The Northwestern Wildcats (17-11, 7-9) will be looking for a little Revenge of the Nerds Wednesday night when the Buckeyes (23-6, 11-5) visit Welsh-Ryan Arena in the penultimate game of the B1G regular-season schedule. You may recall the 87-54 beatdown in Columbus that William Buford and company administered back on Dec. 28. Buford went off for 28 points, nine rebounds and four assists that night. Sully added 17/14 and Tank threw down 16/5, as Ohio State held Nerdwestern’s dynamic duo of John Shurna (#24) and Drew Crawford (#1) well below their season averages. Shurna continues to pace all B1G scorers with 20.1 points per game, but Crawford has dropped from second to fifth, averaging 16.1. Both are still formidable players and with the Nerds seeking big wins for their postseason resume, the Buckeyes have to be ready—particularly with the way they’ve played on the road this season. Northwestern is balancing on the bubble and can still get to 20 wins. A win over Ohio State could sway the voters into allowing the Nerds into the big dance for the first time. A 20-win season and any kind of advancement in the B1G tourney would probably get them in. They will want this game. Badly.
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and there’s nothing colder than Ohio State’s three-point shooting. Once a feared team beyond the arc, the Buckeyes have fallen on hard times in the post-Diebler world. Ohio State ranks well outside the top 200 in three-point shooting. That’s two hundred. The Buckeyes are making only a third of their long-range shots, ranking them ninth in the B1G for 3FG%. Worse, their 4.9 treys per contest are dead last in the conference. At 38.3%, the Wildcats are second in the B1G in 3FG% and they lead the league by hitting 8.9 bombs per contest. Because of that disparity, I believe Nerdwestern will either live or die outside the arc. In the first meeting, the kitties died out there. The Nerds hit only 7-20 (35%), while Ohio State knocked down half of its 20 long-range attempts. That provided a nine-point edge at the arc for the Buckeyes, to go along with Sully’s then-unstoppable inside game. Sullinger went 7-11 on field goals and was virtually unchallenged on the glass. For Ohio State to win on the road, the old Sully needs to return and his teammates have to do a better job of getting him touches.
Ohio State wins if: the players not named Sullinger remember that the 1-in, 4-out offense revolves around getting the ball to the post. Simply put, Sullinger must have a big game for Ohio State to win. In addition, we’ll need good Buford for at least three quarters of the game, and DeShaun Thomas has to be attack the offensive glass and get put-backs. Aaron Craft must take care of the basketball on the offensive and, and he and Lenzelle Smith have to get back to shutting down their opponents. That won’t be easy, because Nerdwestern freshman Dave Sobolewski (#3) is their Aaron Craft. In fact, Sobolewski has 10 points and five dimes in the first meeting, while Craft had only two points and three assists.
Northwestern wins if: the Wildcats shoot well beyond the arc, frustrate the Buckeyes by getting easy baskets after long possessions, and rebound well. It would help their cause to get out to a fast start and put the Buckeyes back on their heels. Nerds should play with emotion, as if they need this game more than Ohio State, which they do. The home crowd should help them do that. If Crawford and Shurna both get their points, the Wildcats are tough. Because both struggled in Columbus (9-30 combined), Nerdwestern made for easy pickings in the first meeting. Sobolewski’s maturation since that first contest will help the Wildcats get better shots this time around. It will certainly hurt the Buckeyes if Luka Mirkovic (#12) stays out of foul trouble and makes Sully work hard on the defensive end.
Notes: The game can be seen at 8:30 p.m. on the BTN…Ohio State has won the last five meetings in the series, dating back to Feb. 18, 2009 in Evanston…The Buckeyes are 110-45 in the all-time series, with a 33-2 mark vs. Nerds as a ranked team (including wins in the last 13 such meetings)…Buford needs 18 points to tie Michael Redd for fifth on the all-time OSU scoring list…Craft needs seven more steals to tie Jim Jackson and Kelvin Ransey for 10th in school history (147)…Thad Matta is 12-1 against Northwestern…The Buckeyes are 3-5 all-time on Leap Day. They last played on Feb. 29 against Northwestern in 1932. The Nerds won that game in Columbus in a barn burner, 26-19.