Ohio State: How They'll Finish Undefeated
The Ohio State Buckeyes are the No. 1 team in the country and stand at 23-0. The question on the minds of fans in the Big Ten is whether Thad Matta and his Buckeyes can run the table and finish the regular season undefeated.
The last Big Ten team to go undefeated, the 1975-1976 Indiana Hoosiers, eventually went on to win the NCAA tournament. Ohio State could be poised to do something special in following in the footsteps of the Indiana team lead by Scott May, Kent Benson and Quinn Buckner.
Of course, Ohio State has some serious work ahead of them before we can begin to look at postseason matchups and the possibility of the Buckeyes winning it all.
In looking at the last eight games of Ohio State’s regular season, here is a look at the remaining games on the schedule and what the Buckeyes need to do finish the regular season unscathed.
No. 20 Minnesota: February 6th in Minneapolis.
Last game: Ohio State won 67-64 in Columbus on January 9.
Why this game presents trouble for Ohio State: The Gophers have a big dominating front line in Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson and Trevor Mbakwe. Mbakwe leads the Big Ten in rebounding and the last time the teams met, he grabbed 16 rebounds and scored 10 points.
Blake Hoffarber is a terrific three-point shooter who sees the basket as being a little bit larger in the Barn. Hoffarber, who is connecting on 40 percent from beyond the arc on the season, made a school record eight of ten three-point shots at home last season.
What Ohio State needs to do: The Buckeyes need to aggressively attack the Gophers' big men. Mbakwe and Sampson have each fouled out of two games during the season and all three of the Gophers big men have seen their impact in several games diminished due to having to play with four fouls.
Aaron Craft will need to make sure Hoffarber is not given any space to shoot. Craft’s job will be made easier because Hoffarber will have to expand energy running the team with the injury to Minnesota’s point guard, Al Nolen.
No. 18 Wisconsin: February 12th in Madison.
This will be the first time the teams have met this year.
Why this game presents trouble for Ohio State: Madison is a very difficult place to win. Coach Bo Ryan is a tough defensive minded coach who led the Badgers to the NCAA tournament in his first nine seasons at the helm. The Wisconsin program had only been to seven tournaments prior to Ryan’s arrival.
Coach Ryan’s floor general, Jordan Taylor, is arguably the best point guard in the Big Ten, with a conference leading 3.8 assist to turnover ratio and a scoring average of 20 points. This game promises to be a tough slow grind, which is a pace that does not play to the strength of the Buckeyes.
Senior forwards Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil pose unique challenges for the Buckeyes, as both players are just as good, if not better, playing at the three-point line. The 6’10" Leuer is shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc and the 6’8" Nankivil is shooting even better at 50 percent. If Leuer and Nankivil get going early shooting three-pointers, the Badgers' motion offense will be difficult to defend.
The Badgers rarely get beat wire to wire and generally are within striking distance at the end of the game. The largest margin in the five losses that the Badgers have suffered this year is only eight points. In four of their five losses, Wisconsin held the lead in the last five minutes of each game.
This game may be the most difficult game left on Ohio State’s schedule.
What Ohio State needs to do: Be patient, because the depth on the Buckeye bench should wear the Badgers down by the end of the second half. The Badgers have only six players who are averaging playing more than 12 minutes a game, whereas the Buckeyes have seven players who are playing more than 17 minutes a game.
Force Leuer to defend the paint. Coach Matta will be happy with Leuer picking up fouls and thus limiting his time on the floor, or Leuer being too exhausted on the offensive end to be an effective threat.
Keep the ball out of Taylor’s hands. The offense of the Badgers often becomes stagnant when Taylor is out of the game and limiting his time with the ball will frustrate the ability of Wisconsin to score.
Be satisfied with the small successes. The Badgers have only had one opponent on the season to reel off a run of more than 10 points against them and that was Notre Dame in just the sixth game of the season. Ohio State will need to be satisfied with 5-0 and 6-0 runs to slowly build their lead over the time.
Michigan State: February 15th in Columbus.
This is the first time the teams will have played this season.
Why this game presents trouble for Ohio State: There is an old adage, “Never confront or corner a dangerous animal.” The Spartans find themselves in an unusual position at the beginning of February of needing to win the rest of their games this season to secure an NCAA tournament berth. The Spartans could be looking to redeem their season by upsetting the No. 1 team in the land.
Michigan State has two past All-Big Ten performers in 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year, Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green. This season, both Lucas and Green have each been voted Big Ten Player of the Week.
If the Spartans can hang around to the very end, Lucas and Green are such competitors that the Buckeyes will have their hands full as the two players will attempt to take over the game during the final three or four minutes in the game.
What Ohio State needs to do: Don’t read the newspapers. If the Buckeyes are undefeated, everybody will be talking about what a great job Ohio State did winning in two hostile environments and what they need to do against Purdue. Coach Matta will need to make sure the team is not too busy patting itself on the back and fail to take the Spartans seriously as an opponent.
Go for the knockout from the opening tip of the game, as the Spartans do not have bodies to keep up with Ohio State. The Spartans, with the departure of Korie Lucious, only have five players who average more than 12 minutes of playing time.
The Buckeyes need to pound the rock inside with Sullinger, as the Spartans do not have enough size on their roster to defend the rim. The Spartans will likely adopt the strategy of playing Sullinger by committee, as none of their three post players (Garrick Sherman, Derrick Nix and Adrein Payne) is averaging more than 12 minutes of playing time.
No. 10 Purdue: February 20th in West Lafayette
Last game: Ohio State won 87-64 on January 25 in Columbus.
