C.J. Jackson knows the regular season is coming to a close.
The Ohio State senior guard said he was watching TV and the first commercial for the NCAA Tournament aired, reminding him of what could be in the Buckeyes’ future in the month of March.
But nothing has changed in terms of approach for head coach Chris Holtmann’s team, especially after its latest loss to then-No. 11 Michigan State Sunday, the Buckeyes’ second in their past two games.
“I’m not quite sure the good, what the benefit of talking about [the NCAA Tournament] is. What are you gaining from that?” Holtmann said. “Our focus needs to be on getting better, preparing for Northwestern and trying to limit our turnovers, trying to do basketball things that this team needs to do to improve.”
Like he has all season, he has instilled a mantra that Ohio State will take onto the court when it faces Northwestern on Wednesday: Get better today to prepare for tomorrow.
“It sounds boring, but I am OK with that,” Holtmann said.
Ohio State (16-9, 6-8 Big Ten)
G — C.J. Jackson — Senior, 12.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg
G — Luther Muhammad — Freshman, 9.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.0 apg
G — Musa Jallow — Sophomore, 2.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 0.4 apg
F — Andre Wesson — Junior, 8.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.6 apg
F — Kaleb Wesson — Sophomore, 14.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.7 apg
Northwestern (12-13 , 3-11 Big Ten)
G — Ryan Taylor —Redshirt senior, 11.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.3 apg
G — Anthony Gaines — Sophomore, 6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.1 apg
F — Vic Law — Redshirt senior, 15.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.9 apg
C — Barrett Benson — Junior, 2.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.4 apg
C — Dererk Pardon— Senior, 13.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.8 apg
Only winning 3-of-14 Big Ten games this season, Northwestern has had its share of struggles offensively. It averages 67 points per game, shooting 40.9 percent from the field, both ranked last in the Big Ten conference.
However, in recent games, the WIldcats have brought something that could bring problems for Ohio State: size.
Northwestern has started two centers — senior Dererk Pardon and junior Barrett Benson — and redshirt senior forward Vic Law in each of the Wildcats’ past three games. At 6-foot-8, 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-7 respectively, this size proves to be a mismatch for an Ohio State team that relies mostly on sophomore forward Kaleb Wesson in the post.
Holtmann said after Sunday’s loss to the Spartans that Wesson showed signs of fatigue he had never seen out of him before. But he said much of that has to do with where Ohio State is at in the season.
“He’s a big guy. He’s not a guy that can just motor up and down the floor,” Holtmann said. “That’s not necessarily who he is. It’s not who he’s ever going to be, so it’s harder for a guy who’s that big. I think it’s that and I think it’s how much, how many minutes he’s played this season.”
Wesson will have to face Pardon, who Holtmann considers to be incredibly physical in the low post, and Law, both older players with big bodies.
But sophomore forward Kyle Young said the approach for the players in the post does not change too much, even if there is a differential in the amount of size on the floor.
“You just have to go out there and still be physical,” Young said. “Block out, get rebounds, stuff like that. It might be a little more important this game, with the size.”
Despite being a bigger team than Ohio State is, Northwestern averages 34 boards per game, second-lowest in the conference.
Along with the struggling offense, the Wildcats have been one of the better defenses in the Big Ten. They allow 64.5 points per game, fourth-best in the conference, while allowing opponents to shoot 42.3 percent from the field.
However, from 3, opponents have not found success. Northwestern holds teams to 29.6 percent from deep, the lowest in the Big Ten.
Holtmann said that has to do with the veteran players on the roster, naming redshirt senior Ryan Taylor, who averages 11.1 points per game, as an example of this.
“You can tell how much those guys care about winning and playing to win. Obviously those guys have been through a lot of battles,” Holtmann said. “It will be a typical Big Ten game that will be a tremendous grind.”
After playing 26 minutes against the Spartans, but playing only 11 in the second half due to an ankle injury, Jackson said his ankle is improving each day and that he should be good to go against the Wildcats.
Ohio State will take on Northwestern at the Schottenstein Center at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.