Northwestern seeks its sixth straight victory when it hosts Ohio State in Evanston, Ill., on Sunday.
The Wildcats (10-2, 1-0 Big Ten) are off to their best start since 2016-17 when they opened 12-2. That team lost to top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We talked about this going into the season, that if we wanted to be a team that had a chance to do anything, you have to take care of November and December,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “Being 10-2 at this point is a good spot and it sets us up for two months of basketball that really matter and it starts Sunday with Ohio State.”
The Buckeyes (9-3, 1-0) have won two in a row but coach Chris Holtmann sees several areas that need work.
“I think the biggest concerns are really our transition defense and rebounding,” Holtmann said. “Our defense with some of these guys — individually and collectively — can improve. We struggled to get stops, and we needed to get stops consistently. And I think that’s where we’ve got to keep getting better.”
Ohio State has outrebounded its opponents in all nine wins and been outrebounded in the trio of losses. The Buckeyes are second in the Big Ten and 12th in the country in rebounding margin at a plus-9.3 per game.
Northwestern will rely on a stingy defense to thwart the Buckeyes. The Wildcats enter Saturday third in the nation in field-goal-percentage defense (35.1 percent) and seventh in scoring defense, allowing just 55.7 points per game.
“This is the best Northwestern team we’ve seen in our five years (at Ohio State),” Holtmann said. “I really believe that and it’s a credit to Chris and his staff. Their numbers would confirm that in a lot of ways, at least their defensive numbers.”
The Buckeyes are scoring at an 81.7 clip, the best among Big Ten teams.
They are paced by Brice Sensabaugh, whose team-best 15.8 points per game is fourth among freshmen nationally. He has scored in double figures in all but one game and has three with 20-plus points.
— Field Level Media