Indiana and Ohio State will complete their regular season series on Saturday afternoon in Columbus. The Hoosiers won the first matchup between the two teams, 66-54, on Jan. 11 in Bloomington. The Buckeyes are 13-7 overall and 3-6 in Big Ten play.
Saturday’s game will tip at noon ET on ESPN with Jason Benetti and Robbie Hummel on the call:
Indiana is staring at the prospect of its first three-game losing streak of the season on Saturday in Columbus.
The Hoosiers are just 1-4 on the road this season and enter this weekend’s contest at Value City Arena opposite an Ohio State program desperate for a win. The Buckeyes are just 2-6 over their last eight games with the two wins coming against Nebraska in Columbus and Northwestern at Welsh Ryan Arena.
Indiana, meanwhile, couldn’t carry its momentum from the Michigan State win over to its last two games. The Hoosiers struggled defensively in a home loss to Maryland and then fell apart in the second half in State College in a loss to Penn State.
Both teams are still firmly on the right side of the NCAA tournament cut line, but the margin for error continues to shrink with each loss.
THE FIRST MATCHUP
Indiana won the first matchup in Bloomington on the strength of its defense and ability to get to the free throw line.
Indiana outscored Ohio State by nine from the free throw line at Assembly Hall and it could have been much more had the Hoosiers knocked down a respectable percentage from the stripe. Indiana shot just 20-for-36 on free throws (55.6 percent) in the victory. The Hoosiers came out hot, particularly from the perimeter, in the win in Bloomington. Indiana hit six of its 12 attempts from beyond the 3-point line and rather than forcing it from the perimeter, a majority of those looks were in rhythm within the flow of the halfcourt offense.
The Hoosiers turned in arguably their best defensive performance of the season against a quality opponent in the first meeting on Branch McCracken Court. Ohio State managed just 54 points on 68 possessions (.79 PPP) in the first matchup and IU’s defense inside the 3-point line was especially impressive. The Buckeyes shot just 8-for-26 on 2s and Kaleb Wesson, the team’s leading scorer, was just 1-for-7 on 2s. The scouting report for defending Ohio State begins with Wesson and if Indiana is going to win in Columbus, it must once again make things difficult for one of the league’s best frontcourt players.
Ohio State also struggled with turnovers in the first game as the Buckeyes turned it over 16 times for a turnover percentage of 24. Indiana didn’t do a great job of capitalizing on those mishaps by only scoring 14 points off of turnovers, but Ohio State’s turnover woes have been a theme all season.
DJ Carton, who unfortunately won’t play on Saturday as he takes a leave of absence from basketball, had seven turnovers in Ohio State’s loss in Bloomington. The Buckeyes are turning it over on 19.3 percent of their possessions in league play, which is the worst in the conference.
The Buckeyes are the best 3-point shooting team in the conference and one of the worst at finishing inside the arc. Ohio State enters Saturday’s game shooting a league leading 36.9 percent from distance in conference play, but just 46.4 percent on 2s. That poor shooting inside the arc, coupled with its turnover woes, have left Ohio State reliant on making 3s to win. In Big Ten play, Ohio State ranks 2nd in the conference in point distribution from 3-pointers.
Both teams excel at getting to the foul line as Indiana ranks first in free throw rate (FTA/FGA) and Ohio State is third. This could be a critical factor for the Hoosiers, who have struggled to get to the line in recent Big Ten games, an issue Archie Miller addressed in his Friday press conference.
“We’re playing very soft around the basket,” Miller explained. “And you’re not going to get calls when you’re playing away from the defense. The defense is physical in this league, and you have to be able to play through the contact, and right now we’re not responding to that contact here in the last couple games, and the free throw is what it is. The aggressive team is going to get to the line.”
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
The KenPom numbers like Ohio State by eight at home and the Sagarin numbers also like the Buckeyes, but only by four points.
At its best, Ohio State is capable of running teams off the floor in Value City Arena, like it did to Villanova in early November. But the Buckeyes also have home losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota and are struggling to return to the form shown early in the season.
As is the case with Indiana in almost every game away from Bloomington, it must avoid long scoring droughts and turnovers to win. The Hoosiers have only been able to do that once and that performance came in Lincoln against the league’s worst team. With Ohio State’s limited guard depth and Indiana’s uneven play from its backcourt, this game is likely to come down to which backcourt plays better and if the Hoosiers can prevent a monster performance from Wesson in the post.
Filed to: Ohio State Buckeyes