When Ohio State and Indiana meet tomorrow in Bloomington, it will be a matchup of 3-0 conference teams who have proved little in conference play.
Sure, the Buckeyes (11-5, 3-0) have won seven straight games, but their conference wins have come against three teams that entered the weekend a combined 1-8 in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers (13-3, 3-0) are also on a hot streak, winning eight straight, but they’ve topped Rutgers, Nebraska and Wisconsin in Big ten play, three teams that were also 1-8 in the league as of Jan. 8.
Ohio State head coach Thad Matta knows that any league win is a good win, however, and if the Buckeyes can get a win over the Hoosiers it will mean putting together back-to-back road wins.
“I think you going on the road and I’ve heard people say this and I do believe it, the Big Ten as a whole, as a conference is probably the hardest conference to play in on the road,” the coach said. “If I’m not mistaken in my time at Ohio State there’s three teams in the Big Ten that have a road winning percentage of over 50 percent and we’re one of those. Us, Wisconsin and Michigan State might be the only three. That tells you right there in 12 years how difficult it is to win on the road.”
Winning on the road in Bloomington is never easy, but the Buckeyes will be facing a depleted Indiana team. Sophomore James Blackmon Jr., one of the Big Ten’s best freshman last season and the Hoosiers second-leading scorer this year, is out of the year after undergoing knee surgery.
Even without Blackmon the Hoosiers have four players that have attempted at least 30 threes and hit 40 percent or more of them. Among those players is Yogi Ferrell. The point guard is the heartbeat of the Hoosiers, leading the team in scoring with 17.0 points per game and hitting 40.6 percent of his threes.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Marc Loving said of Ferrell. “He’s very fast and he can get any shot he really wants at any time. Just having that type of guy on the floor, you have to know where he’s at at all times and locate him and try to make him make tough shots.”
Complementing Ferrell is big man Thomas Bryant. The 6-10 freshman center is averaging 11.9 points and 5.0 rebounds a game for the Hoosiers.
“The big thing is Ferrell is so good with the basketball and the big kid Bryant is a load down low,” Matta said. “That’s why they’re a great team to be honest with you. Matchups are going to be huge for us and identifying and doing both is going to be huge.”
If the Buckeyes can handle the balance the Hoosiers bring to the court, they’ll leave with their second straight road win and their most significant victory in conference play.