For Ohio State, playing on the road in conference hasn't proved to be too much of a challenge this season. The Buckeyes will look to improve to an impressive 4-0 in Big Ten road games Wednesday night against a Wildcat team looking to rebound from a tough loss to Indiana on Sunday.
With Welsh-Ryan Arena being renovated, Ohio State's trip to Northwestern will be to Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. where the Wildcats are playing all of their home games this season.
|Northwestern (11-8, 2-4)||Allstate Arena||9 p.m.||BTN|
The road trip to the Land of Lincoln is the second of three straight road games for the No. 22 Buckeyes, a team that finds itself ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2015.
For Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann, the new ranking doesn't mean much, especially with the Buckeyes' current stretch of games, which will includes a trip to Madison Square Garden on Saturday to face Minnesota.
"In some ways, it's almost like playing a tournament (playing) Wednesday, Saturday, Monday games here," Holtmann said. "They are coming at us. Real quality teams that we will need to be ready to play and teams that are going to present a lot of challenges."
Before the Buckeyes can look ahead to the Golden Gophers, however, Ohio State has to take on a Northwestern team that entered the preseason ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll.
The Wildcats return a number of players from a squad that made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, including veteran point guard Bryant McIntosh, who is one of the most productive and efficient players in the Big Ten.
The senior averages 13.1 points per game, but also dishes out 5.8 assists per contest, good for second in the Big Ten. His court vision is one of many things that stands out about his game, according to Holtmann.
"McIntosh is a great passer. Great vision and really good size for the position," Holtmann said Tuesday of the 6-foot-3 point guard. "He doesn't turn it over, and it's hard to speed him up. He has a great pace to his game. The places (head coach) Chris (Collins) puts him and utilize him make things very difficult. He can make shots and he is great making plays in the mid-range too."
McIntosh is shooting the ball at a 39.5 percent clip from the floor this season and just better than 36 percent from long range. He is also the Big Ten's most consistent free throw shooter, hitting on an impressive 94.7 percent from the stripe on the year.
McIntosh is joined in the Northwestern backcourt by the Wildcats' leading scorer, Scottie Lindsey. A volume scorer, Lindsey pours in 14 points per game and has good size for his position, standing 6-foot-5.
In the post, Northwestern is anchored by Dererk Pardon, one of the best big men in the conference. Pardon is second in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds per game (3.2) and tied with Keita Bates-Diop for blocks per game with 1.8. The Wildcat big man averages 7.1 boards and also contributes 11.8 points per game, shooting an efficient 60.6 percent from the floor.
Rounding out the Northwestern starting five are Vic Law and Aaron Falzon, a pair of long, versatile forwards that can stretch the floor. Each player is shooting the ball better than 40 percent from behind the three-point arc this season, while Law brings a more dynamic scoring threat to the Wildcat offense.
Throughout the early parts of the season, Holtmann had shown a willingness to tinker with his starting lineup. During the course of the season, only Bates-Diop and Jae'Sean Tate have started each game for the Buckeyes.
As league play ramps up, however, Holtmann's starting five has remained unchanged through six conference games. With Ohio State having won 10 of its last 11 games, Holtmann said he doesn't expect many more changes to his rotation, but added he wouldn't rule out minor tweaks depending on matchups.
"I like what our starting group is giving us right now, but that's not to say it won't change," Holtmann said. "It could potentially change as the year goes on. I don't like to make a ton of changes at this point but if we feel it needs to happen, I will do that."
One particular lineup that has sparked Ohio State, particularly on offense, is when Holtmann plays starting point guard C.J. Jackson alongside reserve guard Andrew Dakich. Adding Dakich's willingness to pass to Jackson's offensive skill set has helped the Buckeyes create open shots offensively, and is a duo that Holtmann will likely use moving forward.
"Andrew's ability to move the ball – and people know by now that he can make open shots – he is such a willing ball mover and for him, its not necessarily about getting assists, its just about moving it," Holtmann said. "He has just such a willingness to get the ball moving and it has really helped C.J., Keita, J.T. and all of our guys."
With Bates-Diop, Jackson and Tate getting most of the attention for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have quietly gotten consistent production from Kam Williams since Big Ten play started. After failing to record a point, rebound or assist in a loss to North Carolina, Williams has scored in double figures in all but one of Ohio State's last five games.
In a win over Maryland, Williams scored just eight points but also collected four boards and a season-high five assists in a 22-point victory.
How It Plays Out
Ohio State enters the matchup with Northwestern as the No. 22 team in the AP Poll and the No. 14 team in Ken Pomeroy's advanced statistical rating system as of Tuesday night. For comparison, the Buckeyes started the season 78th in KenPom's rankings.
On the flip side, the Wildcats come in where Ohio State started the season, at No. 78 in the country, following a 20-point loss on the road to Indiana.
For Ohio State, a fast start and limiting turnovers will be key and if the Buckeyes protect the basketball and force a few turnovers on the defensive end, this is a game they should win easily. The Wildcats have experience and talent, but have yet to show they belong with the top tier of the Big Ten this season.
Prediction: Ohio State 80, Northwestern 68