The first round of the Big Ten Tournament begins on Thursday afternoon, and that means we'll get to see a handful of matchups between teams with NCAA Tournament aspirations and teams that are trying to do as much damage as they can before their seasons inevitably end. One of those games is Purdue vs. Ohio State, which will take place at the tail end of the early session, about 25 minutes after the conclusion of the Illinois vs. Indiana opening game.
With only five conference wins all season, it's no surprise that Purdue doesn't have the most impressive statistical resume. Its offense is ranked eighth in the Big Ten in KenPom's adjusted efficiency, and its defense is 11th. The Boilers don't shoot very well and turn the ball over a bunch. D.J. Byrd is missed, indeed. The one thing Purdue does very well is rebound the ball. They're near the top of the conference in both offensive and defensive rebounds thanks to A.J. Hammons and Errick Peck.
With Ohio State only ranking eighth in the Big Ten at grabbing opponents' misses, the Boilers will have to hit the glass hard if they hope to survive. The Buckeyes smother opponents with a league-leading turnover rate and are second best in the Big Ten at defending three-pointers. When you have a pair of defensive wizards like Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott manning the perimeter, it makes life very hard on opposing guards.
Ohio State beat Purdue twice this season: once back on New Year's Eve in West Lafayette (78-69) and again in Columbus on February 8 (67-49). Both games were pretty close midway through the second half before Ohio State was able to pull away each time.
In the first game, both teams struggled from three-point range, and Purdue was able to win the offensive rebounding battle 15-10. What the Buckeyes did to win was minimize turnovers (just six to Purdue's 12) and get to the free throw line (LaQuinton Ross was 9-for-11 on his way to 25 points).
The rematch was pretty similar from a stats standpoint. Both teams shot the ball a lot better, but the Buckeyes once again dominated the turnover margin, 15-7. This time around, however, they were able to minimize Hammons' impact on the boards and kept offensive rebounding more or less even.
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So what's the key for Purdue to pull of an upset in Indianapolis? Obviously, they have to work to limit turnovers, but that's easier said than done against the duo of Craft and Scott. The most important thing for the Boilers to do is get the ball to Hammons inside. There he can draw some fouls on OSU center Amir Williams and maybe even open up some shots on the outside.
In the New Year's Even game against the Bucks, Hammons scored 18 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, and recorded five blocked shots. Heach coach Matt Painter will need to order up a similar performance if an upset is in the works, but the seven-foot sophomore just hasn't been enough of a consistent scorer this season (just 10.7 points per game). He's always a huge player on the defensive end, but he'll need to have a big game on offense for the Boilers to defeat Ohio State.
Maybe with the release of the recent Big Ten Postseason Honors, Hammons can play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. It doesn't make much sense to me for Craft to be voted on the All-Conference Second Team by the media while Hammons is relegated to Honorable Mention. Hammons has just as big an impact on defense as Craft (albeit in a different way), while he's arguably a bigger factor on offense thanks to his better scoring and rebounding. Craft gets more attention because of his adorable rosy cheeks, but you'd think a group of professional journalists would be able to see past that.
You know who else got shafted by the media? Craft's teammate LaQuinton Ross! The athletic scorer is the only Buckeye who can create his own shot, and that makes him a major factor in any game Ohio State plays. Still, he was only considered an Honorable Mention by the media. Lately, he's been on a role with at least 19 points in his last three games. He's 14-for-27 from the field in two games versus Pudue this season. He's what puts the Bucks over the top, 70-58.