Led by head coach Chris Holtmann, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team has had quite a season already. Projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten due to a new head coach and a team whose starting lineup is talented but doesn’t have much depth on the bench, the scarlet and gray were expected to struggle this season, not even having a chance at the NIT, let alone March Madness.
Fast forward to 25 games into the season and the Buckeyes are not only 20-5 overall, but they are also 11-1 in the Big Ten. Yeah, Ohio State may not have fared well against the best of their non-conference schedule1 and the Big Ten may not be as good as it usually is, but to say that Holtmann and company have shocked the college basketball world would be an understatement. There’s a reason why the head coach may be college basketball’s Coach of the Year at season’s end.
Their success so far this season has turned into them currently ranked No. 14 in the country and almost a lock to make the NCAA Tournament unless something dramatic and unforeseen happens in the final six games of the regular season. Even with a target on their back, they have taken care of business and have only lost one game since December 23. The Buckeyes have continued to improve all season and have learned from their five early-season losses.
Due to their incredible turnaround this season, they are in the running for the Big Ten regular season title, just one game behind Purdue, who is 23-2 overall and a perfect 12-0 in the Big Ten. That sets up Wednesday night’s matchup, when the Buckeyes travel to West Lafayette to take on the Boilermakers in what is arguably Ohio State’s biggest regular-season conference game in 4-to-5 years.
Wednesday night’s game not only offers the Buckeyes a humongous resume builder going into March, but currently just one game behind Purdue, Ohio State can be tied atop the Big Ten and be in the driver’s seat for the conference’s regular season title with a win. But it won’t be easy for the scarlet and gray. Mackey Arena is a tough place to play even when Purdue is bad or mediocre. When the Boilermakers are good, it’s even harder to steal a win in West Lafayette.
With that said, let’s take a look at the biggest storylines heading into Wednesday night’s matchup between the Buckeyes and Boilermakers and also take a look at what Ohio State will have to do in order to upset Purdue and steal a huge win on the road.
Dealing with not one, but two seven-footers
In college basketball, it seems rare to have a seven-foot big man, let alone one that is really good and can actually use his size to be a presence on both sides of the ball. Purdue not only has one seven-footer, but they have two, which has caused plenty of problems for opponents so far this season and will be a big-time determining factor Wednesday night.
At 7-foot-2, Boilermakers starting center Isaac Haas is a major threat on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he uses his size and strength to dominate the paint. If a team doesn’t double him, he’s able to use his footwork to score one-on-one; if the defense doubles him, he finds the open man for an easy shot.
Although it seems like he would grab more rebounds given his size, Haas averages 14.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 22.4 minutes per game while shooting 62 percent from the floor. He’s a major reason why Purdue averages 84 points a game, which is 20th-best in the country.
Defensively, the 7-foot-2 center affects the game even if he isn’t blocking shots. Whether it’s his strength and size inside against the opponent’s center or another player driving to the basket, Haas is able to affect shots that are near or in the paint. He’s a major factor why the Boilermakers have one of the best defenses in the country, allowing just 64.2 points per game, which is 18th-best in the country.
When Haas is out of the game, head coach Matt Painter Matt Haarms, a 7-foot-3 center who averages 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in 17.7 minutes per game while shooting 63 percent from the floor. Essentially, Purdue has a guy in the paint that’s at least 7-foot-2 every second of the game. It’s tough for opponents on both sides of the ball.
Now how has Ohio State prepared for this size? Well, it’s hard to prepare for, no matter how hard you try. With that said, Greg Oden has done his best to help. Once a No.1 pick in the 2o07 NBA Draft, due to his injuries he had to retire and has since returned to Ohio State to get his degree and in the meantime is a student assistant on Holtmann’s staff. The seven-footer still doesn’t much up to the size and strength that Purdue has, but it’s better than nothing, right? During practices this week, he has gone against Ohio State centers Kaleb Wesson and Micah Potter to give them a little test of what they will go up against Wednesday night.
The Edwards, Dakota Mathias, and P.J. Thompson
Besides the two seven-foot big guys, Carsen and Vincent Edwards,2 Mathias, and Thompson round out Purdue’s best players. