After snapping an eight game losing streak on Sunday afternoon against Illinois, Northwestern is back in action tonight against the 14th ranked Buckeyes of Ohio State in Columbus. Kevin McGuff’s squad find themselves in the middle of the Big Ten title chase, looking to put pressure on the leading Maryland Terrapins with a victory tonight. Northwestern meanwhile is looking to build momentum ahead of next week’s Big Ten Tournament, where the Wildcats will look to win a game in Indianapolis for the third straight year.
Ahead of tonight’s clash in Columbus, here’s 3 things you need to know about Ohio State:
1. Kelsey Mitchell Can Score:
The two-time defending Big Ten player of the year, Mitchell is the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer, and has the most 3-pointers made in NCAA history. Now a senior, Mitchell is looking to end her Value City Arena career with a bang before taking one final shot at an extended NCAA Tournament run, something that’s eluded her so far in her Ohio State career.
Mitchell can score from anywhere on the floor, and must be attended to at all times. A career 40% shooter from beyond the arc, Mitchell has been very successful against the ‘Cats in her time with the Buckeyes, averaging 27.6 points per game and shooting a fiery 43% from deep in 5 contests against Northwestern.
If Northwestern is to upset the Buckeyes tonight, it’ll start with limiting Mitchell. She can’t be stopped, but if Northwestern can make her life hard this evening, they’ll give themselves a chance.
2. Ohio State Doesn’t Really Like Defense:
If there’s been one constant during the McGuff-Mitchell era in Columbus, it’s been Ohio State’s allergy to good defense. Consistently ranking at the bottom of the conference in scoring defense, this year is no exception for Ohio State, with the Buckeyes allowing 72.1 points per game, 13th in the Big Ten.
While the Buckeyes have been poor defensively so far this year, there has been some hope lately, as Ohio State has held their each of their last 6 Big Ten opponents under 70 points. While some of that is due to the poor opposition they’ve faced (hi there Illinois!) That is the type of defense Ohio State will need to play if they want to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time in Mitchell’s storied career.
3. It’s Now Or Never for Ohio State:
Kelsey Mitchell gets all the headlines for this team, and deservedly so, but Ohio State is unquestionably one of the most experienced teams in the Big Ten with four senior starters. In fact, of Ohio State’s regular 7-man rotation, all seven are upperclassmen, including five seniors.
That means that it’s now or never for Ohio State. This is a team that’s been successful in conference play, but has struggled on a national stage due to their porous defense. While Kelsey Mitchell has been fantastic individually, if she were to leave Columbus having failed to make it past the Sweet 16 once, her time with Ohio State would have to be qualified as collectively disappointing.
The recent uptick in defensive output suggests that Ohio State is aware that their time is running out, and that if they’re to make a real push at national success, it needs to start now. This year’s NCAA Final Four takes place in Columbus, and there would be no better way for Mitchell to end her illustrious career than on the game’s biggest stage in front of a partisan Buckeye crowd.
How the ‘Cats Can Win:
Northwestern will look to limit Ohio State’s offense tonight by trying to slow the pace. If they can get this game into the 70’s or even the 60’s, then they stand a chance to compete. While Stephanie Mavunga is the rare big that can match up with Pallas down low, she can still have an effect, as evidenced by the 14 points and 14 rebounds she recorded when these two teams met two years ago.
Lindsay Pulliam and Jordan Hamilton both struggled from the field against the Illini on Sunday, meaning Ohio State needs to be ready for not just one, but both to go off tonight. If Pallas can dominate the paint, and Northwestern can get a consistent game from each of their perimeter scorers, then the ‘Cats can hang around in this game, and if they do that, they give themselves a chance to win.
Northwestern and Ohio State will face off at Value City Arena in Columbus tonight, with tip-off scheduled for 6 PM CT. Austin Miller and Ben Bokun will be on the call for WNUR, with the pregame show getting underway at 5:45 CT. You can listen by tuning in to 89.3 FM in the Evanston-Chicago area, or by clicking HERE.