Preview: Northwestern vs. #2 Ohio State

By Corey Carpenter on December 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm
John Shurna, the B1G leading scorer.Shurna leads the conference in scoring.
Ohio State Buckeyes#2 Ohio State 12-1, 0-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 5:30 PM ET - BTN —— The Schott Columbus, OH Northwestern WildcatsNorthwestern 10-2, 0-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule

Ohio State enters thier 100th season of B1G play tonight, taking on Northwestern in the first of three games on the BTN.

The Buckeyes are 63-14 overall against NU in Columbus, winning the last 27 games here, with the last Wildcat win coming in 1977.

But Northwestern boasts the league's top two scorers coming into B1G play and run a Princeton style offense that can lull teams to sleep on defense.  Their only two losses have come against ranked teams, in Baylor and Creighton, while taking down LSU, Tulsa, Seton Hall and Georgia Tech.

Team defense has been a recent concern for Thad, so Northwestern will prove to be the perfect test for the Buckeyes before they make a trip to Bloomington on NYE. If you remember, the Wildcats took OSU to overtime in the quarterfinals of the B1G tourney this past March.

4 A. Craft SO 6-2/190 8.2 3.0 5.5 G 3 D. Sobolewski FR 6-1/185 7.8 3.1 4.0
32 L. Smith, Jr. SO 6-4/205 4.8 5.0 2.2 G 11 R. Hearn JR 6-4/210 5.8 3.2 1.1
44 W. Buford SR 6-6/220 15.8 3.9 3.5 F 1 D. Crawford JR 6-5/210 18.1 5.0 2.5
1 D. Thomas SO 6-7/225 15.8 4.1 1.0 F 24 J. Shurna JR 6-9/215 19.4 6.0 2.9
0 J. Sullinger SO 6-9/265 16.2 9.2 1.3 C 12 L. Mirkovic SR 6-11/245 8.3 3.8 2.3


Northwestern, still looking for their first ever NCAA tournament appearence, comes into the game scoring 73.8 PPG, while giving up 65.3 PPG on defense. Thier scoring defense is second to last amongst B1G teams, as is thier 43.6% defensive FG. The Wildcats shot 45.9% from the floor in OOC play, including 37 percent from the arc, which is fourth best in the league. NU doesn't get to the line that often, at just over 12 a game, but they make them at a 73% clip, which is fifth best in B1G.

Besides having the top two scorers, the Wildcats do a great job of taking care of the ball, leading the league in A/TO ratio, with 18.2 and 9.8 respectively. They aren't the tallest group and thier 6'11" center plays away from the hoop, so it's no surprise they snag just 31.8 boards per game, which is 298th in the nation. They are the only B1G team with a negative rebounding margin in OOC play.

Bill Carmody, in his 12th season at NU, has a veteran group and will play about 8 guys. Only one freshman and one sophomore are amongst those 8, but that freshman, Dave Sobolewski has been a nice addition. He leads the nation in A/TO ratio at 4.80, turning over the rock just 10 times in his first 12 college games. He has had 6 games without a TO and has just four in his last seven games. Obviously his matchup with Aaron Craft will be a key to the game.

Expect Shurna, Crawford and Sobolewski to play most of the game tonight, as all three average at least 33 minutes per contest. Leading the way off the bench will be Jershon Cobb, a 6'5" SO., who missed some time earlier on, but has been playing his way back into the rotation. Cobb has played about 20 MPG over the last four, dumping in 9.0 PPG in that span, while dishing out nearly two assists.

Also seeing time tonight should be Alex Marcotullio and Davide Curletti. Marcotullio is a 6'3" JR., plays almost 17 minutes a game, scoring four points and dishing out 2.6 assists. Curletti, a 6'9" SR. also plays about 17 minutes and scores around four points, but he's also good for about three boards.

Buckeye Breakdown:

Ohio State comes into the game scoring 78.6 PPG, which is good for second amongst B1G teams and 31st nationally. Thier shooting percentage has dipped a bit over the last couple of games and now stands at 49.3%, which sits behind Indiana for tops in the conference. They are near the bottom of the league with 32.5% from deep and thier 68.5% from the charity stripe puts them at eighth.

As mentioned, team defense is a concern for Thad right now, even though the Bucks are holding teams to just 55.2 PPG. If you need one stat to realize how tough B1G conference play will be this year, it's this: OSU is holding teams to 40.2% shooting from the floor, but that is only good for eighth in the league. Wisconsin leads the conference at 33.5 percent.

Craft welcomes a freshman PG to B1G play tonight.Craft leads the B1G in steals per game.

Ohio State is the only team that dishes out more assists than NU, at 18.3 per game, good for seventh nationally. They have a +8.3 TO margin, which leads the B1G, causing 19.2 per game, while turning it over just 10.8 times themselves.

Of course the main reason for these great A/TO numbers is Aaron Craft. With 911 votes in last week's poll, 64% of you picked Craft as your current favorite Buckeye, even though Thad has three guys scoring nearly 16 a game. Craft's relentless play on defense has frustrated every PG he has faced this year and it will be interesting to watch him go against NU's freshman PG tonight. He is second in the league with 5.5 APG, leads the league in steals at 2.8 and is fourth in A/TO ratio at 2.8. Matta mentioned last week that if everyone would give the effort Craft does on defense all the time, no one would score on them.

Beyond the Craft/Sobolewski matchup tonight, another key for OSU will be getting off to a better start than they have over the last six games or so. Since the Duke game and Sullinger injury, the Buckeyes have started slow in each game and allowing NU to stick around tonight deep into the game, will increase thier confidence in pulling off the upset. Besides taking OSU into overtime during the B1G tourney, the Wildcats lost by just one at thier place in the only regular season matchup last year.

Getting off to a fast start can be fueled by shutting down at least one of NU's leading scorers. We have all seen what Shurna can do over the years and Crawford could be one of the most improved players this year, going for 34 in thier loss to Crieghton last week. I would imagine Smith will guard Crawford and Thomas will guard Shurna, so it will be a big test for both of Thad's youngsters as they will see a long night of screens and back door cuts.

One coaching aspect worth watching tonight is Thad's use of Jordan Sibert, Sam Thompson and LaQuitin Ross. As Chris and I have mentioned over the last few games, Sibert's play has been disappointing lately, shooting just 5/21 over his last six and it might be time for the two freshmen to get thier chance at moving up in the rotation. Thompson has shown flashes and has made 7/13 over the last six, even though he didn't make a bucket in three of those games. Ross, who was the most impressive freshman over the summer, made his debut against Miami and scored a quick five points in four minutes.

When NU has a veteran squad, they usually give Ohio State a decent game. The early midweek start time, coupled with no students on campus and Northwestern's style of offense makes me nervous for the atmoshpere tonight. There is no doubt OSU has more athleticism and should win this game tonight, even though it will be a low scoring affair.


  • Ohio State is 40-9 all-time when ranked as the #2 team in the AP.
  • William Buford is now eigth on the scoring list, but needs 127 to pass Jay Burson for seventh.
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