As the end of February approaches, the Big Ten regular season is coming to a close. Ohio State has just one game remaining on the schedule before the conference tournament: a road matchup this Friday against Indiana. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Fox Sports One.
Ohio State defied all expectations this season, sitting comfortably in second place in the Big Ten with a 14-3 record in conference and 23-7 overall. Should Michigan State falter on the road on Sunday, the Buckeyes would secure a share of the Big Ten title with a win over Indiana, much different from the experts that predicted the team to finish in the bottom four of the conference. Ohio State ranks first in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (49.6 percent) and opponent points per game (64.1) while ranking second in total rebounds (611). They have been led all season by Keita Bates-Diop, who has averaged 19 points per game to go along with 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.
Despite crushing Rutgers 79-52 their last time out, the Buckeyes have struggled as of late, losing two of their last three games. A big reason for their troubles recently has been some poor shooting from Bates-Diop, who has made just 12 of 39 attempts over this three-game stretch. In the win over the Scarlet Knights, Bates-Diop registered only six points on 3-11 shooting, including 0-4 from behind the arc. The six points were his lowest scoring output of the season. Ohio State instead got big contributions from Kaleb Wesson and C.J. Jackson. Jackson, who scored most of his points in the second half after coming off the bench in the first, finished with 18 points while Wesson added 14 of his own and five boards.
Indiana sits at 16-13 overall, coming in at the middle of the pack with a 9-8 record in conference play. After losing four straight against a series of tough opponents, the Hoosiers have bounced back and won four of their last five. Indiana suffered a difficult loss in their last time out, falling to Nebraska 66-57 on the road. Turnovers and three-point shooting were a big issue for the Hoosiers in this one, as they gave the ball away 19 times and hit just three of 14 attempts from deep. Indiana could not find any sort of balanced attack, as three players finished with more than 13 points but nobody else having more than four.
The Hoosiers have been led by a pair of upperclassmen this season in Juwan Morgan and Robert Johnson. Morgan, a junior forward out of Missouri, has paced Indiana with 16.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Morgan has really upped his production from a year ago, wherein he averaged just 7.7 points. Johnson, a senior guard out of Virginia, is just behind Morgan with 14 points and 4.6 boards per game. Johnson has been a staple of the Indiana offense, starting all 29 games this season. The Hoosiers are much stronger on the defensive end than on offense. As a team, they rank second in the conference in steals (114) and opponent turnovers (234).
Indiana did not put up too much of a fight the last time these two teams met, with Ohio State taking a 71-56 contest in Columbus. The Buckeyes got solid efforts from all three of their top guys, as Bates-Diop, Wesson and Jae’Sean Tate combined for 43 points. The Hoosiers came away with the loss despite getting a season-high 20 points from Devonte Green.
Assembly Hall has not exactly provided the greatest home court advantage for Indiana, who lost in Bloomington to both Indiana State and IPFW earlier in the year. The Hoosiers would need heroic performances from both Morgan and Johnson if they wish to pull off the upset in this one. With Indiana’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament all but vanished and the Buckeyes looking for a potential share of the Big Ten title, look for Ohio State to play with energy and focus en route to a big win in their season finale.