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What To Watch For: Indiana, Ohio State both looking to get back on track

There are no days off in the Big Ten.

After what has been a rude awakening into the difficulty of conference play, Indiana finds itself at 2-2 in the Big Ten, good for a long tie at fifth place and has a 12-3 overall record.

None of those conference games, regardless of win or loss, have been easy though. On the road at Wisconsin and Maryland, IU got completely blown out, and in a home win over Nebraska it went to overtime.

Justin Smith is coming off of one of his best games of the season, scoring 18 points against Northwestern. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

Their other Big Ten win, and their most recent game, was a lackluster performance that IU was fortunate to end up on top of Wednesday night, coming from behind late to beat Northwestern 66-62. Northwestern entered the game with a 5-8 record, eight healthy scholarship players and is widely considered to be the worst team in the Big Ten this season. The Wildcats are placed at No. 148 in the NCAA’s NET rankings.

For a game that could very well be Indiana’s easiest remaining contest and one that was supposed to show some urgency from the Hoosiers after getting destroyed at Maryland on Saturday, their performance did not offer much encouragement for their next game.

This Saturday, Indiana will host the No. 11 team in the country, Ohio State. The Buckeyes enter the game with one of the nation’s best resumes in the country, but they are also on a three-game losing streak to bring their record to 11-4 and 1-3 in the conference.

Looking to get back on track

If the Hoosiers want to compete against Ohio State, they are going to need to bring a better effort and show assertiveness throughout the entire game. The Buckeyes’ three-game losing streak, if anything, could be a disadvantage to the Hoosiers as Ohio State will be desperately looking to get back on track. Regardless of how they’ve been playing of late, the Buckeyes have a very talented roster from top to bottom.

Ohio State, like Indiana, runs a deep rotation, typically playing about 10 players a game. The roster presents plenty of upperclassmen and experience in addition to some talented freshmen. The team has three players averaging double digits in scoring and then a balance of five players averaging six to nine points.

Junior and 6-foot-9 and 270-pound big man Kaleb Wesson is the team’s top player and the team’s leading scorer at 14.7 points per game. He is also averaging 9.3 rebounds per game with 19 blocks on the season. Wesson isn’t restricted to the inside though, as he can shoot from the outside too, nailing 42 percent of his looks from the 3-point line. Wesson was named to the preseason All-Big Ten team.

Sophomore guard Duane Washington and freshman guard D.J. Carton are the team’s other two double-digit scorers, with Washington scoring 11.7 points per game and Carton averaging 10. Carton usually comes off the bench and has only started one game all season. Carton is also second on the team in assists, with 41 on the year.

Sophomore guard Luther Muhammad, junior forward Kyle Young and junior guard CJ Walker usually make up the rest of the starting lineup. Young has not played in the last two games though after having his appendix removed, his status is uncertain for Saturday.

Walker is a Florida State transfer and one of two Indiana natives on the roster. Walker played at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. Junior guard Musa Jallow, who has missed all season due to injury, will have a homecoming game as he is from Bloomington. 

IU searching for offense

To combat Ohio State’s roster depth, Indiana will need to figure out its offensive woes over the last few games. After starting out the

Al Durham scored 16 points in the win over Northwestern Wednesday. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

season as a very potent and high-scoring team, the Hoosiers have really struggled putting the ball in the hoop. Over the past five games, Indiana has only scored over 70 points once.

The most trustworthy offensive weapons as of late have come from going inside to the team’s leading scorer Trayce Jackson-Davis. Junior center Joey Brunk has complemented him well. Justin Smith found a lot of success in the paint in the second half against Northwestern as well, finishing with 18 points, most of what came around the rim.

Those three, particularly Jackson-Davis and Brunk, will have a very difficult task on both ends of the floor when dealing with the sheer physicality and skill of Wesson. If Young, the usual power forward, is still out for Ohio State, that will ease the day a bit for Jackson-Davis and Brunk.

Guards need to make a difference

While the post play has held its own for Indiana, the guard play and effectiveness from the perimeter on both ends of the floor and has been extremely lacking.

As a team, Indiana just has shown zero ability to hit jumpers, especially from deep. Over the last two games, Indiana is 4-for-34 from beyond the arc. For the season, the percentage has dwindled to just about 30 percent.

The inability to hit jumpers can be attributed to a lot of guard struggles, as all of them are expected to be capable shooters. The four guards in the rotation — Devonte Green, Al Durham, Armaan Franklin and Rob Phinisee — as a collective unit are each averaging about six points per game, but even those numbers are inflated by 13 garbage time points from Green against Maryland. Durham’s 16-point outing on Wednesday is the only real positive performance from the unit in the Maryland and Northwestern contests.

The bottom line is that Indiana needs more production from its guard play to fuel the offense and that particularly falls on Green. Green, who at one point was the team’s leading scorer and consistent knockdown shooter, has struggled a lot lately. He only had one point against Northwestern and did not play for the last 11 minutes of the game.

As a team captain and senior, the Hoosiers need him to hit shots, and step up in a crucial time against a big-time opponent.

Head coach Archie Miller has consistently pointed out that his team’s upperclassmen need to be more vocal, and he also stated that he might make some changes, particularly with the 11-man rotation.

Whether or not Miller makes lineup changes, the Hoosiers need to change up their offensive efficiency if they want any chance to beat Ohio State.

A win or a competitive loss alleviates concerns over severe weaknesses Indiana has shown recently, while a game that is reminiscent of their other January contests adds to the doubts of this team’s legitimacy.

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