If you like offense, watch another game.
Ohio State and their stable of long, rangy, and athletic defenders will welcome the Northwestern to Value City Arena tonight in what promises to be a low scoring affair, just as it was when these teams met up in Evanston.
Last time these teams played, neither hit 30 points in the first half. One Buckeye hit a three-pointer. Northwestern went 6-25 from the outside. Take away Kam Williams’ 5-9 shooting from deep and the teams would’ve combined to shoot 17.6% from beyond the arc. Not all of that is attributable to just cold shooting.
Ohio State is as big of a matchup nightmare for Northwestern as a mediocre, fringe NIT team can be. They are so dang long. JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State’s version of a point guard, is listed at 6-5, 230 lbs. He’s big and physical enough to keep McIntosh far away from the rim. He is also coming off of his best game as a college player, scoring 27 points in a losing effort against Wisconsin on the road. He alone can take Northwestern out of their standard high-screen-and-roll action.
Ohio State had the perfect gameplan against the Wildcats in meeting number one. They packed it in without overhelping and challenged players not named Bryant McIntosh to beat them. Tre Demps went 3-17, unable to find good looks and willing to shoot no matter how covered he was. Aaron Falzon, perhaps still getting adjusted to Big Ten basketball, went 3-11 from the field. Dererk Pardon, who was coming off his coming out party in Lincoln and a solid offensive showing against Maryland, was flummoxed by the dynamic athleticism of Trevor Thompson and Daniel Giddens. Ohio State had an answer for every punch and counterpunch on the defensive side of the ball.
Along with the ludicrously talented (if not raw) JaQuan Lyle and a bouncy frontcourt, Ohio State brings Jae’Sean Tate, an undersized forward listed at just 6-4, but an absolute bulldog who is every bit as physical and mean as Sanjay Lumpkin with a whole lot more skill. Marc Loving is an enigmatic player, frequently lambasted for displaying “bad body language” and appearing to give less than 100% effort, but a fluid athlete who can stroke it when he gets hot. Loving never got it going the last time these teams played, scoring just 10 points, but he also hasn’t gotten it going at all recently, averaging about 9 ppg in his last 9 contests.
The aforementioned Kam Williams is the guy to watch when Ohio State has the ball. Sharpshooting off-ball players have given Northwestern fits, whether its been Peter Jok, Brynn Forbes/Denzel Valentine, or even Brandon Taylor from Penn State. Williams shoots a scorching 48% from 3, and even more scalding 54% from distance in conference play. Williams alone can shoot Northwestern out of their zone if given the chance.
KenPom gives the Wildcats a 31% shot at pulling the upset with a predicted final score of 67-63. It will absolutely be an uphill battle. But Ohio State isn’t an offensive juggernaut. If Northwestern can hit some tough shots, they’ll absolutely have a shot to stick around and maybe pull off an upset that can kickstart a run to the NIT.