The Big Ten has set up quite the round robin in the last week. First came a top-three match up between Indiana and Michigan, then a high-level rivalry game between Ohio State and Michigan.
On Sunday, we’ll have the Part III of the series when Indiana visits Ohio State. The Hoosiers last Sunday defeated the Wolverines, who turned around to defeat the Buckeyes. Both games were among the best of the season involving players in the mix for national hardware at the end of the season.
The tip in Columbus could be the same. Despite the 76-74 overtime loss to Michigan, Ohio State has shown steady improvement through the Big Ten season. The same team that was pounded by Illinois in early January went toe-to-toe with Michigan on the Wolverines home court.
If Ohio State is going to challenge for a Big Ten title, the Buckeyes need to recover quickly from a heartbreaking loss. Ohio State (7-3 Big Ten) has already split the season series with Michigan and has two games against conference leader Indiana (8-2) in the next month.
Indiana, the No. 1 ranking and Big Ten lead notwithstanding, is as vulnerable as any team. The Hoosiers lost 74-72 on a last-second shot by the Illini as Indiana turned the ball over 14 times.
GAME OF THE WEEK
INDIANA PROBABLE STARTERS
OHIO STATE PROBABLE STARTERS
Game-defining matchup: Ohio State’s Aaron Craft vs. Indiana’s Victor Oladipo
Two debates are opening up for Craft and Oladipo: The Hoosiers guard is sneaking into National Player of the Year discussion thanks to his stat-sheet stuffing efforts. On the other side, Craft’s not going to be a National Player of the Year, but he could be the Defensive Player of the Year. Oladipo’s in that mix, too, along with Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Kansas’ Jeff Withey. Whether or not Craft draws the assignment to guard Oladipo, both will have a chance to shine as on-ball defenders.
Player we’re watching: Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross.
Ohio State has been on a season-long mission to find a secondary scorer to complement Deshaun Thomas. That person may be talented guard LaQuinton Rossin the short term. His playing time has picked up recently as he’s replaced Shannon Scott as one of Thad Matta’s top options off the bench. Ross has topped at least 11 minutes in each of the last six games, including three games of at least 20 minutes. In the overtime loss to Michigan on Tuesday, Ross had 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting for his best effort in conference play.
Stat that matters: Indiana’s offensive rebounding.
Indiana can score a variety of ways, so it’s best not to give the Hoosiers second-chance points. Indiana is fifth nationally in grabbing 39.9 percent of its own rebounds. Cody Zeller is the leader here with 2.9 offensive boards per game, including 3.2 in Big Ten play. Both are second to Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe. Ohio State’s no slouch on the defensive glass, ranking 24th nationally in defensive rebound rate.
Related: Who's rising and who's sinking?
How Indiana can win: Make Deshaun Thomas do it alone.
Indiana limited Michigan’s supporting cast last week, putting more on the Wolverines’ secondary options. Trey Burke scored 25 points on 24 shots, and Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18 points on 16 shots. Meanwhile, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III struggled mightily against the Hoosiers. Indiana might be OK with Thomas scoring 20 points or more as long as the rest of the Buckeyes aren’t much of a factor.
How Ohio State can win: Contain Indiana in transition.
Ohio State can’t afford to let Indiana get easy points in transition, something the Hoosiers do as well as anyone. Ohio State’s best hope of defeating Indiana may be to confine Tom Crean’s team to the halfcourt.
Prediction: Indiana 78, Ohio State 70
Related: Indiana returns to top spot in power rankings
WEEKEND ON TAP
All times Eastern.
Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
Wisconsin has a chance to make a big move in the Big Ten after Wednesday’s double overtime win over Iowa for a 7-3 league record. The Badgers enter the week two games behind Indiana — a team Wisconsin beat on the road — and one game behind Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. The Badgers will try to slow the tempo and prevent Michigan from scoring in transition.
Ole Miss at Missouri (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Both teams looking to recapture glory from earlier this season. Ole Miss defeated talent-deprived Mississippi State 93-75 on Wednesday. Is this game for No. 2 in the SEC or is it for No. 3 given the push the last few weeks by Kentucky?
North Carolina at Miami (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Miami is in command in the ACC with an 9–0 record in league play. The Canes have already defeated Duke at home and NC State and North Carolina on the road. Completing the season sweep over the Tar Heels — even in a down year for UNC — would be another significant accomplishment in what has been a breakthrough season for Jim Larranaga’s program. North Carolina could ease its fears of landing on the NCAA bubble by handing Miami its first loss since Christmas.
Kansas at Oklahoma (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Is it time to panic in Lawrence? Kansas’ loss at home to Oklahoma State was surprising. Losing to TCU, previously winless in the Big 12, was one of the biggest regular season upsets of the last few years. “It was the worst team Kansas has ever put on the floor,” KU coach Bill Self said. Oklahoma really needs a big win after losing at home to Kansas State on Saturday and at Iowa State on Monday.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
A meaningful game in the Big East lost some luster as Cincinnati lost 54-50 at Providence on Wednesday. The Bearcats will look to recover against a Pitt team that’s won six of seven. Panthers freshman center Steven Adams may give Cincinnati trouble in the frontcourt.
Iowa State at Kansas State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
Cyclones guard Korie Lucious, a Michigan State transfer, has 28 assists in his last four games, including three Iowa State wins against NCAA Tournament contenders Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State, all at home. This weekend, Lucious will face Kansas State’s guard oriented lineup.
Louisville at Notre Dame (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Notre Dame has already lost two home games in Big East play (UConn, Georgetown), but the Joyce Center is usually a tough place to play. Louisville snapped its three-game slide by beating Pittsburgh and Marquette last week. Those are two solid wins, but both came at home. The Cards need to prove they can get the job done on the road in conference games.
New Mexico at UNLV (Saturday, 9 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
New Mexico is alone in the first place in the Mountain West with a 6–1 record after the Lobos beat Wyoming on the road and Nevada at home last week. UNLV is perhaps the most disappointing team in the nation. The Runnin’ Rebels feature Final Four talent yet are struggling to remain over .500 in league play. The Rebels’ 64-55 loss at Fresno State was their most troubling defeat of the season.
St. John’s at Syracuse (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN)
Syracuse is stumbling a bit with two losses in the last three games as James Southerland’s scoring absence seems to have caught up with the Orange. Syracuse has topped 70 points once in the last four games, and that was with 71 points in an overtime loss to Villanova. St. John’s has put together a sneaky-good resume in the Big East at 7-4.
Illinois at Minnesota (Sunday, 6 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Oh, how times have changed since the last time these teams met. When Minnesota defeated Illinois 84-67 on Jan. 9, it was a signature win for the Gophers. Since then, Illinois has gone into a tailspin, going 1-6 since then. Minnesota hasn’t fared much better, but at lest the Gophers have pulled out of their four-game losing streak.