The starting backcourts at IU and Ohio State aren’t identical — but they’re close.
Each features a dynamic, veteran point guard and an explosive shooting guard leading the team in scoring. The mentor and pupil lean on each other, each capable of controlling a game at will.
For the Hoosiers (15-4, 5-1), it's junior Yogi Ferrell and freshman James Blackmon Jr. They combine to power the Big Ten’s highest-scoring offense that just put up 89 points on Maryland, the conference’s best defense.
For the Buckeyes (15-5, 4-3), it’s senior Shannon Scott and freshman D’Angelo Russell. Scott orchestrates the offense and Russell carries the offense by averaging 19.3 points per game, eight more than the second-leading scorer on the team.
Each starting duo have proven vital to their team’s success. The task for IU is finding a way to slow Ohio State’s Scott and Russell down Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio.
“(Russell’s) doing an excellent job of moving the ball and being in rhythm off the ball screen,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “Not only with Russell, but Shannon Scott makes them so good. I think they are playing very, very well.”
Russell plays similar to Blackmon Jr., not being afraid to shoot from long-distance while also leading his team with 5.2 rebounds per game. Blackmon is second for IU averaging 5.6 boards per contest.
But its Russell’s scoring that’s been keeping him among the nation’s top first-year players. His 19.3 points per game is most among freshmen in the country and trails only Penn State’s D.J. Newbill in the Big Ten.
In his last outing against Northwestern, he had 33 points, six rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers.
Scott isn’t quite the scoring threat that Ferrell is, averaging just about half as many points per game. He’s more of a distributor, dishing out a Big Ten-leading 6.9 assists per game.
But like Ferrell, Scott is one of the team’s best defenders. He’s already a two-time member of the Big Ten’s all-defensive team, and sophomore forward Troy Williams has taken notice.
“I think Shannon Scott has come to be one of the best defensive players in our league,” Williams said. “That’s really big for them. They just always go for the ball.”
The Hoosiers experienced that aggressive defense first hand in their win just two weeks ago. IU had 15 turnovers in that game, which was actually less than Ohio State’s 16.6 forced turnovers per game the team averages.
In that same matchup, Russell struggled with consistency. He was just 3-of-15 from the field, but hauled in eight rebounds.
On the flip side, Scott had one of his more consistent games of the year, finishing with 16 points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists.
In a literal sense, the game is a rematch. But while the backcourts remain the same, both teams’ frontcourts project completely differently.
The Hoosiers have lost their starting center Hanner Mosquera-Perea to a knee injury and now play 6-foot-7 forward Collin Hartman in his place. Ohio State now features a new-look starting lineup with Jae’Sean Tate and Anthony Lee replacing Marc Loving and Amir Williams in the frontcourt.
“Our lineup has changed as well,” Williams said. “So in a way, they have to adapt to our lineup.”
But what will almost certainly remain a rematch is the battle between Ferrell-Blackmon and Scott-Russell. Ohio State is one of five Big Ten opponents IU will play twice this season and will test how much the two learned watching film 15 days removed from their first meeting.
“The more you play a team, the harder it gets to beat them,” freshman guard Rob Johnson said. “They’re seeing things that you were trying to do, so they’re going to try to take them away.”
Trying to retain a share for first place in the conference, the Hoosiers will be doing the same.