One of the biggest cliches in sports is the theory of “it’s not whom you play, it’s when you play them.” Two teams that embody that philosophy more than most in college basketball will meet up on Saturday afternoon in Assembly Hall. The Ohio State Buckeyes (11-4, 1-3 B1G), who were a win in Minneapolis away from the #1 ranking in the country, come to Bloomington trying to end a three-game losing streak.
Led by third-year coach Chris Holtmann, who began his tenure the same season as IU’s Archie Miller, Ohio State has taken all four matchups against Indiana since 2018. This year, OSU started off the season with a bang, beating a number of quality opponents. Not only did the Buckeyes win, they beat Cincinnati (currently #53 in Kenpom), Villanova (#21), Kent State (#94), North Carolina (#70), Penn State (#27), and Kentucky (#18) by an average of 19.2 points per game.
Since Dec. 29th, the Buckeyes have fallen three times in 10 days, losing to West Virginia on a neutral site, home to Wisconsin, and at Maryland. OSU has failed to score 60 points in any of those three games. Still, Kenpom rates Ohio State as the #4 team in the country, with the 15th-best offense and 6th-best defense in the nation. They do play at a slow tempo, as does Indiana, so expect Saturday’s contest to be played at a deliberate pace.
With the game in Bloomington, IU’s ability to elevate its game when ranked opponents come to town stands out. There will likely be a “You rank ’em, we spank ’em” sign or two around Assembly Hall on Saturday, and for good reason. The Hoosiers are 23-11 since the start of the 2011-12 season against top-25 opposition, and they have won three consecutive home contests against ranked teams (Wisconsin 2/29, MSU 3/2, FSU 12/3). Will IU make it four on Saturday?
How to Watch
|Who||Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Indiana Hoosiers|
|When||Saturday, January 11, 2020 12 p.m. ET|
|Where||Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall — Bloomington, Indiana|
|Tickets||Find the Lowest Ticket Prices on SeatGeek|
|Listen||IU Radio Network|
Getting to Know the Buckeyes
The Buckeyes are led by freshman point guard DJ Carton, who many Indiana fans may recognize from his recruitment. Carton was a bit underrated out of high school because he did not play on the major Nike, UA, or adidas AAU circuits, but instead played on an independent AAU circuit known as NY2LA. Carton ultimately selected Ohio State over Indiana.
Carton is one of the most athletic point guards out of the 2019 recruiting class. He is a fearless downhill guard that looks to attack at any opportunity possible. He plays very similarly as Indiana’s Robert Phinisee, so it will be a good match up to keep an eye out for. Both are defensive minded point guards that aggressively attack in the transition. The 6-foot-2 guard is currently averaging 10.0 points per game and 2.7 assists.
Guards Duane Washington Jr. and Luther Muhammad round out Ohio State’s starting backcourt. The pair combined for 54 minutes during their Tuesday night loss to No. 12 Maryland in College Park. Washington Jr. suffered an injury earlier this season that took him out for a couple of games in December. He’s been a source of offense in the three recent Ohio State losses, scoring a combined 37 points across three games, but his efficiency can be sometimes unpredictable. The sophomore has been at times called the best guard for this Ohio State team, and in flashes you can see his potential to be an outright scorer. He leads the team with a 42.3% accuracy from behind the arc.
Muhammad is a 6-foot-4 guard from the Jersey area who committed to Ohio State back in the fall of 2017 and he was widely considered as the best incoming freshman for the Buckeyes. He has the mechanics and basketball decision making to get considerable minutes this season (which he has), but he has not quite exploded as many thought he could. He’s been good, but still not yet great. On the road in particular, he’s averaging only 25% from behind arc, despite shooting over 35% on the season. His length allows him to be more flexible on defense and clog passing lanes as needed.
In the frontcourt, Ohio State is led by future-professional Kaleb Wesson, who is backed by his older brother Andre Wesson. Kaleb has dropped even more weight from this offseason and as a result he has become a more mobile force in the paint. The result is that he is able to move more laterally on defense and run the transition more effectively on offense.
His sheer size makes him one of the toughest matchups in the Big Ten. If Indiana does not appropriately deny the entry pass, they’ll be faced with a back to the basket situation, where his strength can easily move Indiana’s largest bodies.
During Indiana’s opening Big Ten tournament game against the Buckeyes, the Hoosiers had to adjust and respect when Kaleb was on the floor. Between quicker help defense and double-teams, the Hoosiers were unable to dictate through their defense, but instead had to be the reactor in this relationship. Kaleb is currently leading his team in points per game (14.7), rebounds per game (9.3), and blocks on the season (19).
