Inside The Matchup: Ohio St.

Coming off a loss at Creighton and some time off for the holidays, Northwestern gets set to start its Big Ten schedule with perhaps the toughest test in the conference right away — an away game against Ohio State.

The Buckeyes are No. 2 in the nation with their one loss coming at Kansas without star forward Jared Sullinger. Sullinger is back now and should be in good shape to face the Wildcats.

While NU lacks any signature wins outside of winning the Charleston Classic, OSU has some big wins on a brutal non-conference slate. The Buckeyes destroyed Duke at home in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, beat Florida at home and got by South Carolina on the road despite not having Sullinger for much of the game against the Gamecocks.

OSU will be favored to win, but NU has given the Bucks some tough games recently. A win in this game could be huge for the Cats' NCAA Tournament chances going forward and can give them confidence with a tough Big Ten slate ahead.

LAST MEETING:

Northwestern played Ohio State twice last season and the games went down to the wire in both contests. The Cats lost 58-57 at home to the Bucks in January and also lost in overtime, 67-61, in the Big Ten Tournament in March.

KEY PLAYER FOR THE WILDCATS: Luka Mirkovic

Mirkovic has been a model of inconsistency for the Wildcats this season, showing up early in the season, but struggling later in the non-conference slate, particularly against Baylor.

However, despite his struggles, Mirkovic did a great job containing Jared Sullinger last season and he'll need to put together another solid performance today.

If Mirkovic can play solid defense on Sullinger, that will force the Buckeyes to shoot lower-percentage shots outside. If he plays well on offense, it will give the Cats a scoring threat inside, as well as opening up outside shots, which NU has thrived on.

A good performance against OSU can also give Mirkovic confidence heading into the rest of the Big Ten season.

Sullinger is certainly more talented, but if Mirkovic can give him fits like he did last year, NU has a great chance to win.

KEY FOR THE BUCKEYES: Open up multiple scoring options

Ohio State's strength in this game — the same as its strength in nearly every contest — will be its numerous scoring threats.

From Aaron Craft to Jared Sullinger to William Buford, the Buckeyes can score from all over the floor, and by spreading the defense they can create open shots anywhere on the court.

Even if Sullinger struggles against Mirkovic once again, Craft and Buford both have the ability to take over the game.

It will be difficult for NU to shut down every scoring option the Buckeyes have, so if they are all shooting well, OSU should be able to get the win.

KEY TO A WILDCAT WIN: Limit Ohio State's possessions

NU won't be able to keep up with the Buckeyes in a shoot-out — they have too many scoring options.

However, if the Cats slow down the pace of the game and limit scoring by using up the shot clock and playing lockdown defense, they can disrupt the OSU offense and throw the shooters out of sync.

Even if the Buckeyes' top scorers are shooting well, they can't be effective with a small number of possessions. Mirkovic will be responsible for grabbing offensive rebounds and creating more second-chance opportunities for the Cats, which can ultimately give them a possession advantage by the end of the game.

NU managed to stay close to OSU in their last two meetings by slowing down the game. If the Cats can limit the Buckeyes' possessions once again, they have a chance to finish with a win this time around.


Purple Wildcats Top Stories