Ohio State is running out of time to correct course on the road this year.
The Buckeyes aren’t making the NCAA Tournament without a few wins away from home. On a 13-game road losing streak that dates back to Jan. 1 of last year, Ohio State plays a second-straight road game for the first time this season on Saturday against Northwestern.
The Wildcats draw a few parallels to Nebraska, who defeated the Buckeyes 83-69 on Tuesday in Lincoln. Northwestern has been similarly strong at home, going 10-1 at Welsh-Ryan Arena this season as part of a 14-5 record overall, though the one home loss was a major upset against Chicago State.
Northwestern is also riding momentum from a big home win against No. 10 Illinois –similar to Nebraska's home win over No. 2 Purdue prior to playing Ohio State – one of two top 10 teams to fall on the Wildcats’ floor after Purdue also lost there earlier this season.
With the Buckeyes now on the outside looking in when it comes to NCAA Tournament projections, however, these are the types of wins that they need to start adding to their resume. Doing so will require a significant rebound from a team that, in Chris Holtmann’s words, looked “soft” against the Cornhuskers.
“That’s more of a mentality thing that we have to change as individuals,” forward Jamison Battle said on Friday. “Coaches can talk to us about certain things, but as a group, as a collective, we have to come together and bring forth change. And we’re hungry. That’s what I really love about this group, regardless of outcome, regardless of wins/losses, we’re still hungry and we still want to win.”
Need to Know
Another methodical bunch
Several Big Ten teams – Wisconsin is a prime example – enjoy slowing the pace of play and honing in on execution to win basketball games. Northwestern is another team of that variety.
The Wildcats are 340th nationally in KenPom’s opponent-adjusted tempo metric, averaging 64.2 possessions per 40 minutes. While Northwestern is 69th with 112 points per 100 possessions, it is just 198th with 73.9 points per game.
Part of the strategy for a team that wants to slow the pace is avoiding turnovers and transition opportunities for opponents. Northwestern has that down in spades, with the fourth-fewest turnovers per game in all of D-1 college basketball at 8.9.
Rough in the rebound department
Teams might not be generating extra possessions against the Wildcats via takeaways, but they are generating them on the glass. Northwestern is next-to-last in the Big Ten with an average rebound margin of -3.3 per game and ranks 357th nationally in rebounds per contest (30.3).
Three Important Buckeyes
The top Buckeye who can take advantage of Northwestern’s deficiencies on the glass is Okpara, who paces Ohio State with 7.2 rebounds per game. His interior defense, as always, will be important as well on Saturday.
Thornton is likely to match up with superstar Northwestern point guard Boo Buie, but as always, the man who sets the flow of Ohio State’s offense will be critical if the team is to finally right some of its past wrongs on the road. Thornton felt like the only starter with a pulse at times against Nebraska, posting a team-high 16 points with six assists and no turnovers.
Battle got back to some of his hot-shooting ways against the Huskers but was limited in his opportunities, going 3-of-4 from three with 11 total points. Both his shooting and his rebounding – he’s second behind Okpara with 5.5 rebounds per contest for the Buckeyes – will be needed against Northwestern.
“It’s a lot more (teams) running me off the line, not giving me as many open shots,” Battle said. “In the end, I’m just playing my game and trying to help the team win. With that, I’m going to try to take opportunities when I have an open shot and if not, what can I do off the bounce? What can I do to create for others? What can I do to help this team win?”
Three Notable Wildcats
|18.5 PPG, 5.3 APG
|11. PPG, 1.5 SPG
|11.3 PPG, 2.4 APG
|14.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG
|5.3 PPG, 1.5 BPG
Buie is sixth in the Big Ten for scoring (18.5 points per game) and third in assists (5.3 per game), pacing the Wildcats in both categories. He had a chance to go pro after last season, entering his name in for the 2023 NBA Draft, but returned to Evanston for one final year.
The second-biggest star on Northwestern’s squad after Buie, Barnhizer serves several functions for the Wildcats from his wing position. He’s their second-leading scorer (14.9 points per game), leading rebounder (6.6 rebounds per game) and second-leading dimer (2.7 assists per game). He’s scored at least 20 points in three of Northwestern’s last five games.
Berry is Northwestern’s top sharpshooter, knocking down 42.3% of his three-point attempts. He’s also third on the team in scoring at 11.5 points per game.
How It Plays Out
Line: Northwestern -1.5, O/U 138.5
Given the past year-plus of disappointment on the road, these picks are going against the Buckeyes whenever they face a quality opponent away from Value City Arena until they bear out some different results. I think Boo Buie and Northwestern see better execution down the stretch and find the win.
Prediction: Northwestern 71, Ohio State 65