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Buckeyes + Mackey Arena = Huge game

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ESPN's first edition of the Bubble Watch was published today and I was shocked to not even see Purdue mentioned on it. We're being killed right now by missing out on every RPI-building game possible outside of the Louisville win and most of our losses (Missouri, Iowa State, and Wofford) aren't even showing up as possibilities for their respective conferences. It is still early and I still think an 11-7 finish in the Big Ten will be hard to ignore as it will put us above many of the teams we would be battling with. Because it is early we have plenty of time and opportunities to improve our standing dramatically, and they begin with a critical four game stretch on Saturday when Ohio State comes to town.

Right now the Buckeyes are playing ball as well as anyone in the conference. Mackey Arena is already sold out for late Saturday afternoon and should be rocking for the first the first time in a long time as a true home court advantage. Since winnable games against Iowa, Illinois, and Penn State follow a win over Ohio State could mean a huge 5-1 start in conference play. Since the Buckeyes are also a consensus tournament team from the Big Ten already it would be a quality win to go along with the Louisville victory.

Ohio State so far:

The Buckeyes are off to a 3-0 start in the Big Ten, but the wins have come against Illinois (recently demoted to tier 3 on my list), Iowa, and Northwestern all by convincing margins. Those three teams have yet to win a conference game, so this is their first game against good competition in the conference. Following the Purdue game they have two tough road games against top 10 teams in Michigan State and Tennessee, so Ohio State is looking at this as their best chance to avoid and 0-3 road trip. The Buckeyes are 1-3 against ranked teams, beating Syracuse but losing to Butler, North Carolina, and Texas A&M by large margins. Florida is the only other victory of note.

One could argue that Ohio State has fisted on the light, while struggling against the mighty. The remaining 11 wins aside from Florida and Syracuse have come against teams that have little or no hope of making the NCAA's. No one really know how the Buckeyes will respond to a close game, as every result, win or lose, has been decided by 8 points or more.

Who is dangerous from Ohio State:

Ohio State loses one freshman stud as a center and simply replaces him with another Kosta Koufos is a 7', 265lb matchup nightmare for us in the lane. He's not quite as dangerous as Greg Oden was last year, but he is still averaging 14.5 points per game and 7 rebounds per game. He also blocks almost two shots per game, but struggled with only 6 points and three rebounds in the Buckeyes' last game with Iowa. Senior guard Jaron Butler does a little bit of everything, returning to the spotlight after hiding in Mike Conley's shadow last year. Butler goes for 14 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game, and if you look at his historical stats he has a natural dip in his junior campaign behind Conley last year. To me there is nothing more dangerous than a senior point guard in the Big Ten, and we just got past one in Drew Neitzel only to face Butler.

David Lighty and Othello Hunter are also strong upperclassmen who are averaging just under 10pts per game each, proving that Ohio State can spread the scoring around quite a bit if needed. Aside from these four, Jon Diebler, and Evan turner the scoring drops off significantly, so the Buckeyes aren't particularly deep. Hunter compliments Koufos inside on rebounding, but as a team they only rebound slightly better than Purdue. Defensively Ohio State is the top team in the conference, as teams are shooting less than 36% against them from the field.

What not to fear from Ohio State:

As mentioned, the Buckeyes only go about 6-7 guys deep. The only reason many guys on their roster have stats is because they have been able to play in a number of blowouts against teams like Columbia, VMI, and Coppin State. Purdue is a deeper team and if we're able to run some guys like Bobby Riddell at them for a few minutes that could be an advantage. You can knock on Riddell all you want, but the kid has experience from being forced to play two years ago. That is critical in the Big Ten and mark my words, it will pay off. Aside from Koufos and Hunter they aren't especially big either. We certainly won't have the matchups like we did against Conley and Oden in the three games last season.

Statistically Ohio State is at or near the top in several conference categories, but how many of these are inflated from games against inferior competition. The three losses have also come by more than ten points, which tells me they have a tendency to not play well from behind. If a team like Butler, who is not especially quick and doesn't have a ton of size, can beat the Buckeyes by 19 points we certainly have a good shot of coming up with a win.

General Outlook:

We need this win. Of the upper echelon teams in the Big Ten Ohio State is probably the most vulnerable, although if we can figure out how to play well at home I feel confident in our chances at beating Michigan State later on. The crowd will certainly be there for us, and we need to turn Mackey back into one of the most fearsome venues in the country. I want people loud on Saturday from the opening tip until the final horn. We haven't had a true home court advantage in years and this is our chance to show we can get it back.

Since I was magically clairvoyant about Kramer and Calasan on Tuesday night the same needs to hold true for this one. I wouldn't mind running Chris Reid out there for a few minutes to have a big body against Koufos. Anything we would get from Reid would obviously be a bonus, but if he can bang with Koufos for a few minutes and draw a foul or two it would be a great help. Hummell and Martin need to have pretty good games from the forward positions as well. Finally, it is time for Kramer to have a defensive clamp down performance against Butler. Let's see how Butler is feeling after we stick Chris Kramer in his jersey for a few hours.

I hate to call this a make or break game for us, but if we're going to make the NCAA tournament I have a hard time seeing it happen unless we win this, or another similar game. We must set the tone early, because if we get up early on this team we should be able to hold on. Much like the football game against Ohio State I am going to predict a win for the Buckeyes because we still have closing issues, especially at home. I want to be proven wrong. Ohio State 68, Purdue 63.