Tonight our Boilermakers face perhaps their most difficult test of the season. We travel to Ohio State to face a team battling for a number one seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. They are on top of the Big Ten as expected after some early stumbles, and at home they have been dominant. Most people have already given up and put this one in the loss column. I'm a Boilermaker, however, and I don't give up even in the face of a difficult situation.
Tonight's task is exceedingly difficult, but not impossible. If you consider Duke to be one of the premier teams in the country then I know we have a chance because we happen to have beaten two teams (Miami and Temple) that beat Duke. Ohio State would be a third if fortune smiles upon us tonight. If there is any magic left over from the last time we played these guys it needs to come out tonight.
2010-11 Record: 34-3, 16-2 Big Ten (Big Ten regular season and tournament champs)
2011-12 Record: 20-3, 8-2 Big Ten
Postseason Result: Lost 62-60 to Kentucky in Sweet 16
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 83-82
Last Purdue win: 2/20/2011 at Purdue 76-63
Last Ohio State win: 1/25/2011 at Ohio State 87-64
Time & TV 9pm ESPN
|Lenzelle Smith Jr.||23||23.0||2.2||4.3||50.5||0.7||1.7||44.7||1.1||2.0||55.3||1.5||3.2||4.7||2.0||1.1||1.1||0.1||2.0||6.2|
No one forgets the last time we played these guys, as it was the high point of the 2010-11 season. E`Twaun Moore had an unforgettable 38 point performance and the best crowd in Mackey Arena's history literally made the Buckeyes wilt. Little did we know it would spiral out of control three weeks later. When this game happened it looks like a Number one seed, a Big Ten title, and a Final Four were all possible. Then, we collapsed.
Now we come in at the opposite end of the spectrum, while the Buckeyes are still on their lofty perch atop the Big Ten. They have ridden out the chaos, of which they fell victim at Indiana and Illinois, and they find themselves back in control of the Big Ten at 8-2 with eight games to go.
Of course, these guys are the conference favorites for multiple reasons. Jared Sullinger is a likely lottery pick in this summer's NBA Draft and is a human double-double at 17.4 points per game and 9.1 rebounds. William Buford (who seems like he should have 4 PhD's by now because he's been around so long) is next at 14.9 points per game, while Deshaun Thomas is living up to his vast potential and averaging 14.7 per game. All three guys could be in the NBA next year, easily.
Aaron Craft runs the point masterfully with 4.9 assists per game and lock down defense, while Lenzelle Smith Jr. is the wild card that can have a big game out of nowhere like his 28 points scored in the home win over Indiana.
As is typical with Thad Matta's teams, there is not a ton of production from the bench. J.D. Weatherspoon, Jordan Sibert, Sam Thompson, and Shannon Scott see time, but only Evan Ravenel averages better than four points off the bench. With starters this good, they don't need to do a lot.
For good measure Sullinger has added the three-pointer to his arsenal, and he is an efficient 8 of 19 form long range this year. He's hardly Jon Diebler, but Buford, Thomas, and Smith do the bulk of the work outside. This isn't a team that relies on the three, however. Buford leads the team with 36 made triples, and next is Thomas with 23.
Of course, they don't need to shoot threes when Buford and Thomas can get to the rim and you have Sullinger on the low block. As a team OSU shoots 49% from the field and Sullinger tops out at 58%. They take care of the basketball at only 12 turnovers per game, and Sullinger and Thomas are beasts on the offensive glass.
Defensively, Craft is a pest that would be perfect in gold and black, so I respect him more than hate him. He averages 2.3 steals per game and can create a cheap two points in a hurry with a steal and breakaway.
So how do we beat these guys? Well, it is going to take our team coming together from its disjointed play, improving our shooting to mere poor from abysmal, taking care of the basketball (one thing we do well) and team play on both ends of the floor. Right now our biggest weakness is that we're not playing team-oriented basketball. Purdue basketball recruits all five players to play in full sync with each other,. When that happens, weaknesses are overshadowed and strengths are magnified. Unfortunately, we haven't seen it since the Minnesota game. Most of the time it seems everyone is not on the same page, but we have seen it at times this year, so I know it can happen.
Lewis Jackson cannot be a virtual non-factor like he was against Indiana. I expected big things out of him after a week to heal, and instead he was 1 for 10 with his only basket on a putback. LewJack needs to be a scoring threat for us to have any chance, and by that I mean at least 15 points.
On Sullinger, we have Travis Carroll, Sandi Marcius, and Jacob Lawson. As distasteful as this approach is, they have a combined 15 fouls to give and they need to get five on him. That means it is time to plant and flop at the slightest contact. Getting a call or two would help there greatly, as Dallas Lauderdale is not there anymore to rebound and dunk on the back side.
I am not sure who Kelsey Barlow should be on defensively, Thomas or Buford, but on offense he is one of our few players that can attack the basket. Therefore, he has to drive and maybe he can get a cheap foul or two on Sullinger.
Ryne Smith simply has to find his shot. If he can't hit, get him off the floor. D.J. Byrd needs a larger role, and he could possibly play on Buford or Thomas because of his size. A good 10-14 points out of him would help a lot too. Combined scoring is critical, because we're not likely to get an E'Twaun 38 special from anyone.
Finally, Robbie Hummel needs to find his jumper, which was apparently lost as part of the baggage returning from Puerto Rico. I have said before we should create a strict hierarchy on offense. Robbie, Ryne, Byrd, and Hart are the only ones allowed to shoot jumpers. Anthony Johnson (who must get more involved offensively) and Terone Johnson each get the Namanja Calasan Memorial Two Three Attempts Per Game. If they make them, great! Miss them, and it is time to drive. LewJack, GDB, AJ, and TJ need to attack the basket relentlessly.
Yes, we're an awful free throw shooting team, but if you keep attacking eventually a few are going to fall and you can get a team with a short bench like OSU in foul trouble in the process. As for The Law, the Chooch, and TC, give them the damn ball on the low block every now and then. They can't score of they don't have the ball, and no one thinks we'd be crazy enough to go right at Sullinger with them, so why not do it? With some luck, they might even draw a foul or two.
As I said above, we have to play near perfect to get a win, but I have seen us look pretty damn good at times this year. A lot of people have simply forgotten. If we miraculously find that cohesiveness again and OSU has an off night, maybe something special happens. My plan of X guys can shoot while Y guys attack relentlessly isn't much, but dammit it is an actual plan! you don't tiptoe into the lion's den and hope to win. You going in screaming like a mad fool saying, "where is the son of a bitch?" I don't want to be a timid team anymore. It's time to get back to playing like mad bastards.