Survive and advance.
Those three words are usually reserved for March Madness. But they perfectly describe what the Ohio State Buckeyes must be feeling after escaping with a 58-57 win over the Northwestern Wildcats.
At 22-0, the Buckeyes can expect to get every opponent’s best effort. Their quest continues on Thursday night in Columbus against their arch-rival, the Michigan Wolverines.
With nine games left, here are some thoughts about, and predictions for, whether perfection is within reach. This is the toughest part of their schedule, and there are several games that could put an end to the dream of an undefeated regular season.
The Wolverines gave the Buckeyes a scare in Ann Arbor before succumbing 68-64 on January 12. Led by leading scorer Darius Morris, the Wolverines have been a tough out. Still, it’s hard to see them being the team to end this streak with the Buckeyes returning to their home court.
It could be said the Buckeyes will be looking ahead to a tough road trip. But after nearly being upset by Northwestern, this team should have Thad Matta’s full attention.
Prediction: Ohio State 72, Michigan 60
In their first meeting, the Golden Gophers got Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty in foul trouble, which contributed to Minnesota making 24 out of 27 free throws, including 19-of-19 in the second half.
Without similar production, Tubby Smith will have a difficult time containing the Buckeyes, even on their home floor.
Prediction: Ohio State 68, Minnesota 61
If the Buckeyes needed a tune-up for the Badgers, they got it from Northwestern. The Buckeyes will have to make sure they come prepared to play defense, because you know the Badgers will.
Wisconsin will be hoping that 6'10" senior forward Jon Leuer, who leads the team in both points and rebounds, will present a matchup problem.
I'm not expecting many open looks, so the Buckeyes will have to be patient. This looks to be an outstanding game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the perfect season ended here.
Prediction: Ohio State 58, Wisconsin 55
Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. As good as the Buckeyes are, they are incredibly fortunate to only have to play the Spartans once this year. And they get them on their home court.
It’s never easy facing a Tom Izzo-coached team in February or March. That being said, this may be a Spartans team that doesn’t have a much higher ceiling.
Prediction: Ohio State 75, Michigan State 65
Needless to say, Matt Painter will have this Purdue squad highly motivated. You have to expect a top effort from the Boilermakers who got a big effort from leading scorer JaJuan Johnson, but not much else, and were never really in the game against the Buckeyes on January 25th.
Was Ohio State 23 points better than Purdue? No. But even a 10-point swing on either side should be enough. Look for the Buckeyes to prevail in a tight one.
Prediction: Ohio State 74, Purdue 70
Bruce Weber and the Illini will have to hope the Buckeyes have a letdown after their game against Purdue.
I’m thinking it won’t happen.
Prediction: Ohio State 76, Illinois 62
Tom Crean’s team just doesn’t have enough firepower, yet.
However, playing a team on New Year’s Eve is different than playing them in late February. Undoubtedly, this team will be looking to gather some momentum for the Big Ten tournament. But in the end, the Buckeyes will be too much.
Prediction: Ohio State 82, Indiana 70
If you’re looking for an upset alert, this is the game for you. Ohio State escaped with a three-point victory in Columbus and now have to make what is always a difficult road trip to Happy Valley.
Led by 2009-2010 All-Big Ten senior Talor Battle, Penn State should be playing for a possible trip to the NCAA tournament. Getting the scalp of the Buckeyes would probably move them off the bubble, regardless of what happens in the tournament.
Be nervous Buckeye faithful. Be nervous.
Prediction: Ohio State 69, Penn State 68 (OT)
If the Buckeyes make it through that gauntlet of games at 30-0, their reward is a rematch with the Badgers in Columbus.
This will be the last home game for David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and the rest of the Buckeye seniors. You can bet Thad Matta will use that, and more, to squeeze every drop of emotion out of his squad.
Prediction: Ohio State 67, Wisconsin 60