Minnesota visits Ohio State in pivotal Big Ten bout

A pair of struggling teams meet at Value City Arena on Wednesday night, as the Minnesota Golden Gophers tangle with the 18th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Big Ten Conference action.

Both squads have lost three of their last four games, and while Minnesota was a member of the Top-25 for a while, it is on the outside looking in for the second straight week. Ohio State's recent downturn has cost it several spots in the national rankings the last two weeks.

Minnesota started the season a stellar 15-1, but it has won only three of its last 10 games. A 72-51 setback at Iowa on Sunday was its most recent loss, and the Gophers have dropped their last five on the road.

Ohio State suffered an embarrassing 71-49 loss at Wisconsin on Sunday, but the team is clearly thrilled to be back home where it has gone 13-2 this season. The Buckeyes only have five games left in the regular season, three of which will take place in Columbus.

Ohio State owns a 79-55 lead in the all-time series with Minnesota, and the Buckeyes have won five straight and six of the last seven meetings between the two.

Minnesota lacks identifiable star power, instead relying on a starting five that averages between 9.4 and 13.7 ppg. Leading scorer Andre Hollins also serves as the team's primary playmaker (89 assists), and he is a near-40 percent shooter from 3-point range. Trevor Mbakwe (9.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 42 blocks) is a force on the inside, and the Golden Gophers own the Big Ten's second-best rebounding margin (+8.4) while pacing the conference in both steals (220) and blocked shots (155). Minnesota trailed Iowa by five points at the break, but the team made good on only 8-of-25 field goal attempts (.320) in the second half while the Hawkeyes dialed up a 61.1 percent effort to put the game out of reach. Austin Hollins scored 14 points and Mbakwe added 13 of his own, but a dismal 3-of-14 performance from long range, a 14-of-23 showing at the foul line and 17 turnovers proved too much to overcome.

Despite having the Big Ten's leading scorer on the roster, Ohio State currently ranks fifth in the conference with an average of 70.7 ppg. Deshawn Thomas (20.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg) has certainly done his best to keep his team on the brink of greatness, but Lenzelle Smith, Jr.(10.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is the only other double-digit scorer, and he checks in at nearly half of what Thomas churns out. Aaron Craft (9.3 ppg) is close to joining the ranks, but he really earns his keep by getting his teammates involved in the action to the tune of 4.4 apg. OSU's defensive effort yields just 59.6 ppg, which ranks third in the conference, and the team ranks third in blocked shots (4.5 bpg) as well. In the recent loss to Wisconsin, Thomas hit for 18 points and grabbed six rebounds, but Sam Thompson was the only other guy who proved to be productive as he tallied 10 points. The Buckeyes shot just 37.5 percent from the field, missing nine of their 12 3-point tries along the way. They also went a woeful 4-of-11 at the charity stripe, while the Badgers converted 52.7 percent of their total shots and claimed a 37-30 rebounding advantage.