Why this game presents trouble for Ohio State: Purdue will have a huge chip on its shoulder after playing so poorly in Columbus earlier in the year. The crowd in West Lafayette will be loud and rocking from the opening tip, as revenge will be on every Boilermaker’s mind.
JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore are a capable one-two punch that will put points on the board. Both Johnson and Moore are All-Big Ten performers and Ohio State may get their best performance of the year.
Purdue can play swarming defense at home, as evidenced by their convincing 73-61 win over Minnesota. Purdue is undefeated at home this year and if Ohio State struggles shooting only 55 percent at the free throw line like they did in Columbus, Coach Matta could be in for a long day.
What Ohio State needs to do: The Buckeyes will need to take care of the ball and hit their free throws. Purdue has too much pride to succumb to another blow out by Ohio State. This game gives all indications of being a close nail biter for fans.
Forget about trying to stop Johnson and instead concentrate on taking Moore out of the game. In Purdue’s five losses, Moore is averaging just 13 points a game.
Further, Purdue’s supporting cast tends to stand around and watch when the offense goes through Johnson. A good example was Purdue’s recent loss against Wisconsin, in which the Boilermakers fell behind by eight points at halftime due in large part to their failure to get Moore involved in the offense.
Beating Purdue in West Lafayette will be a major accomplishment for Ohio State.
No. 24 Illinois: February 22nd in Columbus
Last game: Ohio State won 73-68 in Champaign.
Why this game presents trouble for Ohio State: Because Illinois has enough size and raw talent to beat the Buckeyes. In the team’s first meeting of the year, Ohio State only held a one point lead with 19 seconds left in the game and Illinois held the lead for a majority of the second half.
Demetri McCamey didn’t play well and he will be looking to redeem himself for his poor performance at home. McCamey had his worst game of the season, scoring only five points while committing four turnovers. Imagine what could have happened if McCamey had just an average game against the Buckeyes.
Illinois has enough big men (Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Jereme Richmond, Bill Cole and Meyers Leonard) and the right mix of skills among them to give Ohio State problems. Unlike Minnesota, Illinois has several big men that can play the perimeter. While Wisconsin has big guys that can play the perimeter, the Badgers don’t have the depth of big men that the Illinois has on its roster.
What Ohio State needs to do: The Buckeyes need to make sure that they get a good night's sleep. Ohio State will be tipping off against the Illini approximately 50 hours after finishing their game against Purdue in West Lafayette. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and the Buckeyes will be able to get back home immediately after their game against Purdue.
Take advantage of the three to five minute mental lapse Illinois has been susceptible to this year. As talented as Illinois is as a ball club, they have a horrendous bad habit of mentally checking out of games. Ohio State needs to take advantage as they did in the first meeting to race out to a lead.
Avoid foul trouble. Illinois is one of the few teams that can wear the Buckeyes down in a battle of attrition.
Indiana: February 26th in Columbus.
Last game: The Buckeyes coasted to a win as they won 85-67 in Bloomington.
Why this game presents trouble for Ohio State: Overconfidence? The Hoosiers might pose some danger in Bloomington, but without Christian Watford and Maurice Creek in the lineup, Indiana has no real chance to beat the Buckeyes and the only question is whether they will stay within 15 points.
What Ohio State needs to do: Get off to a quick start to allow them to rest the players who have some minor injuries. If Ohio State comes in flat, the crowd will need to keep the team energized until they "wake up" and get ready to play.
Penn State: March 1st in Happy Valley.
Last game: Ohio State survived a close scare against the Nittany Lions in Columbus 69-66.
Why this game presents trouble for Ohio State: The Nittany Lions don’t fear Ohio State. Penn State went into Columbus and went shot for shot with the Buckeyes until the final seconds of the game.
Additionally, Penn State knows how to pull off an upset, as they have three wins over ranked opponents on the year—No. 19 Michigan State 66-62 on January 8th, No. 16 Illinois 57-55 on January 11th and No. 15 Wisconsin 56-52 on January 29th. The Nittany Lions also almost beat No. 13 Purdue in West Lafayette, just falling short 63-62.
Talor Battle generally doesn’t struggle at home shooting the ball. Battle had a poor shooting night in Columbus, making only five of his 17 attempts from the field. Ohio State should expect Battle, the two time All-Big Ten performer, to play much better in Happy V alley.
How much will Battle feed off the crowd in his last game in Happy Valley?
What Ohio State needs to do: Feed the big man. Penn State can’t stop Sullinger in the low post. When Penn State is forced to double the post, the perimeter players of Ohio State need to be ready to down the three-point shot.
Be patient. Penn State is very similar to Wisconsin in that they rarely allow teams to reel off big runs against them. Ohio State will need to be content to slowly build their lead over time. Ohio State has the depth to wear Penn State down, they just need to stay within their game plan and not take quick shots.
Keep the crowd out of the game. This will be an emotional game as it will be the farewell game for Battle, who is arguably the best basketball player in Penn State history.
No. 18 Wisconsin: March 6th in Columbus
The teams will play their first game on February 12th.
Why this game presents trouble for Ohio State: The pressure of going undefeated in the regular season against a quality opponent who will not concede anything to the Buckeyes.
What Ohio State needs to do: Relax, play the game as you know how to do and remember that going undefeated is not the ultimate goal.
If Ohio State is undefeated going into the last game of the season, they will have secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and they will have accomplished their regular season goal—secure a No. 1 seed to best position themselves to win the NCAA tournament.