Northwestern hopes to hand No. 22 Ohio State first Big Ten loss

Chris Holtmann knew what he signed on for in replacing the winningest coach in Ohio State history.

He needed to restore energy to a talented but stagnant program after Thad Matta, who led the program to five Big Ten championships and two Final Fours, stepped down last season amid growing health concerns.

Only 19 games into his tenure, Holtmann has exceeded seemingly everyone's expectations -- including his own -- becoming the first coach in school history to open his career 6-0 in conference play with Sunday's 68-46 victory at Rutgers.

Ohio State (15-4) is off to its best start in league play since 2011 after posting a 17-15 record in 2016, finishing 10th in the conference. The No. 22 Buckeyes look to extend their conference win streak Wednesday as they take on Northwestern, which has lost four of its last six games.

"I think there is an element of surprise," Holtmann told reporters of the Buckeyes' hot start. "I think any coach that, through a third of the season, went undefeated (in conference) would have to say they're surprised."

The recent play of Kieta Bates-Diop has surprised Holtmann, too.

In addition to back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Week honors, Bates-Diop became the first player since Michael Redd in 1998 to score at least 25 points in three consecutive games, doing so in wins over Iowa, Michigan State and Maryland, including a career-high 32 against the previously top-ranked Spartans.

"I think it's probably unrealistic to expect this type of offensive efficiency to continue for him, even as great of a player as he is," Holtmann said. "He's going to get everybody's best shot given what he's done up to this point. Whether that's going to come in physical play, or in teams really scheming against him. ... We're going to hopefully put him in enough good positions to get open looks, and he just needs to take what the defense gives him."

Northwestern (11-8, 2-4) is struggling to establish its identity six games into its conference schedule, particularly on offense, for which coach Chris Collins took onus.

"I'm disappointed," Collins said. "The one thing we tried to talk about coming into the season is, just because a lot of guys are back doesn't mean it's the same team. You have to reestablish roles. You've got to reestablish the way you play, and your toughness and your grit. I take responsibility because it's my job to be able to do that, and I haven't really figured out the formula with these guys."

The Wildcats suffered a 66-46 loss at Indiana on Sunday in which Scottie Lindsey scored just two points, shooting 1-of-15 from the field. Lindsey is the Wildcats' leading scorer at 14 points per game, but has struggled recently to score efficiently, shooting 26.7 percent in his last four games.

"He's a key guy for us, so the last thing in the world I'm going to do is tell him to stop shooting," Collins said of Lindsey. "We've just got to make sure he takes the right shots."

Northwestern defeated Ohio State 74-72 last season in Columbus, but has not beaten a ranked Buckeyes squad since Feb. 18, 1989.

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