Both fresh off frustrating losses, the No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers and No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes won't have a moment's rest, as they continue their Big Ten gauntlet with a matchup on Sunday at Value City Arena.
The Hoosiers spent exactly four days atop the college basketball landscape before losing to Illinois on Thursday and becoming the latest No. 1 team to fall prey to an unranked team. Tom Crean's squad dominated for most of the contest before making multiple mental mistakes and allowing Illinois to score on a last-second layup to win.
Ohio State's loss was much more understandable, but no less frustrating.
The Buckeyes played No. 3 Michigan to a stalemate in regulation before falling 76-74 in an overtime battle of defensive wills. That loss gives the Buckeyes a 7-3 record in the Big Ten, meaning they will need a win on Sunday to avoid falling two games behind the three-headed leaders atop the standings.
With both squads desperately needing a victory, let's take a look at everything you need to know about Sunday's clash of Big Ten titans.
When: Sunday, Feb. 10 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, OH
Live Stream: CBSSports Live Stream
Indiana Injury Report (via USA Today)
Austin Etherington, Knee, Out for Season
Ohio State Injury Report (via USA Today)
No injuries to report at this time.
Indiana Player to Watch: Cody Zeller
It's not too often one of the best players in the country is noticeably at fault for causing his team to lose, but that was the case for Zeller on Thursday. It was his missed defensive rotation that left Tyler Griffey open for an easy game-winning layup and sent the Hoosiers reeling at Assembly Hall.
Obviously, one play does not determine the result of the game.
Indiana allowed Illinois to mount a torrid comeback after trailing by double digits for almost the entire second half. That cannot be fully placed at Zeller's feet, but his complete lack of offensive aggression undoubtedly played a factor.
For someone with his size and skill set, Zeller has become somewhat prone to confusing disappearing acts.
He took just six field-goal attempts against the Illini and scored zero points in the last 5:13 of the second half, otherwise known as the time in which Indiana blew the game. Some of the blame falls on the Hoosiers guards for not getting Zeller the ball in advantageous spots. But he also had a distinct physical advantage down low and did nothing down the stretch as his team's chances were cratering.
We'll get to see on Sunday how Zeller responds to adversity.
Ohio State has just one player (Amir Williams) who stands above 6'8" and ranks 97th in Ken Pomeroy's effective height metric. It's a squad built to dominate on the wings, where rebounding and interior defense is predicated on team-wide effort rather than the force of an individual.
Zeller should coast to a double-double. His size and nimble feet around the rim should make that a given—assuming he stays aggressive throughout the contest. If Zeller pumps the brakes at any point like he did against Illinois, the Hoosiers could be in a heap of trouble.
Ohio State Player to Watch: Deshaun Thomas
As most Buckeyes fans can attest, the Ohio State offense is almost predicated on the brilliance of Thomas. The junior forward has been by far the Buckeyes' most consistent and effective scorer, averaging 19.9 points per game while jacking up 145 more shots than his next closest teammate.
Thomas takes 32.4 percent of Ohio State's shots, per Ken Pomeroy, so it would make plenty of sense that he's averaging more than nine points a night more than Lenzelle Smith Jr., the Buckeyes' second leading scorer.
That may cause some to call Thomas a "volume scorer," which is a fair criticism. Thomas ranks just 292nd in effective field-goal percentage and 311th true-shot percentage, per Pomeroy, which is a product of his volume and sometimes questionable nature of his shots.
However, to be fair, Thomas takes his shots far more out of necessity than anyone realizes.
The only players in the Buckeyes' rotation hitting more than half of their shots are Williams and Evan Ravenel, two big men, and Thomas' aggressive nature keeps the offensive flow ticking.
The problem with that is that Ohio State's fate is directly correlated to Thomas' performance.
While Tom Crean hasn't made his defensive rotations available for understandable reasons, one can expect Victor Oladipo to be in Thomas' back pocket all game. Oladipo is arguably the nation's best on-ball defender, a guy who consistently gives perimeter players fits defensively.
We've seen all season that Thomas will take his shots no matter who is guarding him. He has two straight subpar performances under his belt, shooting a combined 12-of-33 against Nebraska and Michigan.
Ohio State cannot afford a third bad game. But with Oladipo and the top-shelf Indiana defense standing in his way, it's going to be a lot harder than anyone realizes for Thomas to get his customary 20 points on Sunday.
Key Matchup: Kevin Ferrell vs. Aaron Craft
Hey, it's two graduates of the Ricky Rubio Center For Guards Who Can't Shoot Good But Do a Bunch of Other Stuff Good Too.
Though they are both integral to what their sides do on both ends of the floor, neither Ferrell nor Craft will win Sunday's game. The Indiana freshman has struggled to find his stroke all season, and though he's been better of late, Ferrell just recently raised his field-goal rate up to 40 percent.
Meanwhile, after being an effective scorer for each of his first two seasons at Ohio State, Craft's shooting ability has cratered as a junior. He hasn't knocked down more than half of his shots in a game in over a month, and his shooting percentage has dipped down to 38.5 percent from a cool 50 last season.
But what makes Ferrell and Craft invaluable despite their shooting deficiencies is where they help in other areas. Ferrell, affectionately nicknamed Yogi, is one of the most polished freshman passers in recent memory. He has a combination of pro-style court vision, offensive awareness and speed that make him a menace to defend.
On the other side, if Oladipo isn't the NCAA's best perimeter defender, that distinction probably belongs to Craft.
One of the toughest players in college basketball, Craft never takes possessions off and makes life a living nightmare for opposing guards. He's handled Michigan's Trey Burke adeptly twice already this season, and Ferrell or Oladipo or whomever Craft is guarding will undoubtedly have a tough time creating penetration.
Neither guy will be given the last-shot distinction, but it's how Ferrell and Craft play against one another that could determine Sunday's outcome.
Which team will win?
Indiana had two losses prior to Thursday night and followed both up with convincing wins. Look for that trend to continue against Ohio State, albeit in a less convincing fashion.
Zeller will be too much to handle inside on offense and Oladipo should do a solid job on Thomas defensively. It will be a down-to-the-wire thrill ride, but look for the Hoosiers to get back in the win column on Sunday.
Final Score Prediction: Indiana 78, Ohio State 74