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Preview: The moments keep getting bigger for No. 2 Ohio State, No. 6 Indiana

The Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off a loss to the No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes. The Indiana Hoosiers are coming off a win over the No. 13 Michigan Wolverines. It’s another Big Ten showdown between highly-ranked teams.

Syndication: The Herald-Times
Mackenzie Holmes is averaging an impressive 21.9 points and 8.3 rebounds for Indiana.
Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Even in their loss to Iowa on Monday, the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes demonstrated the dominant defense they’ve displayed all season long. Their full-court press showed it was capable of forcing turnovers when they were desperately needed, even against the No. 2 scoring offense in the country and an All-World point guard in Caitlin Clark. It allowed the Buckeyes to go on a 10-0 run over the final 5:56 of the third quarter and nearly take the lead.

Nevertheless, Ohio State is undefeated no longer and now its next opponent has replaced it as the No. 2 team in ESPN’s Bracketology. That would be the No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers. Buckeye head coach Kevin McGuff said on The Next’s Locked on Women’s Basketball that Jacy Sheldon will be back from her foot injury “very soon,” but that might not mean for Thursday’s game at Indiana. So the Buckeyes are in real danger of losing two in a row after their 19-0 start.

The Hoosiers are coming off six straight wins, including three over ranked teams over their last four games. Grace Berger returned in style by helping them beat now-No. 10 Maryland 68-61 on Jan. 12, they defeated now-No. 22 Illinois on Jan. 18 and, the same night Ohio State suffered its first loss, they took down No. 13 Michigan.

It’s been quite the season for the Hoosiers with their only loss coming to Michigan State without Berger on Dec. 29. Their other win over a currently ranked team came on Dec. 1. They convincingly defeated a now-No. 15 North Carolina team that has looked great over its last five games with wins coming over No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 16 Duke and No. 20 NC State.

Being No. 2 in Bracketology is a huge honor this late in the season and imagine what it would mean for the Indiana program to be a No. 1 seed and/or go to the Final Four, something Berger, Mackenzie Holmes and Ali Patberg came close to when they led the team to the Elite Eight in 2021. Indiana’s best seasons in program history have come over the last two years and it has taken it to a whole other level this year. Can the Hoosiers keep it going against the Buckeyes?

Ohio State will still be an extremely difficult challenge without Sheldon. Buckeye leading scorer Taylor Mikesell is a lethal 3-point shooter (sixth in the nation with 3.2 treys per game) and Rebeka Mikulášiková, freshman Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry all join her in averaging double figures. Mikulášiková is a versatile post who can get creative inside, rebound and shoot the three. McMahon and Thierry are less frequent 3-point shooters, but are small forwards who can create their own scoring with great ball-handling and driving. All of the Buckeyes are tough and they all work together to force a ton of turnovers.

Indiana will counter with the familiar faces of Berger and Holmes, but also with 3-point threats in Yarden Garzon, Sydney Parrish and Sara Scalia and their leading distributor in Chloe Moore-McNeil. The contest should be a great showcase of how great the Big Ten has become.

Game information

No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (19-1, 8-1 Big Ten) vs. No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers (18-1, 8-1 Big Ten)

When: Thursday, Jan. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, IN

How to watch: Big Ten Network

Key to the matchup: Ohio State’s defense. Indiana allows less points per game, but the Ohio State defense specializes in a couple categories. The Buckeyes are fourth in the nation in turnovers forced per game (22.8) and 19th in 3-point defense (26.3 percent). They will likely need to excel in those areas to come away with the victory. They need to create extra possessions for themselves because Indiana has the better field goal percentage (50.3, second in the country). And they need to shut down Indiana’s 3-point shooters, as the Hoosiers are 40th in the country with a 35.4 percent clip from beyond the arc. Ohio State also has to overcome Indiana having the better rebounding margin.