After their exciting and impressive win at Illinois on Saturday, the Buckeyes return to the friendly confines of Columbus to play what could very well be one of the biggest games of the season. The Purdue Boilermakers, fresh off an impressive home victory of Michigan State, stand at 6-1 in Big Ten play and may very well be the toughest home test for the Bucks this season. Let’s take a look.
|Location:||West Lafayette, Indiana|
|Head Coach:||Matt Painter|
Matt Painter’s Boilers came into the season riding high expectations – in fact, the highest expectations in the Big Ten outside of East Lansing. It was believed, and not only by Purdue faithful, that with the return of Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore the Boilermakers were going to sweep everyone out of their path on their way to a National Championship appearance.
And then disaster struck.
Robbie Hummel’s torn ACL left Purdue fans – really, all college basketball fans – in a state of shock. It simply wasn’t possible that one of the most impressive players, and one of the best kids, in college basketball would be unable to compete again on this level. The injury threw Purdue’s season in a cloud of doubt, with few knowing precisely how things would unfold.
Twenty games into the season that question has been answered. Many will wonder what could have been if Hummel had taken the court, but few will question the heart of this Purdue team. A 17-3 record overall, with losses only to Richmond – a 15-5 team near the top of the Atlantic 10, and possibly one of the most dangerous mid-majors – and a pair of straight road losses to Minnesota and West Virginia.
With the win last Saturday, Purdue looks poised and ready to try to take the Big Ten by storm. An upset of #1 ranked and undefeated Ohio State on their home court would surely do that. But they have an uphill battle to fight. Away games, particularly in the Big Ten, are a challenge for any team, as Purdue discovered in their trip to the Twin Cities a couple weeks ago.
Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson gets the honor of taking on Jared Sullinger in the paint. If there is any player in the Big Ten capable of stoping the dynamic OSU center, Johnson is it. Measuring in at 6-10, 221, the Senior big man has demonstrated his capability of winning the battle on both sides of the court. Not surprisingly, his numbers have improved from last season, with Johnson scoring 5 additional points and grabbing an extra rebound every game. His biggest improvement has been in his willingness to distribute the ball more to help his team, wracking up an assist per game on average.
Surprisingly, the Boiler’s have been inconsistent in going to Johnson down low. Painter has recently made an effort in practice to get his players to drive the ball into the paint, but it remains to be seen how well that lesson has taken hold thus far. It will be up to Guards E’Twaun Moore (6-4, 191) and Lewis Jackson (5-9, 165) to find him down low. Given the way the Buckeyes have played in the paint defensively of late, it’s hard to imagine stopping the versatile Johnson. It will be up to Sullinger to slow him down.
Stopping E’Twaun Moore might be more feasable. During their two game losing streak, Moore went ice cold, shooting 8-32 and scoring only 19 points combined, well below his season averages. It will be interesting to see how Aaron Craft matchups up with him defensively, but there is no question that the young freshman will have to leave it all on the court to keep Moore down. In case you’re wondering, Craft limited Talor Battle to 5-17 shooting (1-10 from three) and Demetri McCamey to 2-11 (1-5 from three). That’s two of the best point guards in the Big Ten – and McCamey is arguably the best in the nation, if you believe the former National Player of the year, anyway.
There’s no question that this is going to be a dog fight from start to finish. Both teams are going to be playing their best basketball on Tuesday night. The only question remaining is who will come out on top.
The game will be played in Value City Arena at 9 PM Eastern Time. You’ll be able to see the game on ESPN.