8:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network – Line: Purdue -9.5, Over/Under: 145.5
A huge clash between two of the hottest teams in the country meet tonight in West Lafayette, Indiana, as the Fourteenth-Ranked Ohio State Buckeyes face off against the Third-Ranked Purdue Boilermakers in a meeting that could very well decide the fate of the Big Ten Conference. If not for their opponent tonight, Ohio State (20-5, 11-1 in Big Ten) would no doubt be all the discussion in the Big Ten, winning fifteen out of their last seventeen outings after a disappointing 5-3 start to a new era under Head Coach Chris Holtmann. After thirteen largely successive seasons under the direction of Thad Matta, Holtmann was brought in to keep the Program firing on all cylinders, with leading man determined not to disappoint in his maiden voyage in Columbus, Ohio. In guiding Butler to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three years, his primary task was rebuilding a team that been rather mediocre over the past two years, going 38-29 in that span and missing out on the tourney altogether in both terms. Though they may have initially had their doubts, the Buckeye Faithful will be happy to know that Holtmann’s charges have appeared to have hit their stride, going 11-1 in Conference Play, with a golden opportunity to leapfrog Purdue for First Place in the Big Ten. Twelve games into the conference schedule, Ohio State has paced the league in Field Goal Percentage (50.8%), with the majority of their damage coming from within the Three-Point Arc (57.6% 2FG), while leading their fellow compatriots in Free-Throw Shooting (76.3%) and Points Allowed (63.2). Simply put, this is not a team to be overlooked, for after spending the majority of the first half of the campaign unranked, the Buckeyes have vaulted themselves up the Polls, flexing their proverbial muscles in an 80-64 drubbing of then-No. One Michigan State back on January 7th. Much of their emergence has been attributed to their efficient play in the paint, where Keita Bates-Diop (20.2 PTS, 51.0% FG, 36.7% 3FG, 8.9 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.0 STL, 1.7 BLK) has rebounded nicely after missing virtually all of the previous season due to injury. The Redshirt Junior Forward has been dominant at times this year, particularly against Big Ten competition, in which he’s posted lofty averages of 21.7 Points on 51.6% shooting from the field, including 37.3% from downtown, along with 9.4 Rebounds, 1.8 Assists, and 1.8 Blocks per Game. He came up HUGE in the upset of the Spartans, erupting for Thirty-Two Points on 12-of- 21 shooting (62.5%), with Seven rebounds, Three Steals, and a Block, only to top that performance with a career-high Thirty-Five Points on an uber-efficient 10-of-16 shooting, while adding Thirteen Rebounds and an Assist in last weekend’s 75-67 victory over Illinois. Bates-Diop lived at the Charity Stripe in this one, netting all but two of his Fifteen Free-Throw attempts, while Buckeyes as a team drained 26-of-33 Attempts (78.8%), outscoring the struggling Illini in this regard by Fourteen Points. Another area of the contest in which the hosts owned a considerable advantage was on the glass, where they outrebounded the visiting side 42-20, collecting Thirteen Offensive Rebounds, seven of which came courtesy of Freshman Forward Kaleb Wesson, who worked tirelessly on the boards throughout the affair. This will be in all likelihood where tonight’s game will be won, folks, for Holtmann’s troops must hold their own against Purdue’s host of big men, if they wish to avenge last season’s loss at home to the Boilermakers, in which they were manhandled on the offensive glass 13-6 in a narrow 76-75 defeat. This has clearly been a team that Ohio State has struggled against in recent years, going 1-3 in their last four meetings with their Big ten brethren, including a 75-64 loss in their last trip to Mackey Arena.
Meanwhile, in a season in which there have been teams to successfully separate themselves from the rest of the pack, we all need to start keeping a closer eye on Purdue (23-2, 12–0 in Big Ten), who have arguably been the most dominant team in the country over the past two months. The Boilermakers have rushed through their conference schedule to this point, hammering their fellow neighbors by 13.4 Points per Game, while leading the Big Ten in Scoring (78.8), Assists (17.5), and Three-Point Shooting (44.2%). If you haven’t gathered it from those few statistics, Matt Painter’s charges are a well-oiled machine on the offensive end of the court, where they’ve stricken a beautiful balance between their physical bruisers in the paint and their cadre of dead-eye sharpshooters on the perimeter. Winners of nineteen consecutive outings, we’re about to find just how good this group really is, as they’ve reached the most pivotal portion of their schedule, with back-to-back meetings with the aforementioned Buckeyes and the Michigan State Spartans, who have been breathing down their proverbial neck for weeks. But back to that word balance for a moment; this may truly be the most complete team that Painter has had in his thirteen years leading the Program, as the Boilermakers have ascended to their highest ranking in his tenure stalking the sidelines. You want size? They have a wealth of it, with both Senior Center Isaac Hass (14.5 PTS, 61.5%, 5.4 REB, 1.3 BLK) and Freshman Matt Haarms (5.6 PTS, 62.8% FG, 3.4 REB, 2.5 BLK) both standing well over Seven-Feet, while another Senior, Vince Edwards (15.5 PTS, 49.3% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 7.8 REB, 3.1 AST) puts in plenty of work around the rim. With these behemoths clogging the Paint, it’s no wonder that opponents have only managed to shoot a dismal 39.7% from the field this year. And another plus to all that size and length is the fact that since they cover so much ground, they rarely have to overextend and foul the opposition; no team in the Big Ten has seen their opponents attempt and make fewer Free-Throws than Purdue, who have attempted Fifty-Three more Singles, and are Plus -48 on the season from the Charity Stripe thus far. How about shooting? They’ve got that too, leading the Big Ten in both Three-Pointers made (121) and Shooting Percentage (44.2%), nailing Forty-Two more Treys than their counterparts, or in other words outscoring them by 10.5 Points in that regard. Five different players attempt at least three Triples per Game, with each of that quintet netting over 39.0% of said attempts. Senior Guard Dakota Mathias (12.4 PTS, 47.0% FG, 47.4% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 4.4 AST, 1.3 STL) has been the most prolific (67), while Carsen Edwards (16.6 PTS, 47.1% FG, 39.6% 3FG, 3.7 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.2 STL) has used that particular tool to lead the team in scoring. And that doesn’t even include P.J. Thompson (8.6 PTS, 47.6% FG, 49.0% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 2.0 AST, 1.4 STL), who has been by far and away the most deadly, drilling a ridiculous 49.0% of his shots from distance. This is classic inside-out basketball, folks. And lastly, if you’re into experience, then this is the team for you; the reigning Big Ten Champions are loaded with Upperclassmen, with four Seniors playing major minutes, with a few Juniors filling out the Rotation.