The 2nd ranked Buckeyes travel to Bloomington, Indiana, on the final day of 2011 to take on the number 13 Indiana Hoosiers in an early B1G game that has conference title implications. Although everyone expected IU to be greatly improved nobody thought they would start the season 12-0 including a win against then number one ranked Kentucky. The 6 PM tip-off is being televised by ESPN2 and should be a physical game that goes down to the wire. The Buckeyes are favored by 4 points, but will face a tough test in what I believe is their most important game thus far in the 2011-12 season. Let's take a moment to do a position by position analysis, then notice a few intangibles, and finally, make a prediction.
Position by Position:
Forward: Deshaun Thomas (15.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg) vs. Christian Watford (13.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
This is a good matchup, as both Thomas and Watford can score inside and out. Deshaun has come a long way this year and has carried the team on occasion, most notably at South Carolina. Watford, who is two inches taller, is the better defender and rebounder, and has shown improved shooting skills, including hitting the game winning three-pointer against Kentucky. Because he is more seasoned, and playing at home, I'll give a slight advantage to Watford.
Forward/Center: Jared Sullinger (16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg) vs. Cody Zeller (14.2 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
This is the key matchup of the game in my opinion. Zeller is a talented freshman who has spurred the Hoosiers revival but struggled against the rugged Michigan State front line in Indiana's opening conference loss. He likes to run the floor and score in transition, while Sully prefers to post up on the blocks. Although Jared will want to be physical he can't afford to get in foul trouble, which is something to watch. If he can stay on the floor I think he will be too much for the tall, thin freshman. Advantage: Sullinger.
Two talented swingmen have different styles. Buford prefers to score outside, although he can take the ball to the rack. Oladipo is a high rising slasher who has improved his game a great deal in a year. He plays good defense and could cause William trouble. Advantage: Buford
Guard: Lenzelle Smith Jr. (4.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) vs. Jordan Hulls (11.5 ppg, 3.7 apg)
Smith has been a bit of an enigma. He does a lot of things well, but struggles to score. Hulls, on the other hand, is a typical Indiana guard who is deadly from deep, but not overly athletic. While Smith is certainly more gifted physically, he will have his hands full with the feisty Hulls, who seems to hit big shots when needed most. Advantage: Hulls
Guard: Aaron Craft (7.8 ppg, 5.4 apg) vs. Verdell Jones III (8.6 ppg, 3.5 apg)
This is another good matchup, featuring a very solid veteran in Jones going against the heart and soul of the Buckeyes in Craft. Jones is the better shooter, but in the final analysis I like the defense of Craft and the intangibles he brings to the court. Advantage: Craft
This game is hard to call because of one huge intangible: IU's Assembly Hall. It is loud and raucous as the Hoosiers have some of the best fans in the nation. In addition it is constructed in such a way that opposing teams often struggle with their shot, as there is no comparable arena in the conference. Kentucky found out the hard way how intimidating Assembly Hall can be for opponents.
Ohio State has won the last six games in this rivalry and nobody on the floor has ever lost to IU. Last year they played the Hoosiers on New Year's Eve and secured an easy victory, 85-67. While that is good for confidence it may give the players a false sense of security.
Indiana is coming off their first loss of the season, which could either cause them to have doubts, or lead them to a new sense of determination. Hard call on that one.
Both teams have some good players off the bench, although I like the depth of Ohio State a little more. If Jordan
Sibert can continue to stroke it like he did against Northwestern it will go a long way toward a Buckeye victory.
The two coaches on the sidelines are both intense and know how to prepare a team, but if forced to choose I would take Thad Matta who has a great track record in B1G games.
My head says pick IU at home where they are really confident, but my heart says go with the Buckeyes. I have it OSU 72-69.