At 15-4 on the season, the Ohio State men’s basketball team finds themselves ranked 22nd in the nation, the first time the Buckeyes have cracked the AP Top 25 since 2015. Chris Holtmann’s inaugural season has seen OSU playing way above expectations in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the program. At 6-0 in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes will look to remain undefeated in conference when they take on Northwestern at Allstate Arena.

Preview

Ohio State’s success this season has been largely a result of the play of junior forward Keita Bates-Diop. The Big Ten’s leading scorer has averaged 20.3 points per game to go along with 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Bates-Diop has been aided by guards C.J. Jackson and Kam Williams, averaging 13.3 and 8.5 points per game, respectively. Both Jackson and Williams have shot extremely well from beyond the arc this year, each hitting threes above a 42-percent clip.

In the team’s last game, a 68-46 win over Rutgers, the story wasn’t much different. Bates-Diop dropped a game-high 20 points with nine boards and an impressive five blocks. Williams, the Buckeyes’ second-leading scorer had 11 points on two of three shooting from deep, while Jackson was able to offset a poor shooting night with his seven boards and six assists. The Ohio State defense was smothering in this game, holding the Scarlet Knights to just 15 points in the first half. The victory gave the Buckeyes their fifth straight and 10th win in their last 11 games.

Northwestern comes into this one struggling mightily. At 11-8 on the year, the Wildcats have lost three of their last four and find themselves in the bottom half of the Big Ten with a 2-4 record in conference. Their only conference wins have come against Illinois, who has not won a Big Ten matchup, and Minnesota, who was playing without their two best players. Averaging just 73.3 points per game, the team ranks 206th offensively in NCAA Division I.

The Wildcats’ last game against Indiana was one of their roughest outings of the season. Despite trailing by just five at half, Northwestern allowed an 18-0 run to the Hoosiers in the second half, getting outscored 42-27 in the final 20 minutes and losing the game 66-46. As a team, the Wildcats shot just 28 percent from the field and turned the ball over 17 times. They did not have a single player in double figures, their leading scorer on the season, Scottie Lindsey, going 1-15 from the field and 0-7 from deep.

If Northwestern wants to take down the Buckeyes tonight, they are going to need Lindsey and their other top scorers to step up big time. The Wildcats have five players averaging double figures, led by Lindsey’s 14 points per game. Alongside junior big men Dererk Pardon and Vic Law, both averaging over 11 points and five boards per game, the trio will have to do much better than the 19 total points they scored against Indiana if they wish to complete the upset over Ohio State.

Prediction

Despite their recent struggles, the Wildcats are going to get up for this game. As they dive into the heart of their conference schedule, Northwestern is in desperate need of a win to try and salvage what is rapidly becoming a lost season. The Cats will give the Buckeyes their best effort, but they will just not have the fire power to match up with a red hot Ohio State team. The game will be closer than most would think for the majority of the contest, but OSU will pull away and find themselves victorious to complete their two-game road trip.

Final Score: 72-59 Ohio State

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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