The Hoosiers are in a unique position at this point in the season and badly need to capitalize. Some of their toughest yet winnable games happened to fall on the back end of the schedule as they would theoretically be putting it all together as a young team. We already saw one positive result of that with the Iowa game on Wednesday, but now the Hoosiers need to keep pushing that with a win against Ohio State today.
Doing so would put the Hoosiers in a great position to launch themselves back into bubble talk with two games to go. It would also have a shot of knocking Ohio State out of the rankings which is always fun. The victory could vault the Hoosiers from spoilers to a team clawing to claim their own right in the tournament and that could be huge for this squad going into next year. But first, the win must come and there are a lot of things Indiana needs to do to get just that.
Ohio State is another tough team to figure out. They're currently sitting at 4-4 on the road in their second to last game of the season. Their road victories come @Wisconsin, @Iowa, @Purdue and @Illinois. 2 very good wins, one solid one (now that Illinois has seemed to have found themselves here lately) and a Purdue team that as we saw is no guarantee in West Lafayette. In turn, they have 4 losses @Penn State, @Nebraska, @Minnesota and @Michigan State. In three of those four games they have just been a completely different team than their average play so far this year. So the real question is which Ohio State squad is going to show up today?
Owners of the nation's #2 defense, the Buckos are upsettingly good at forcing teams to turn the ball over. Forcing turnovers on 21% of possessions in conference play is a stat that should greatly concern Indiana fans. The Hoosiers haven't faced a truly tough defense that thrives on turnovers this year, yet they still turn the ball over at a 22% clip. Now they face an opponent that thrives on forcing turnovers. This is especially key to Ohio State because nearly 25% of their offense comes in transition. In the half court, they're a perfectly average offense.
On defense, the Hoosiers need to watch out mostly for Lenzelle Smith and LaQuinton Ross. Of course, Aaron Craft has shown multiple times over that he's capable of scoring the ball as well, but he serves his time as a distributor and third to fourth option a majority of the time. But the 6-8 Ross is the most intimidating option. He's filled in that Deshaun Thomas role from previous seasons as being the volume guy for the Hoosiers. We're likely to see Will Sheehey defend Ross as he splits his game pretty evenly from the post, mid-range and from distance. Slightly more efficient that average, the Hoosiers still have to make certain that the 30% of him team shots he takes continue to be very tough ones.
Stan Robinson may have earned his starting position back with last game and the fact that we need a guard that can defend the 6-4 Lenzelle Smith. The most efficient player on the squad, Smith is also second in usage. If Ross is slowed, Smith is the one that will pick up the slack. He does have a bit of a reputation as a chucker among his own fan base, but despite very poor shot selection at bad times, he's still a good shooter. Indiana is going to have to keep him from getting a hot hand if they want to win this one.
Ultimately, Indiana's best chance is to push the pace and keep this game ugly. Much like the Iowa game, the Hoosiers are at their best when they're running. They have not done that nearly all conference season. If Indiana can continue to push that pace today and keep the Buckeyes from getting their half court defense set, they can score at a much easier pace.
This may be a game where the first team to score 50 wins. Indiana's offense is going to look like garbage and Ohio State's probably won't be much better outside of transition. That means that the team that can string together some buckets once or twice per half will get the win. Pomeroy gives Ohio State a 2 point advantage. That sounds right in my mind, but a bucket here or there is nothing. Let's call this game a toss up. The Hoosiers are in for a battle but a win could be oh so big for their resume and chances.
**This will also serve as our game thread.**