The No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-3, 8-3 Big Ten) have lost two of their last four and three of their last eight after starting the season 7-0. Their most recent game on Wednesday resulted in a huge upset loss to the 5-13 Wisconsin Badgers (2-13 Big Ten). The Buckeyes are now in for a drop in the rankings even if they win their only other contest this week, a 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday date with the No. 21 Northwestern Wildcats (Big Ten Network).
The Wildcats (11-4, 9-4 Big Ten) are coming off an upset loss of their own, though it wasn’t as bad. They lost to a tough Rutgers Scarlet Knights team on Thursday. It was by 16 points, while the Buckeyes lost by just five, but Rutgers is a dangerous team that is much better than Wisconsin. Don’t be fooled by Rutgers’ 3-3 record in the Big Ten because it is just getting warmed up.
Northwestern bounced back from a 2-2 start in the conference to win seven of eight before the Rutgers loss, including a 69-57 victory over Ohio State on Feb. 1.
This should be an interesting game given the fact that Ohio State had a better resume entering the week, yet Northwestern has confidence from winning the first matchup. In addition, both teams will be hungry to make up for their slip-ups.
The Buckeyes are led in scoring by Jacy Sheldon (16.3 points per game) and in rebounding by Dorka Juhasz (15.3 points and 11.3 boards per contest). Sheldon scored a career-high 29 points on Feb. 4 in a win over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Madison Green (13.4), Aaliyah Patty (12) and Braxtin Miller (11) round out Ohio State’s double-figure scorers.
Veronica Burton had a red hot start to the season and remains the surprise leading scorer of the Wildcats with 17.1 points per game. Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Lindsey Pulliam is second with 16. Burton stuffs the stat sheet with 4.8 assists and 4.1 steals per game to go along with her scoring. She is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Sydney Wood joins Burton and Pulliam as a double-figure scorers with 13.1 points per contest. Jordan Hamilton and Courtney Shaw average 9.6 and 7.6 points per game for Northwestern, respectively, but Shaw has dealt with a foot injury recently and did not play against Rutgers.
No. 21 Northwestern Wildcats (11-4, 9-4 Big Ten) vs. No. 12 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-3, 8-3 Big Ten)
When: Sunday, Feb. 14 at 12:30 p.m. ET
Where: Value City Arena in Columbus, OH
How to watch/listen: Big Ten Network/Radio: WNUR SPORTS or Ohio State Radio
Key to the matchup: Turnovers. Oddly, Northwestern has a better scoring defense (61.9 to 67.6), but Ohio State is comfortably better when it comes to both field goal percentage defense (38.6 to 43) and 3-point percentage defense (24.3 to 33.3). Northwestern’s defensive success comes from not allowing opponents to take a lot of field goals, which could have to do with turnovers and/or pace. The stats indicate that the Wildcats force the 13th (as of Friday) most turnovers in the nation at 21.1 and also play in much lower-scoring games than the Buckeyes as they average 10.3 less points per contest. Unfortunately for Northwestern, Ohio State takes care of the ball. It is 12th in the nation in least turnovers committed per game with 11.9, while Northwestern is 13th (12). The Wildcats are going to need to win this battle of strength on strength by forcing a lot of turnovers because it appears that Ohio State has some strong advantages elsewhere.
Reason to watch: These are two very good teams and, while Ohio State is not eligible for the postseason this year, Northwestern could be dangerous come tournament time.