Once a middling Big Ten team at 8-3 overall, Ohio State has suddenly turned into one of the best teams in the country with a real shot at getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes have won their last five games and will hope to add a sixth against Indiana, who may be the most inconsistent team in the Big Ten.
The Hoosiers have some nice wins, namely a sweep of Iowa, but they’ve also lost three of their last four home games and have a bad home loss against Northwestern from earlier in the season (they needed double OT to beat NW on Wednesday). Extending the point, they don’t have a winning streak of more than two games all season.
Playing at home, the Bucks have the edge in most numbers, currently with the second-most efficient offense in the conference and second-best defensive numbers behind the arc.
That offense is the biggest problem in this matchup for Indiana, as it’s terrible at stopping the three and ranks 10th in the conference in efficiency. Indiana won its biggest games by playing solid defense against Iowa and it needs to do the same in this matchup.
The problem is that the Buckeyes have a number of ways they can attack. EJ Liddell is a force down low, while Duane Washington Jr. runs the point and both of them are averaging close to 15 points per game.
Surrounding them is a variety of talent from former starting point guard CJ Walker, sharpshooter Justin Ahrens, do-it-all forwards Justice Sueing and Kyle Young and bulky freshman Zed Key.
They have a little bit of everything and that doesn’t include Harvard transfer Seth Towns, who hasn’t really gotten his feet under him following injuries the last couple years.
To win this game, Indiana’s defense needs to step up and repeat what it did in the win against Iowa. Trayce Jackson-Davis has to hold his ground and can’t get into foul trouble against Liddell, while Race Thompson has to win the rebound battle.
IU’s trio of guards between Rob Phinisee, Aljami Durham and Armaan Franklin all have to limit easy perimeter looks, especially from Ahrens and Washington.
Even if Indiana does all that, it still has to find a way to score consistently against a team that grabs defensive boards better than anyone else in the conference. That starts with Jackson-Davis, who will work Liddell as much as possible.
He has a couple extra inches and there’s a chance that’s enough to get him an edge, as he leads IU with 19.9 points and 9.2 boards per game. Everything else depends on the guards, all of whom could be at a size disadvantage. That said, whoever Sueing guards, could have a quickness edge and that could prove fruitful to opening up lanes.
Looking at the underlying numbers, it’s hard to see Indiana winning this game. Ohio State is more efficient in almost every facet and has a deeper team.
But while the Hoosiers may not win, they could have the offense to keep this competitive, similar to losses against teams like Florida State, Illinois and Wisconsin. They didn’t win those games, but they had enough to stay competitive and that could get them a tight game and cover against the Buckeyes.
Predicted Score – Ohio State 70 Indiana 67