Over his 12 seasons as Ohio State’s head coach, Thad Matta has had Northwestern’s number.
The Buckeyes are an impressive 17-1 against the Wildcats under Matta, but it’s hardly been easy.
In the last 10 meetings between the two teams Ohio State is 10-0, but five of those wins have come buy single digits with three contests decided by one possession and the Buckeyes needing overtime to secure one of the victories.
Matta expects tonight’s matchup with Northwestern (13-2, 1-1) to live up to those close calls as this is the best Wildcat team the coach has faced in his time with Ohio State (10-5, 2-0).
“I believe so, yes,” the Ohio State head coach said when asked if this was the best Northwestern team he’s faced. “I think that this team is really kind of coming into its own and I think that the energy that they have and the pieces of the puzzle that they have, it’s a very, very good basketball team.”
The key piece for Chris Collins squad is guard Brany McIntosh as the sophomore averages 15.9 points and 7.1 assists per game, both of which lead the Wildcats. Joining McIntosh in double figures is senior backcourt mate Tre Demps (14.9 ppg).
“Shooters,” Ohio State forward Jae’Sean Tate said when asked what Northwestern brings to the table. “They have a couple players who score the ball at a high level. It’s going to be a very big gap-oriented game and we’ve got to lock the shooters.”
McIntosh has hit 41.0 percent of his threes this season while Demps is never afraid to shoot, hitting 32.2 percent of his 90 attempts from distance. Reserves Scottie Lindsey (44.2 percent) and Nathan Taphorn (40.0 percent) also hit over 40 percent from distance.
The Wildcats have also been getting production in the post. Alex Olah was averaging 12.8 points and 6.5 points per game, but has missed the last three contests with a foot injury and will not play against the Buckeyes. Northwestern burned Dererk Pardon’s redshirt to fill in for Olah and the freshman has averaged 14 points and 7.3 rebounds in three games of work in the senior’s absence.
On the other side, Collins said he is worried about the Buckeyes length as Ohio State doesn’t start a player shorter than 6-4.
“They’re playing very confidently right now,” Collins said on the Big Ten Coaches’ Teleconference Jan. 4. “I think ever since they won that Kentucky game it really gave them a sense of confidence, they’ve really upped their level of play. (Marc) Loving’s playing great and the thing that makes them very unique is they’ve gone to the big lineup, they’ve had the big lineup all year where it’s a lot of versatile guys that they can put in different spots, they’re interchangeable, makes them difficult to defend.”
Loving enters the game averaging a team-high 15.2 points per game and has been on a tear since the start of Big Ten play with 23.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in two Big Ten contests with those two games bringing the Buckeyes winning streak to six.
Both of those conference games came at home, however, and the Buckeyes know that going on the road in the Big Ten is a different animal.
In Ohio State’s one true road game this season they lost by 20 to Connecticut, the team’s last defeat, but Tate said the Buckeyes are in a better place.
“I mean, you just have to be prepared when you go out there,” the sophomore said. “It’s all about how you prepare for the game. You have to have that focus mentality. Northwestern has a great crowd. When we played there last year it got real loud. You’ve just got to learn how to adapt and take the first punch. If they get on a run you just have to stay together with your team and I think we have a pretty good chance of doing that.”