diebler is riding a nice hot streak but counting on him is like counting on one square of Charmin after a bag of White Castles. It's gonna be streaky, but that's not necessarily a good thing. To his credit, Diebler's kept firing producing back to back 14 point games (8/17 FG) contributing to the decrease in minutes for Evan Turner.

As noted Sunday, Bob Baptist blogged that Turner's got a wrist problem which might help explain his 21% shooting (4/23) in the last four games. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and expect he'll have an impact for OSU down the stretch starting tonight in his Chicago homecoming.

Othello Hunter continues to flounder offensively as the Buckeyes rarely look inside. After a 15/12 double double against Michigan, Hunter took just 4 shots against IU finishing with 6 points and 6 boards in 24 minutes. Coincidentally, Hunter notched 6 and 6 against Northwestern in the first tilt so don't expect a breakout performance from O.

Out of respect for the program, I'm not offering any thoughts on David Lighty however I would like to say "shame on you" to anyone who didn't vote for Lighty in the poll of which player was most disappointing (Lighty, Koufos, Diebler, Turner). At least the other three are freshmen and 2 of them (Softa, Deebs) average 1.2 less turnovers per game than D-Light.

NOTES: Fair warning: Ron Zvosec will provide expert analysis for BTN...The freshmen trio of Koufos, Turner and Diebler lit up Northwestern for 48 combined points in the first matchup...Butler needs 6 dimes to pass Kelvin Ransey (516) and become the school's career assist leader...Matta is seeking his 200th career victory.

OPPONENT: To say Northwestern's season has been a struggle is like saying Britney is a little confused lately. The Wildcats are winless in conference (0-10) losing their last three by an average of over 15 points. Their seven wins have come against Benedictine, Savannah State, Arkansas State, W. Michigan, Howard, Chicago State and Texas-Pan American. Seriously, I'm not making that up.

The Buckeyes took care of Northwestern 62-51 back in early January, but it wasn't a cakewalk as 20 turnovers kept it respectable and Welsh-Ryan Arena is the type of atmosphere that can lull an opponent to sleep, an achilles heel for Thad Matta's pups this season.

Northwestern took 32 three point attempts in the first meeting and I expect to see the same tonight. The Wildcats are second amongst Big Ten teams in threes made at 8 per contest and rank fifth with 34.5 percent shooting from downtown, however, most other categories see the Wildcats ranking near the bottom.

Northwestern averages 58.9 points in conference play, to go along with 42 percent shooting and a -15.8 scoring margin. Their defense has been offensive, giving up almost 75 points a contest, 52 percent shooting and 40.5 from deep. The Wildcats have lost all four conference home games by at least 10 points.

KEY PLAYERS: Kevin Coble was playing his second game of the season when these teams meet the first time, coming off the bench to play 33 minutes and score 11 points. The 6'8" sophomore ranks sixth in conference play with 14.9 per contest and has scored double digits in 8 of his 10 games. Side note - if you watched that game on BTN, you no doubt got pissed because the network cut away from live game action to show Coble's mom cheering on her son at least 33 times - in the first half. (I know...she had cancer but still.)

Craig Moore ranks ninth in conference with 13.4 points and second with 3.0 threeballs made per game. The 6'3" junior is averaging 19 points over his last three games, going 13-26 from deep over that span. Moore may be looking to duplicate Justin Johnson's performance against Ohio State's zone defense, as he attempted 14 three pointers against the Bucks in January.

Michael Thompson is another Wildcat in double digits at 11.5 per game and is second to Jamar in assists with 4.5 a contest. Thompson should be on the all-freshmen team and might give Coach Carmody a leader for the next three years. These three will play the majority of minutes, with any combination of five others.

Junior guard Sterling Williams throws in 6.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game and he exceed both averages against OSU the first time around with 6 points and a season high 9 boards. On the wings, 6'6" Jeff Ryan comes in averaging 5.4 points with 6'4" Jeremy Nash continuing to garner more minutes. A creaky spine kept Nash out until mid January but he's logged at least 17 minutes in each of the last five games scoring a career high 12 at Indiana before grabbing a career high 10 rebounds at Michigan State last Saturday.

NOTES: This year will make it 8 straight without a postseason bid for Bruce Carmody's club...The Wildcats are 32-40 against OSU lifetime in Evanston and are currently riding a 7 game home losing streak to the Buckeyes.