For most of the basketball season Purdue has hovered within a few games of .500. The victory over Illinois last week put the Boilers on the happy side of .500 for the first time all season. Tonight Ohio State comes to town for the only scheduled game with them this season, and a victory would be huge for many reasons:
- Purdue would move to an impressive 2-1 in league play after playing three straight ranked teams.
- It would be a second straight home win over a ranked team.
- It would set up a stretch where Purdue could be a legitimate 12-8 and creeping back towards the NCAA bubble when Indiana comes to town.
- It would show that Mackey Arena is not going to be an easy place to play for anyone.
I have a good feeling about this game. I think Ohio State has been ranked mostly on reputation this season and they are vulnerable for an upset.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Location: Columbus, Ohio
2011-12 record: 29-8, 13-5 Big Ten
2012-13 Record: 31-8, 13-5 Big Ten (Shared Big Ten title with Michigan State and Michigan)
2012 Postseason: Lost to Kansas 64-62 in Final Four
Blog Representation: Land-Grant Holyland (Matt Brown's Preview)
Series With Purdue: Ohio State Leads 84-83
Last Purdue win: 76-63 on 2/20/2011 at Purdue
Last Ohio State win: 88-71 on 3/9/2012 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Ohio State is the only team in the Big Ten that has an all-time winning record against Purdue. They were able to pull virtually even thanks to a 14-1 stretch from 1999 through 2007. Since that stretch the Boilers and Buckeyes have played even, with Ohio State holding a slim 6-5 edge thanks to a pair of overtime victories in Columbus. At least one of us has been ranked in each of the last 10 games, with Ohio State as high as No. 1 and Purdue as high as No. 4.
The reason I feel good is that this is much the same team that Purdue challenged last season in Columbus minus two of its best players. Jared Sullinger is whining for calls in the NBA now and William Buford finally graduated. It was Buford's 29 that almost single-handedly beat Purdue 87-84 last season in Columbus when Kelsey Barlow introduced his nuts to Sully's chin.
Many of the same things that made Purdue competitive last season would greatly help this year. D.J. Byrd was 7 of 9 from three last season against the Buckeyes for 24 points. Purdue got dominated 31-21 on the glass, but the addition of Jacob Lawson and A.J. Hammons with the subtraction of Sullinger and Buford will help greatly.
This is also a team that has a good record, but has beaten no one. Ohio State is 0-3 in games against ranked opponents, losing to duke, Kansas, and getting drilled by Illinois on Saturday. Their best win is probably over a 9-5 Washington team. Their season is full of big wins over nobody teams while 6-7 Winthrop gave them a scare a few weeks ago.
Thad Matta has a very short bench despite the talent he recruits every season. He's actually up to an eight-man rotation this year as opposed to his usual seven- or even six-man group. Much of the team goes the way of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Thomas is averaging 20.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game to lead the team in both categories. He is a pure scorer that gets himself to the free throw line and hits 80% once there. He's also a dangerous 39% from long range.
At 6'7" Thomas is an extremely difficult player to guard. He's lightening quick and his size prevents someone like Terone Johnson from matching up with him. On the defensive end Craft is essentially like playing against Chris Kramer. Craft averages almost two steals per game, 4.9 assists, and he still can score a bit at 8.5 points per game.
Ohio State loves the perimeter game. Thomas has taken 87 three-pointers and made 34. Lenzelle Smith Jr. has taken 61 and made 27. Craft usually hits at least one three per game, while LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson, and Shannon Scott are all not afraid to shoot it from outside.
Purdue's perimeter defense and rebounding will be critical in this one. Ohio State shoots over 20 threes per game and hits 36.7% of them. Amir Williams (once a Purdue target) and Evan Ravenel are the only true post players that play, however. Combined they average just 8.8 rebounds per contest, so Lawson, Hammons, Donnie Hale and Travis Carroll must get on the glass. Thomas and Smith like to crash the offensive glass, so effective box outs that lead to one shot per possession will help.
This is a good matchup for Purdue because we have the better interior players. Unfortunately, Ohio State is a lot better on the perimeter. This is a team full of shooters and guys that can make their own shots combined with a very effective point guard in Craft. Ronnie Johnson has really played effective defense of late, so his ability to contend with Craft will be huge for Purdue.
I think we see a close game. If I am an Ohio State I would be troubled that the Buckeyes were dominated by the same Illini team that struggled a few nights earlier at Purdue. Thomas had 24 and Craft had 11 against Illinois, but no one else did much. I am fine with containing everyone else and daring Thomas to score 50 and beat us by himself. Illinois also out-rebounded the Buckeyes 39-28.
Start thinking NCAA Tournament just a little bit if:
- Hammons plays like he did vs. Michigan State
- No one besides Thomas is an offensive threat
- Ohio State shoots poorly on the perimeter
- Byrd can stay hot from long range at home
- RJ does well vs. Craft
Look for further silver linings if:
- Hammons has foul trouble
- Thomas goes absolutely crazy
- Craft owns RJ on both ends
- OSU starts hitting threes
- Purdue can't rebound
Prediction: Purdue 68, Ohio State 64 (Why not?)