How realistic is Ohio State’s chances of winning the regular season Big Ten title? Realistic. How difficult will it be? Difficult.
#13 Ohio State has proven it belongs in the AP Top 25 poll, owning a 17-4 (8-0) record and dominating conference play. Sharing the top spot with #3 Purdue, Ohio State has its first real chance to regain the conference title since the Sullinger, Craft era.
Coach Holtmann’s inaugural season has been a success to say the least. Already matching the team’s win total a year ago, with more than half of the conference games to go. 17 wins through 21 games is the best start to a season for the program since 2012-13 and it looks like the Bucks may keep the wins coming.
The Buckeyes have a share of first place in arguably the most competitive conference in the country, with wins over #6 Michigan State (#1 at the time) and #25 Michigan. The Bucks also have 4 quality losses in #10 North Carolina, #15 Gonzaga, #18 Clemson, and a tough Butler team who is the only team this season to beat the #1 ranked Villanova Wildcats.
The Scarlet and Grey have 10 remaining games. Only 2 of them are against ranked opponents. Unfortunately, the first is against one of the best teams in the country in #3 Purdue (Feb. 2) and the second against a motivated TTUN (Feb 18).
Purdue is the hottest team in the country with a nation-leading 15 game win streak. Purdue leads the nation in scoring margin and is top 10 in the country in many other major statistics including FG%, Defensive FG%, scoring defense, 3pt%, APG, BPG, and more.
Whether on the turf or the hardwood, “The Game” always brings out of the best and worst of each team involved. It seems that no matter the rankings or statistics, the game will always be a 50/50 dogfight. This year is no exception.
In the first meeting, #25 Michigan showed dominance in Columbus going up by as many as 17 in the first half, but was unable to hold their lead. The Maize and Blue showed they have the talent to win but lacked the discipline and maturity at the time. The nearly 11 weeks in between games could be enough time for the Wolverines to learn from their mistakes. Overconfidence could surely be dangerous for Coach Chris Holtmann’s squad.
How It Can Happen
Purdue shows little weaknesses in their game, but there are 3 things the Buckeyes can take advantage of: Owning the boards, utilizing their star, and getting to the free throw line.
Although they are not a top rebounding team, they have been able to make other teams’ strengths weaknesses. Last weekend, the Bucks outrebounded the nation’s leading rebounders in Minnesota in a 67-49 win last weekend, proving they can adapt to their opponent.
Keita Bates-Diop (19.7 ppg) will be a key to the team’s success. Purdue lacks a great low-post defender and has little depth in the frontcourt. Bates-Diop will look to have a monster game along with the other Buckeye big men Kaleb Wesson, Micah Potter, Andre Wesson. Look to them to have a lot of touches.
The most important thing for Holtmann’s squad is to stay disciplined against TTUN and not to underestimate the Wolverines. Although The Buckeyes won the first matchup 71-62, the game was in Michigan’s control for much of it. Sticking to their game plan and respecting their opponents will be key when the Bucks travel to Ann Arbor.
Ohio State now has control of their own destiny to hold the regular season Big Ten crown. The Bucks just need to take care of business against a handful of competitive Big Ten opponents and conquer Purdue in West Layfayette and TTUN in Ann Arbor to secure the title.
Ohio State and Purdue are both 8-0 in conference play. Following in 3rd and 4th place is #6 Michigan State (5-2) and #25 Michigan (6-3). Nebraska (5-3) rounds out the top 5. #3 Purdue plays #25 Michigan Jan 25 and @ #6 Michigan State Feb 10.
The Buckeyes play Nebraska (14-7, 5-3) tonight at 8pm on BTN.