Saturday, January 19, 2002

Surprise Big Ten leaders set to square off

Early test not a season-maker, OSU coach says

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Just how important is today's showdown between the Big Ten's only two remaining unbeaten teams, Indiana and Ohio State?

        “Not very,” Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien said.

        O'Brien draws a distinction between victories in January and do-or-die games in late February or March. He knows there are many more land mines to sidestep for both the Hoosiers and Buckeyes.

        “I shouldn't say that,” O'Brien said after a slight hesitation. “It's important to us because it can give us a quality win. The caveat is "this early.' There are so many games remaining. Even when you look at a Michigan State that is 1-3 — I don't think anybody's counting those guys out.”

        Few in the preseason were counting on Ohio State or Indiana to be at the head of the conference even at this stage. With 12 games remaining, each team also knows what is riding on the game.

        “After Saturday only one team will be at the top,” Ohio State guard Brian Brown said after the Buckeyes' 76-57 win over Penn State on Wednesday night.

        “Both of us are 4-0 in the Big Ten,” forward Zach Williams added. “These are the games you love to play in.”

        Ohio State (13-2) has won its last seven games overall and 11 in a row in the conference over the last two seasons.

        “A win would be nice for the sole reason not so much of being the only team in first place,” O'Brien said, “but it could give you another win toward helping you down the road when you see how this conference is going to play out.”

        He added, “A loss will be tough but certainly not devastating.”

        Indiana (11-5) has had all week to rest since rolling over No.13 Iowa 77-66 in Iowa City on Sunday.

        After that game, Hoosiers coach Mike Davis raved about his team.

        “Our guys are playing so well right now and I have nothing to do with it,” Davis said. “For us to come in here and win this game really gives a boost to our confidence.”

        Ohio State allows fewer points (58.2) than anyone else in the Big Ten and also is the best shooting team (50.1 percent from the field).

        Although Indiana doesn't rank at the top of anything other than the standings, the Hoosiers also are in the top five in almost every statistical category.

        “They do a little bit of everything and clearly they are playing as good as anyone in the conference right now,” O'Brien said.

        Indiana is 4-0 at home where it is averaging 9.3 turnovers a game, but is just 7-5 away from Assembly Hall with 15 turnovers a game.

        Jared Jeffries, a 6-foot-10 sophomore for the Hoosiers, is the Big Ten's fifth-leading scorer at 17.1 points a game. After Sunday's loss, Iowa coach Steve Alford said Jeffries caused his team many of its problems.

        “We wanted to try to take their 3 game away, but we weren't able to do it. We weren't able to control Jeffries in the post, which then affected at how we guarded the perimeter,” Alford said. “Our guards got anxious to try and help in the post, and their guards made us pay.”

        O'Brien said he knows that Jeffries can create havoc for a defense.

        “Jeffries is a major headache because of his individual ability,” O'Brien said. “If you guard him with someone his size, he has the ability to take that player away from the basket and shoot 3s and possibly go by him. If you guard him with somebody smaller, he obviously has the ability to go inside and post up. That's a real dilemma.”


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