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What To Watch For: Indiana preps for road rematch at Ohio State

It’s been an interesting week and few days for Indiana.

The team earned a statement victory over then-No. 11 Michigan State, played excellently yet fell short in a one-point loss to then No. 17 Maryland and then proceeded to play its worst offensive game of the year in a loss at No. 24 Penn State.

Trayce Jackson-Davis drives to the basket against Maryland’s Jalen Smith. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

Despite the Maryland loss, it seemed as if things were back on track for the Hoosiers as they were playing well against great competition and scoring the ball at a highly efficient rate. The 64-49 defeat at Penn State changed that narrative very quickly though.

Both teams looking for a boost

The momentum had been wiped. The Hoosiers showed they struggle immensely on the road and the team has now lost two in a row.

Now, Indiana finds itself in dire need of a win, and in danger of losing three in a row. As the Hoosiers saw a season ago, going on a little losing streak can quickly spiral out of control when playing in the Big Ten.

On Saturday, Indiana will play at Ohio State for the two squads’ second meeting this season. The first time around, Indiana won convincingly over a then-No. 11 Buckeyes team 66-54. This was the midst of Ohio State’s major slump this season.

Ohio State has not been playing great as of late, losing two of its last three, so the Buckeyes are in dire need of a win too. They will be rested for the game, having six days off between their win over Northwestern this past Sunday and this Saturday’s date with Indiana.

Buckeye depth becoming an issue

As much as the Buckeyes have been flailing in the Big Ten, they still have a decently strong resume with a 13-7 record including wins over No. 8 Villanova and No. 13 Kentucky. The talent is certainly there for this Buckeyes team to be a challenge for anyone.

It has been a little rocky as of late for the Buckeyes though with the team dealing with some off-the-court struggles. Sophomore guards Duane Washington and Luther Muhammad both were suspended for the team’s Jan. 14 game against Nebraska for not meeting program expectations.

Also, as just announced on Thursday, freshman point guard DJ Carton — the Buckeyes’ third leading scorer — will be indefinitely and temporarily stepping away from the Ohio State program as he is dealing with some mental health issues.

With Carton out, that takes a big hit on Ohio State’s depth, but the Buckeyes still have plenty of playmakers.

The Wesson brothers played better than anyone on Ohio State the last time these two teams met, with Andre scoring 15 with seven rebounds and Kaleb adding 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Kaleb is the team’s top scorer as an imposing force down low, typically getting about 10 rebounds per game (9.6) as he did against IU, but he also averages 13.9 points per contest as Ohio State’s top scorer. Indiana has to particularly watch out for Wesson in the post but on the perimeter as he is a 40.9 percent 3-point shooter. Indiana struggles with guarding big men on the outside, as evidenced by Jalen Smith’s 29-point performance last Sunday.

Andre also chips in 9.1 points per game and is the team’s best sniper from beyond the arc, making 44.6 percent of his looks from deep. Washington is the team’s next explosive player with an 11.2 scoring average (second-best on the team) and does a little bit of everything for the team.

In addition to those three, Ohio State is supplemented with some quality depth in Kyle Young, CJ Walker, EJ Liddell and Muhammad to solidify the main contributors. All of them score between six and eight points a game to give Ohio State some balance in its offense.

Turning the tide on defense

As seen in Indiana’s last matchup, the way to deal with Ohio State is winning on the defensive end. If the Buckeyes are defended well and deviate below their team average of 73.1 points per game, Indiana could be in business for a season sweep. Of Ohio State’s seven losses, in five of them the Buckeyes didn’t reach 60 points. And, other than the Cincinnati win, the Buckeyes have scored at least 71 points in all of their wins.

This means that if Indiana wants that second victory over the Buckeyes, the Hoosiers are going to have to lock in defensively. Limiting their best weapon, Kaleb Wesson, and his scoring opportunities, will be of top priority. This is something Joey Brunk and Trayce Jackson-Davis collectively did a great job of last time.

Indiana will also need to emphasize guarding the 3-point line as Ohio State is the best 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten, making 38.2 of its shots from the outside. In the first matchup, Ohio State went 9-for-26 from deep, good for 34 percent.

Obviously, defense will be the priority against the Buckeyes, but Indiana can’t have another lackluster offensive showing like it did on Wednesday and expect any chance to win. As shown throughout the entire season, Indiana needs scoring from both its post players and guards to win big games.

In a road game against a talented opponent where the opposition needs the win just as much as Indiana does, it’s going to take a complete effort from the backcourt to help supplement the bigs if Indiana wants to win.

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