Both Wesson brothers are also difficult to guard because they stretch the floor with their three point shooting. In fact, they are the second and third best three point shooters on this Ohio State roster after Washington Jr.
Andre Wesson is more of a wing player at 6-foot-6. The senior forward is coming off his best season at Ohio State averaging over 8 points and 4 rebounds per contest. He has been one of the more utilized players for Chris Holtmann this season. Andre’s length allows him to extend and shoot over smaller players if he can catch the ball around the paint or in the block.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Ohio State Buckeyes||Indiana Hoosiers|
|G: #1 Luther Muhammad||G: #1 Al Durham|
|G: #3 D.J. Carton||G: #11 Devonte Green|
|G: #4 Duane Washington Jr.||F: #3 Justin Smith|
|F: #24 Andre Wesson||F: #4 Trayce Jackson-Davis|
|F: #34 Kaleb Wesson||C: #50 Joey Brunk|
What to Watch For
1. Green light for Devonte Green?
Senior Devonte Green had the game of his career last year against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten tournament. He was solely responsible for keeping the margin respectable as the rest of the offense sputtered up north in the United Center. Green shot an incredible 8 of 10 from behind the arc, which was good for then career high of 26 points, and he was by far the best player for Indiana that afternoon.
Green played somewhat limited minutes. There is speculation that he may have been a little bit banged up, but his 20 minutes against Northwestern was the second lowest usage he has seen all season. If Indiana is looking for the upset victory, Green has to perform much better than his one-point game against Northwestern with minutes on the floor.
2. What does Archie Miller’s shortened rotation look like?
The 11-man rotation was an interesting concept. The Hoosiers have the depth and all 11 scholarship players serve a unique purpose on the roster — that’s why they are on the roster. However, Indiana head coach Miller acknowledges the issue with having such a long bench: the players are unable to establish themselves in the game before they are rotated out.
You benefit with a deeper bench because players can rest and get back on the floor. For the Hoosiers, the concerns are the level of energy. At least in the past six or seven games, Indiana has not been able to wake up. Even for flashes when they have bursts of energy, the performance is usually quickly followed by a long stretch of offensive drought or defensive lapses.
Archie Miller is going to start using the bench as a motivator. Leashes are going to get tighter, and if you do not play well or up to his standards, you’ll expect to sit out entire games instead of just stretches of games. Against the Wildcats, Indiana used De’Ron Davis, Race Thompson, Damezi Anderson, and Jerome Hunter in just single digit minutes.
3. Matching up against Kaleb Wesson
The Hoosiers have more frontcourt options to throw at Kaleb Wesson on this 2019-2020 roster. De’Ron Davis was one of the main defenders against Wesson and he did fairly well against him last season. Unfortunately with foul trouble and general conditioning, De’Ron had to be replaced for other players that did not do as well against Kaleb.
Miller has a number of frontcourt options to throw at Wesson with Joey Brunk being the most likely starter to face up against Kaleb. If the Hoosiers are able to deny him the entry passes and reasonably contest on three point attempts, they’ll at least be able to keep the game manageable. We’ve seen the offense shift heavily towards the guards when Kaleb Wesson struggles.
4. The Saturday afternoon crowd and a potential special guest
Talk around town is that the Hoosiers may get a special visitor on Saturday against Ohio State. Whether or not that actually happens, Indiana got a definite boost when the crowd was involved against Northwestern. But the crowd was rarely given a reason to get involved.
Being down for nearly 20 minutes, the Hoosiers could hear themselves think given the quietness of a shocked crowd at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. During a Northwestern 10-point run, you could even hear boos that may or may not have been directed at the officials.
Assembly Hall is a special place when important games come to town, and it creates a very difficult environment for opposing teams. This slumping Hoosiers team in particular could really use all the help they can get, whether or not it comes from the crowd or a former legend.
5. Leaning on the defense to get the win
Ohio State has been struggling offensively in their prior three games, and as mentioned earlier, they have been unable to muster up more than 60 points in each of the last three contests. The Hoosiers have been one of the worst teams in conference play when it comes to defense, but they have shown spurts of how their size can create incredible disruption for opponents.
The path to victory for the Hoosiers involves Indiana taking advantage of an Ohio State team that has been stagnant on offense, specifically in road environments. The talent is there for the Hoosiers, but is the motivation and energy there as well? We’ll find out on Saturday.
Featured Photo: John Locher / AP