First, I want to thank everyone for their messages of support over the past few days during my brief hiatus. There will likely be a semi-formal announcement on Thursday once I receive confirmation of my suspicions, but Sunday morning Mrs. T-Mill and I suffered a pretty intense personal loss and we've been dealing with it the last few days. It is nothing catastrophic that will cause me to walk away from the site, nor is it anything that is life-threatening. Still, it has been pretty intense. In fact, I need the site more than ever now. That is why I am very glad for Saturday's cathartic experience in Mackey Arena. We knew then what was likely happening and it was a very welcome distraction.
I am also thankful for tonight's game, which is a huge contest for the Big Ten as we near the halfway mark of the conference season. A Purdue victory makes it a three team race between our Boilers, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, with Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan State still pretty close. A loss puts the Buckeyes up by two full games over everyone with 10 to play. A Purdue win is also significant because the rematch (and potential sweep) will come in Mackey Arena. Penn State is the lone team that has even come close to beating us in Mackey this year, so I would feel very good playing OSU there.
There are also national implications for this game. Ironically, one victory tonight could give us three top 50 RPI wins. Since Penn State is currently #51 in the RPI, our victory over the #1 ranked team could boost their Strength of Schedule just enough to put them at #50. This is key, as beating the #1 team on the road probably vaults us to a #2 seed again in a lot of projections and maybe, just maybe, puts us in line for a #1 depending on what else happens.
2009-10 Record: 29-8, 14-4 Big Ten (Big Ten co-champions, Big Ten Tournament Champions)
2010-11 Record: 20-0, 7-0 Big Ten
Postseason Result: Lost 76-73 to Tennessee in Sweet 16
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 82-81
Last Purdue win: 2/17/2010 at Ohio State 60-57
Last Ohio State win: 1/12/2010 at Purdue 70-66
Time & TV 9pm ESPN
|Lenzelle Smith Jr||12||5.7||0.5||1.3||40.0||0.0||0.4||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.6||0.3||0.9||0.8||0.5||0.3||0.0||0.3||1.0|
The big story tonight is Jared Sullinger vs. JaJuan Johnson. It is merely round one of what could be four potential matchups (if we meet in Indianapolis and in the NCAAs). Sullinger is the beast freshman that is almost certainly headed to the NBA at the end of the season. JJ is the wily veteran that has more moves than Wilt Chamberlain with an NBA groupie. Both guys can play close to the basket, but have a nice jumper. Sullinger isn't afraid to shoot the three (1 for 8 on the year). I would give the edge to Sullinger near the basket, but to JJ away from the basket. Either way, one of these two guys will probably be Big Ten Player of the Year and maybe even National Player of the Year.
Ultimately, I would like to see us employ the defense on Sullinger my beloved Kokomo Wildkats did in the 1997 semi-state final. In that game, we faced Mr. Basketball Luke Recker in what was his final high school game. Instead of worrying about him, we shut everyone else down and dared Recker to score 60 and beat us. Coupled with an outstanding offensive performance by us, we won 69-46 even though Recker had about 27 points.
That is easier said than done, however, as Sullinger's supporting cast is outstanding. Aaron Craft has been a very underrated point guard in a league with Demetri McCamey, Kalin Lucas, Al Nolen, and Lewis Jackson. He only averages 6.3 points per game, but he distributes almost five assists. Then you have the experienced cast that seems like it has been in Columbus forever. William Buford, Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, and David Lighty have all been through the wars. Lauderdale can essentially only rebound and dunk, but if JJ is Sullinger we don't have many guys that can stop him from doing either. Diebler is your typical guard that can get open and bury dagger 3-pointers. He is Ryne Smith before Ryne Smith was cool.
Buford and Lighty are probably the biggest guys that we need to key on because they provide all those little baskets on possessions between Sullinger dominating. They are big guards that can shoot the three, create their own shot, or drive. Defensively, I can see sticking Kelsey Barlow and E`Twaun Moore on them for most of the game, with LewJack on Craft.
This game needs to be won with our defense. OSU is fifth national in shooting percentage at 49.5%, mostly because they can feed the ball to Sullinger down low and few teams can stop him. When he is shooting almost 58% from the field and Lauderdale 68% (again, all he does is rebound and dunk) your percentages go up because they take so many shots close to the basket. This opens things up on the perimeter, where Sullinger is excellent at finding people like Diebler, Buford, and Lighty for open shots. Then you have Indiana Mr. Basketball Deshaun Thomas coming off the bench and averaging 9.5 points per game.
I don't think there is a team in the Big Ten that can match OSU for raw talent. This is why they keep pulling out close games late. They know where to go when they absolutely need a basket and they let that talent prevail. To beat them we must continue to play cohesive team basketball. LewJack's drives that were so devastating against MSU likely won't be there when Sullinger and Lauderdale are patrolling the paint, but I would still like to see him drive to see if he can get some cheap fouls on Sullinger. We cannot be afraid to attack him defensively.
That is where JJ has an edge. JJ has four years, plus all of this season, where he has played knowing he can't afford fouls. Sullinger doesn't have that experience, so I would to see JJ draw him to a few early fouls based on his veteran experience. This is good in theory, but the Big Ten officials have to call them.
When we have the ball we have to continue making everyone a threat to score. That means Ryno has to shoot, D.J. Byrd has to take his open looks, and even Travis Carroll needs to keep shooting his little 16-footer. More than ever, we can't be the JJ and E'twaun show, though I am fine with it if they continue to go off like they did vs. MSU.
When Ohio state has the ball I am not so much worried about defending shots as I am disrupting passes and their offense. They average 79 points (20th nationally) and 17.5 assists (11th nationally) per game. If we can cause some turnovers and disrupt their offensive flow it will greatly benefit us. That means defense on Craft, the catalyst, is paramount.