What To Watch: Ohio State @ Indiana

Welcome to Championship Week in the Big Ten.

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No. 2 Indiana (25-4, 13-3) has already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten championship. The Hoosiers can win their first outright conference title since 1993 with a win over No. 14 Ohio State (21-7, 11-5) on Tuesday night in Bloomington (9 p.m., ESPN).

The Buckeyes are among four teams tied for second place in the Big Ten at 11-5. They are joined there by No. 7 Michigan, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 22 Wisconsin. They are each holding out hope they can win out this week and that OSU and Michigan can hand Indiana losses so they can also get a share of the conference title.

This game wraps up ESPN’s nine-week Super Tuesday series featuring Big Ten teams. OSU and Indiana will be appearing for the fourth time – the most of any Big Ten teams this year. OSU is 2-1 in these Tuesday ESPN games, while Indiana is 1-2.

Below, we have our preview and a prediction for Tuesday’s OSU-Indiana game.

In the video boards, we have comments from OSU coach Thad Matta (above) and players Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft (below).

Here is our What To Watch feature for Tuesday’s game against Indiana:

Opponent: Indiana

* Where: Assembly Hall (capacity: 17,357); Bloomington, Ind.

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* Date, Time: Tuesday, 9 p.m.

* TV: ESPN (Announcers: Mike Tirico, Dan Dakich and Samantha Ponder)

* 2012-13 Records: Ohio State, 21-7 overall, 11-5 Big Ten; Indiana, 25-4 overall, 13-3 Big Ten.

* Poll Rankings: Ohio State, 14th in the AP poll and 13h in the USA Today coaches poll; Indiana, second in the AP and coaches polls.

* RPI Rankings: Ohio State, 21st; Indiana, seventh. (OSU is 3-5 against teams currently in the RPI top 25, 4-7 against teams in the top 50 and 6-7 against teams in the top 100. Indiana is 7-1 against teams currently in the RPI top 25, 7-4 against teams in the top 50 and 10-4 against teams in the top 100.)

* Key Players (2012-13 Stats): Ohio State – F Deshaun Thomas, 6-7, jr., 19.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg; G Aaron Craft, 6-2, jr., 9.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.9 spg; G Lenzelle Smith Jr., 6-4, jr., 10.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.6 apg; F LaQuinton Ross, 6-8, so., 7.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg; C Amir Williams, 6-11, so., 4.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg; F-C Evan Ravenel, 6-8, sr., 5.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg; F Sam Thompson, 6-7, so., 7.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg; G Shannon Scott, 6-2, so., 4.9 ppg, 3.9 apg, 1.8 spg. Indiana – F Cody Zeller, 7-0, so., 16.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg; G Victor Oladipo, 6-5, jr., 14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.3 spg; F Christian Watford, 6-9, sr., 12.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg; G Jordan Hulls, 6-0, sr., 10.7 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.1 apg; F Will Sheehey, 6-7, jr., 9.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg; G Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell, 6-0, fr., 7.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.4 apg; G Remy Abell, 6-4, so., 4.3 ppg; F Jeremy Hollowell, 6-8, fr., 3.2 ppg.

* Quality Of Opponent: As good as there is in college basketball this year … and in one of the sport’s toughest environments ... and on Senior Night, to boot. And Indiana is playing for its first outright Big Ten title in 20 years.

Indiana rolled in the teams’ first meeting on Feb. 10 in Columbus (81-68). Three Hoosiers reached the 20-point plateau with Oladipo hitting for a career-high 26 to go with 24 points for Zeller and 20 for Watford. IU shot a robust 53.1 percent from the floor. Thomas had 26 points and Craft added 16, but the Buckeyes just could not contain the Hoosiers.

Thomas vs. Indiana

(Click here for our report on the first match-up.)

Indiana is second nationally in scoring (81.9 ppg) and sixth in field goal percentage (49.4 percent). The Hoosiers have won five of their last six games. IU bounced back from last Tuesday’s loss at Minnesota (77-73) by defeating Iowa on Saturday (73-60).

* OSU-Indiana Series: Overall, Ohio State is 75-101 vs. Indiana. Indiana leads 61-23 in Bloomington. The Buckeyes have won seven of the last nine overall meetings.

Last year, OSU lost at Indiana 74-70. That loss snapped OSU’s three-game winning streak at Assembly Hall. OSU is 8-30 all-time at Assembly Hall, which opened in 1970-71. OSU’s previous wins in Assembly Hall came in 1985, 1991, 1999, 2000, 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Under Thad Matta (since 2004-05), OSU is 10-6 against Indiana. Under Crean (since 2008-09), IU is 2-7 against OSU.

