BuckeyeGrove - Game Preview: No. 21 Ohio State hosts rematch with Northwestern
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Game Preview: No. 21 Ohio State hosts rematch with Northwestern

Can Ohio State take revenge on Northwestern after a 71-70 loss in December?
Can Ohio State take revenge on Northwestern after a 71-70 loss in December? (AP)

Following Northwestern’s one-point victory over Ohio State on Dec. 26, the Wildcats launched into the AP Top 25 for the first time since November 2017.

It was a short stay.

Chris Collins and company stagger into Columbus on Wednesday after three straight losses by at least 15 points. Those drubbings all came at the hands of top-15 teams (Iowa, Michigan, and Illinois), but Northwestern (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) appears to be falling fast.

“Like any team, they’ve gone through a gauntlet of a schedule here, like we all face in this league," Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said of Northwestern. "They’ve had a week to prepare. I’m sure they’ll be ready to go.”

No. 21 Ohio State (9-3, 3-3 Big Ten), on the other hand, enters this matchup after a major ranked victory over Rutgers-- identical to its situation last time it took on Northwestern.

That post-Christmas affair in Evanston was controlled by the Buckeyes late in the second half before the Wildcats stormed back and took the lead on a Boo Buie 3-pointer with 1:04 remaining.

Duane Washington had what appeared to be an open layup to retake the lead with five seconds left, but it fell harmlessly off the backboard and Northwestern had stolen one from the Buckeyes.

Buie is one of four players scoring in double figures this season for Collins’ team. The sophomore point guard is joined by transfer Chase Audige and junior forwards Miller Kopp and Pete Nance at the top of Northwestern’s scoring haul.

Northwestern Leading Scorers
Name Height PPG Other notable stats

Miller Kopp

6-foot-7

13.8

2.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 51.4% 3P

Chase Audige

6-foot-4

11.7

3.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 36.7% FG

Pete Nance

6-foot-10

11.4

5.8 RPG, 1.7 APG, 53.3% FG

Boo Buie

6-foot-2

10.3

2.6 RPG, 5.0 APG, 41.5% 3P

As Ohio State certainly noticed while blowing its late lead in December, Northwestern does its best work from behind the arc, shooting 39 percent from 3-point land (No. 22 nationally) as a team this season.

The Wildcats hit a season-low six 3-pointers against the Buckeyes, but a pair of treys gave them the lead in the final two minutes.

Of the half-dozen Northwestern players who have attempted at least 20 shots from beyond the arc, four are shooting over 40 percent, led by Kopp’s 16-of-31 performance from the outside this season.

“They’ve got great skill, great ability to score the ball, and really good positional length," Holtmann said. "As always, Chris does a great job putting your defense in difficult positions right now. They’re good in transition, shown the ability to really score in transition.”

Fortunately, the Buckeyes have stifled opponents on the perimeter of late, limiting their past four matchups to 27.5 percent shooting from distance. Against a team that relies on the 3-pointer as much as Northwestern (33.9 percent of its total points come from the long ball), taking away open looks can effectively stall its offense.

On defense, Northwestern forces turnovers at one of the lowest rates in the Big Ten, so the Buckeyes’ dearth of point guards-- C.J. Walker is still out and the status of Jimmy Sotos remains in the air-- shouldn’t be put to the test as much as it appeared to be in the closing minutes against Rutgers.

“I think it’ll require guys to move around at different positions if Jimmy’s not available," Holtmann said. "We’ll have to have a really good understanding of what we’re trying to do.”

Looking inside, E.J. Liddell and Kyle Young combined for 29 points and 16 rebounds on efficient shooting the last time these two teams collided; Ohio State should own the paint as it has the majority of the season.

After a 1-for-9 performance from the field (including the missed game-winner) in his last outing against Northwestern, Washington has slowly gotten himself on track, shooting 48.6 percent from the floor over his last three contests. Any sort of efficiency at all from the junior guard is icing on the cake on Wednesday evening.

Ohio State has momentum, a reason for revenge, and a statistical advantage in nearly every category, while Northwestern is quickly reverting back to what many thought it would be entering the season.

Playing at home, the Buckeyes should be the clear favorite on Wednesday night.

But this is the Big Ten.

Anything can happen.

“We all make too many declarations based on one win or one one loss, or this or that," Holtmann said. "I think that’s all part of us as humans, but you try to limit that as a coach and stick to the process of getting better and improving.

"Certainly, I think that’s our challenge: Can we be better than what we were last time we played them?”

Tune in at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the Big Ten Network.