Ohio State begins it's defense of their 2010 Big Ten Tournament Championship this afternoon when they face #8 seed Northwestern at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Four Quarterfinals games take place today, with the Buckeyes and Wildcats opening the day at Noon, ET.
Northwestern earned a date with the reigning champs by dispatching ninth- seeded Minnesota, 75-65, in yesterday's opening round. Familiarity breeds success for the Wildcats, as they closed the regular season with a 68-57 win over those very Golden Gophers, to finish the year at 7-11 in Big Ten play.
Ohio State enters tournament play as the top-seed for the second consecutive season. Not only do the Buckeyes sport the tourney's top seed, but also the nation's top-ranking. They finished the regular season at 29-2 and 16-2 in league play, clinching their fourth Big Ten title in six years under head coach Thad Matta.
Today's game will act as a rematch of a hotly contested regular-season matchup, in which the undefeated Buckeyes earned a 58-57 victory on Jan. 29th. It was the teams' only meeting this season. Ohio State now leads the all-time series 108-45.
Michael Thompson proved to be the catalyst in Northwestern's most recent victory over Minnesota. The consensus All-Big Ten Third Team selection set a conference tourney scoring record with a career-high 35 points. He went 11- of-22 from the field, including 5-of-12 from three-point range and 8-of-8 from the foul line. Thompson's performance at the charity stripe stretched his consecutive free throw streak to 28, moving him past Pete Boesen's school record of 27 in a row that had stood since 1976. Northwestern held a slim 32-30 lead at the break, and the game continued its back and forth nature until midway through the second half, when the Wildcats ripped off a decisive 13-1 run, giving them a 55-45 lead with nine minutes left. The Golden Gophers would get no closer than nine the rest of the way. In the end, it was strong defense and controlled play that led to the win, as Northwestern held Minnesota to just 37.5 percent shooting and handed out 15 assists against just five turnovers. The Wildcats now rank first in the Big 10 in assists (16.77 apg) and second in assist/turnover ration (1.68/1). Thompson has handed out a team-high 129 assists on the year, while also ranking second in scoring at 15.9 ppg. He ranks third in the Big Ten with 2.7 three-pointers per game and has hit a team-high 81 shots from beyond the arc. John Shurna leads the team in scoring (16.3 ppg), as the Wildcats average 72 ppg. They struggle on the other end of the floor, sporting the ninth-ranked scoring defense in the league (67.9 ppg).
Ohio State last played on March 6th, earning a 93-65 victory over 10th-ranked Wisconsin in the regular-season finale. The win served a payback for an earlier-season loss to the Badgers, which spoiled the Buckeyes undefeated record. With revenge on their minds, the Buckeyes dominated Wisconsin on both ends of the floor, shooting 68.1 percent from the field, while holding the Badgers to 41.7 percent shooting. The lights-out offensive performance included an incredible 14-of-15 clip from beyond the arc, led by Jon Diebler, who scored a game-high 27 points behind 7-of-8 shooting from downtown. Jared Sullinger added 22 points and eight boards in the runaway win. The wildly efficient showing was nothing new, as the Buckeyes currently lead the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage (41.9). They also hold league-leading distinctions in scoring offense (77.9 ppg), field goal percentage (50), steals (7.5 spg) and scoring margin (plus-18.2), while ranking second in scoring defense (59.7 ppg). Sullinger, a unanimous pick for Big Ten Freshman of the Year, leads the team in scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (9.7 rpg). William Buford (14.5 ppg), Diebler (12.3 ppg) and David Lighty (12.3 ppg) help carry the load. Aaron Craft, who was selected as the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year by league coaches, leads the squad in assists (145) and steals (64).
Although Northwestern hung tough with Ohio State during the regular season, don't expect the same results this afternoon. The Buckeyes' overwhelming mix of balanced yet explosive offense and hard-nosed defense will prove too much for the Wildcats this time around.
The winner will move on to face the winner of today's second game between Illinois and Michigan.