Northwestern-Ohio St. Preview
By JEFF MEZYDLO
(AP) -- A visit from Northwestern should provide Ohio State with the ideal opportunity to get back on track before a difficult final stretch of the regular season.
Looking to avoid their first three-game skid in almost four years, the No. 13 Buckeyes try for a 32nd consecutive home victory over the short-handed Wildcats in Thursday night's Big Ten matchup.
Ohio State's run of 121 games without consecutive defeats ended last week, losing 76-74 in overtime at then-No. 3 Michigan and 81-68 at home to top-ranked Indiana.
"A typical week in the conference," said guard Aaron Craft, who had 16 points against the Hoosiers on Sunday.
What's atypical is that the Buckeyes find themselves in danger of losing three straight, which hasn't happened since Feb. 14-22, 2009. Ohio State dropped to 1-6 against ranked opponents after allowing averages of 78.5 points and 49.5 percent shooting - well above its season marks - to Michigan and Indiana.
"We are getting better each game," coach Thad Matta said. "We have had our chances against ranked teams this year but we haven't been able to get wins.
"Every game is a challenge."
The Buckeyes still have road dates remaining against No. 20 Wisconsin and the Hoosiers, as well as games with No. 8 Michigan State and previously ranked teams Minnesota and Illinois. They also have two versus Northwestern (13-11, 4-7), which has not won in Columbus since Feb. 24, 1977.
A winner of six straight and 23 of 24 overall in the series, Ohio State has held the Wildcats to 51.4 points per game while winning the last 13 at home by an average of 14.9.
Northwestern could be in for an even greater challenge as it looks to avoid a fourth consecutive road loss while playing without two starters. Seven-foot freshman Alex Olah (6.1 points, 4.0 rebounds per game) will miss at least one game after suffering a concussion in Saturday's 71-57 loss at Iowa. In the same game, senior forward Jared Swopshire suffered a season-ending knee injury.
Swopshire, who played his first three seasons at Louisville, was averaging 9.7 points and a team-leading 6.7 rebounds.
"We all feel badly for Jared that he won't be able to play out the remainder of his final collegiate season," coach Bill Carmody said. "He has been a terrific addition to the program, both on and off the court. He was enjoying a very productive year and was playing his most consistent basketball of the season when the injury occurred."
Already without team leaders Draw Crawford (torn labrum) and JerShon Cobb (suspension), the loss of two big men leaves the Wildcats extremely vulnerable inside against Big Ten scoring leader Deshaun Thomas (20.1 ppg).
Thomas, who scored 26 against Indiana, had 19 points and 10 rebounds to help the Buckeyes pull out a 75-73 win at Northwestern last Feb. 29 in the teams' most recent meeting.
Northwestern guard Reggie Hearn averages a team-leading 14.2 points, but he's averaged 8.7 and shot 28.1 percent in the last three road contests. The Wildcats have averaged 50.7 points in those three defeats, losing by 17.0 per game.
Updated February 13, 2013