Boilermakers, it has been a while since I have generated content here, so excuse my absence. Turns out this whole dental school thing requires committing some time after all. Anyways, I was chatting with an Illini friend of mine this morning, discussing the upcoming Mike Tisdale - JaJuan Johnson matchups in the conference season. The light bulb went off, and this piece was born.
Even though we have scratched two conference foes off of the list for the regular season, there are still eight other teams that will try their best to slow down our taller All-American before the conference season is out. This article will be a look-ahead/pseudo-poll as to who #25 will be matched against in the Big Ten and how he ought to fare against these other big fellas.
A bit of a disclaimer: I realize that a player of JaJuan’s caliber will see attention from many different players from opposing rosters. To simplify things, I’ll be looking at the one or two starters that JJ will likely spend the most time with in conference. I also realize that the landscape of basketball changes greatly, and Purdue won’t see some of these big guys until February. For the purpose of speculation, we’ll assume that the starters of today are the starters of tomorrow.
Let’s jump, shall we?
Penn State – Jeff Brooks – 6’8", 215 / Andrew Jones – 6’10", 245
This evening, we should see JJ pitted against these two Nittany Lions more often than not. Brooks, a senior, is posting 13.4 ppg and 7.6 rpg in 31.1 minutes per game this season. He went off for 23 points against Indiana, and followed with a 16 point performance against Michigan. Brooks has some range, and is actually shooting near 40% from three this year, though his attempts are somewhat low at 23. While Brooks will play more of the 4 role, I think, a bigger player with his hot hand and decent range will call for some attention #25.
In all likelihood, though, JaJuan will see more of Andrew Jones than he will of Jeff Brooks due to the size that Jones brings to the court. Matching JJ in height but having 20 pounds on him, Jones may be able to push JaJuan around a bit. For being the primary man in the middle, though, Jones is slacking somewhat in the rebound department at 5.6 per game. He’s also only got 5 blocks on the year. I think JJ has a bigtime matchup advantage against Jones, and should have another big game tonight.
Iowa – Jarryd Cole – 6’7", 250
While he may have 25 pounds on JaJuan, Cole gives up 3 inches to him, and thus probably will have a hard time dealing with JJ’s length. Cole is only averaging 7.4 points per game, but is hauling in a decent 7 rebounds per game. He has some jumper capability, but operates mostly under the basket. As may be the norm this season, JJ’s versatility will be the undoing of most of his big man opponents. Advantage JJ here, too.
Minnesota – Ralph Sampson III – 6’11", 241
Sampson is a beast, and this matchup of big men should be a very fun one to watch, if you’re into that sort of thing. Scoring 10.9 points per game and hauling in 5.7 rebounds per game, he’s putting up solid but not spectacular numbers. Additionally, he is about even with JJ in shot blocking averages this season (2.1 vs. 2.2). Sampson always gives me the feeling of somebody that could give JJ trouble. However, on average, JaJuan is in for 7 minutes longer per game, leaving plenty of time to roam the floor without Sampson around. Like I said, this will be a good matchup of Big Ten big men, and in consideration for the "Top 3" matchups JaJuan will see in conference, in my opinion.
Both of these guys are formidable rebounders and can be versatile scorers for Sparty (12.2 and 8.9 for Draymond, 7.2 and 6 for Roe). They are certainly bulkier players than JJ, but, again, JaJuan’s length may set him free in this matchup. The tandem could prove troublesome, as JJ can’t take them both at the same time individually. Without some additional help from guys like Byrd, Barlow, or maybe a Hanson, the Boilers could be in trouble on account of these two. However, one-on-one, I give a slight edge to Johnson in both matchups.
Ohio State – Jared Sullinger – 6’9", 280
Sullinger vs. Johnson will be must see TV for college basketball fans. The skilled padawan vs. the Jedi master, the upstart rookie vs. the wise veteran, the bull vs. the oak tree; whatever the headline may be, all eyes will be down low when the Buckeyes and Boilermakers square off. As is becoming a theme, this matchup will be a question of Sullinger’s ability to bang down low vs. JaJuan’s versatility and length. Having seen Sully a few times this year, I’m sold that he is a superb talent and I’ll concede that he will probably out-rebound JJ and push him around a little bit in the paint. BUT, I don’t see Sullinger having the speed and agility to match JJ when he steps out for a jumper. For me, it will come down to whether or not JJ is hitting his jumpers. If he does, he will outplay Sullinger overall. If he does not, Sullinger will win the day. Regardless of outcome, this one-on-one will be a treat for supporters of both the Scarlet and Gray and the Old Gold and Black. Definitely a "Top 3," likely a "Top 1." Can’t wait.
Wisconsin – Jon Leuer 6’10", 228
Leuer is a fine player and I think JaJuan is going to have his hands full. The Badger is putting up similar numbers to JJ this season (19.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks). He’s also hitting a blistering 46.6% of his 3-pointers. His size is also similar to JJ, with nearly the same height and weight. I think if he were still healthy, Robbie would stick on Leuer but with the huge size advantage Leuer holds over the next biggest Boilermaker, JaJuan should spend lots of time with him. It’s really hard to say who wins this matchup, as both are among the best big men in America. This is definitely one of my "Top 3" for the season. I have to declare a draw on this one, and I’d be happy to settle for good performances at home by each player. This should be another fun one to watch.
Watford is having himself a nice little season so far, posting 17.2 points per game to go along with 5.5 rebounds per game. He is clearly Indiana’s best big player, in my humble opinion. His ability to score from all over the floor (41.2% from 3) will stretch JJ more than some of the other big men in the conference. Lucky for the Boilers, JJ is used to playing defense all over the court, and can handle what Watford throws at him. I expect a game effort from Watford, with JJ ultimately winning the day.
I almost didn’t include Pritchard here, as he sees less than 20 minutes per game, is clearly a stepdown from Watford, and is not putting up significant statistics thus far. However, the memory of his good effort against JJ in Bloomington last year is still fresh in my mind, and thus I have to include him in this assessment. Pritchard proved he has the ability to slow JaJuan down if he’s playing his best, and could prove critical in the Purdue-IU matchup. However, I think JaJuan is breaking out of his "off-games" problem, and will have the fortitude to not let an inferior (no offense) player shut him down again, especially in a rivalry game.
Illinois – Mike Tisdale – 7’1", 250
I’ve always perceived Tisdale as a formidable opponent for JaJuan, because he’s one of the few guys around that can match both his experience and his length. I agree with my Illinois buddy in the sentiment that JaJuan has the ability to smash through Tisdale if he wants to, regardless of length. This season, Tisdale is putting up 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, establishing himself as less of a threat to score and more of a threat to rake in the rebounds. His consistency has been an issue, though. For example, he reeled in 15 rebounds at Gonzaga (impressive) while only collecting 5 against UIC (ouch). Atop that, he was limited to 4 rebounds against Wisconsin in his most recent action. Tisdale will be the last "new" big man JJ sees this season, so maybe Tisdale can develop some more consistency as the year moves on. However, for today, edge to JaJuan.
So now, readers, I open it up to you. Who will JJ push over with ease? Who may give him fits? I’d love to hear your thoughts and, if you’ve got them, criticisms.
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