* Fun Facts: Ohio State is 4-5 this season in road games. That includes wins at Purdue, Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern and losses at Duke, Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin … Indiana is 17-1 at Assembly Hall this season. The lone loss was on Jan. 15 to Wisconsin (64-59) … Matta’s OSU teams are a combined 40-51 against ranked teams in his nine years with the Buckeyes. OSU is 2-7 against ranked teams this year with their loss at then-No. 2 Duke on Nov. 29 (73-68), the home loss to then-No. 9 Kansas (74-66) on Dec. 22, the loss at then No. 11-Illinois (74-55) Jan. 5, the home win over then-No. 2 Michigan (56-53) Jan. 13, the road loss at then-No. 18 Michigan State (59-56) on Jan. 19, the road loss at No. 3 Michigan (74-2, overtime) on Feb. 5, the home loss to No. 1 Indiana (81-68) on Feb. 10, the loss at No. 20 Wisconsin (71-49) Feb. 17 and the win over No. 4 Michigan State (68-60) on Feb. 24 … In 13 years as a college head coach, Matta’s teams are a combined 49-60 against ranked teams … OSU is now 2-4 this year against top-10 teams. The Buckeyes are 64-118 all-time against top-10 teams … Under Matta, OSU is 9-8 against top-five teams, including 1-5 on the road … Over the last 40 years, OSU is 4-15 against top-five teams on the road (including 0-2 this year). The last road win over a top-five team was last year’s win at No. 5 Michigan State (72-70, last year on March 4). OSU’s last road win over a team ranked in the top two was at then-No. 1 Iowa on Jan. 24, 1987, at Iowa City (80-76, led by 36 points from Dennis Hopson) … Ohio State has won three straight since a Feb. 17 loss at Wisconsin … Under Matta, OSU is 45-12 during the month of March ... Indiana is 6-0 against ranked teams this year. IU's four losses were to teams that were unranked on game day (Butler, Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota) but have been ranked at some point this season ... This will be IU's Senior Night for Hulls, Watford and Derek Elston.

* Match-Ups To Watch: When the Indiana front line of Oladipo, Watford and Zeller combines for 70 points on 22 of 32 shooting in the first meeting, uh, there are your match-ups to watch. For OSU, Thompson must do better against Oladipo, Thomas has to do better on Watford and the tandem of Williams and Ravenel have to come up with some way to keep Zeller in check.

It is that simple.

Williams defends Zeller

* What’s At Stake: Well, quite a bit for both teams. As noted, Indiana can secure an outright Big Ten championship and the top seed for the conference tournament (and likely the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional at Indianapolis as well).

For Ohio State, a win would keep the Buckeyes in the chase for a fourth straight Big Ten title – when there seemed to be no hope of that just a couple of weeks ago. No team has won four straight Big Ten titles since Michigan State did it between 1998-2001.

It would also give OSU a key road win to boost the RPI. It would help the cause in securing a top-four seed for both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments as well.

* What They’re Saying: Matta on the Big Ten race: “This is my ninth year. We’ve won it five times and it’s always come down to the last week … I had a pretty good sense it would come down to something like this.”

Matta on facing teams this week that gave OSU double-figure defeats earlier in the year: “I don’t know if there is one thing you say or do (to prepare them). They know that. Generally speaking, we look at the film and we look at the mistakes we made. We say, ‘These are some of the things we talked about going into the game that we didn’t do.’ We have to get these corrected or you are in for a long night.”

Matta on keying the OSU defense around IU’s Zeller in the middle: “He had a great game – all three of them had great games. They got rolling. I thought they played really, really well in terms of making shots and moving the basketball. They had good balance with their transition and getting the ball inside. We weren’t able to ever get control of the defense and take away what they were trying to do and make them go to a second or third option.”

Thomas on what’s at stake: “They know if they win this game they can be cutting down some nets. I'm pretty sure they'll be fired up. We did it last year at Michigan State and we feel like we can do that against Indiana. We're going to have to try to come in and take that. We're gonna have to compete with them and match their intensity."

Craft on playing the underdog role after winning Big Ten titles his first two years: “I'd prefer to be on the other side, to be honest. But I can't think of a better way to play a basketball game to get us ready for the Big Ten Tournament and hopefully later on down the road the NCAA Tournament. This is what we need, the type of games we're going to have to play in and hopefully win if we're going to make a run like we want to.

"We've definitely had some ups and we've certainly had our downs this year. That's the crazy thing about basketball. We still have two games left and we're playing for something that we probably didn't think we'd be playing for a month ago."

* Next On The Docket: The Buckeyes will close out their home schedule against Illinois (21-9, 8-8) on Sunday (12:30 p.m., ESPN). The Illini dealt OSU a 74-55 loss back on Jan. 5 at Champaign. Illinois visits Iowa tonight before visiting OSU.

* How We See It: As noted above, the Buckeyes must do better defensively in this second match-up. To me, it all started with Zeller taking Williams and Ravenel to the whipping post early. OSU was forced to help on Zeller and he also put those two in heavy foul trouble early.

That made it easier for Watford and Oladipo to exploit some things and Indiana led by double figures most of the second half in that first meeting.

As I look at it, Indiana has two reliable scorers with Zeller and Oladipo and three others they can usually depend on with Watford, Hulls and Sheehey. OSU has one reliable scorer with Thomas and after that you never know where the points will come from. Craft had 21 against Michigan State and then three points against Northwestern. Smith came through for 24 points against Northwestern, going 6 of 11 behind the arc. If he can spark 15 points and hit some triples here, the Buckeyes may have a shot at staying in it until the end.

But I just don’t see where OSU’s firepower will come from. The Buckeyes will have to play great defense. The dividing line for me is 45 percent – if Indiana is shooting 45 percent or better, the Hoosiers will be hard to beat. Ohio State needs to make this a defensive grind-it-out game to have a chance, in my mind.

In some ways, this is the final exam for OSU. They’ve been playing for four months and, while there would be no disgrace in losing to the No. 2-ranked team on its home floor, the Buckeyes need to show they can compete with a team of this caliber.

I will call it: Indiana 74, Ohio State 67

Also Check Out

More stuff to check out:

Caryer: A Great Big Ten Season

Crean Says: OSU Pregame

Conference Title In Sight For IU

Inside Indiana Pregame: Ohio State

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