Well, I have to admit that I tried to get an Ohio State blogger to commit to this space today, but all I got was static in reply to my emails. I even tried to the get the guy at the end of their bench, but even he wouldn't respond. Apparently he's pretty popular though. (Sarcasm, I know all about Club Trillion.)
Thus, while I promise something awesome for the Illinois preview, you're stuck with me and my personal keys to Northwestern's huge game tonight against the Buckeyes at Value City Arena. It's on the Big Ten Network at 6 p.m.
Ohio State is ranked 21st in the AP Poll, 25th in the Coaches Poll and 16th by Ken Pomeroy. The Buckeyes are very good at basketball. They are undefeated at home this season and haven't lost to any bad opponents.
If you look at common opponents the Wildcats have done fairly well against competition that the Buckeyes have struggled against. Of course a lot of that comes with a huge caveat - the absence of the all-world Evan Turner (above). Quite simply, Mr. Turner is the engine that drives Ohio State's train and his impact will be felt tonight no matter what. Here are some other keys to the game.
- Short of kidnapping Turner there isn't much the Wildcats can do to stop him. There's a reason that even though everyone knows he's coming they can't stop him. He's got guard skills in a forward's body. Maybe trapping him up top in the 1-3-1 might help, but considering how adept a passer Turner is (he ranks 6th in the country in assist rate), I doubt that will slow the Buckeyes down much. Three of Ohio State's 5 losses came when Turner was injured. In the other two Turner got his, but his teammates failed to step up.
- Play defense for 35 seconds every time. Thad Matta must have a miracle potion that conjures up perfect shooters because Ohio State always ranks amongst the top teams in the country in effective field goal percentage. You give the Buckeyes an open look and they're going to knock it down. This is what killed Northwestern last season. (Oh, and that 7'0" guy that the Wildcats had no answer for, but thankfully B.J. Mullens is in the NBA now.) Still, the defense has to work hard tonight.
- Make shots! Those t-shirts that the student section wears at Welsh-Ryan Arena have never been truer. You're going to have to play defense with the Buckeyes. Unfortunately I don't know if the Wildcats are a good enough defensive team to contain the Buckeyes. If you force yourselves into a high-scoring game with Ohio State you're barking up the wrong tree. The Buckeyes aren't the best at defending the three. That's a weakness Northwestern should exploit.
- Stay composed. The last time Northwestern went on the road they beat Michigan. (Something Ohio State couldn't do.) What helped the Wildcats then was their composure, even down 17 points. I'm sure the Ohio State students will be out in full force, Northwestern isn't a team to be taken lightly this season. So the Wildcats will have to keep their composure, even if the shots don't fall early.
This is a winnable game. It's not an easy one, but it would look great on the post-season resume. This is the only time this season Northwestern will play Ohio State, so the Wildcats need to make this one count.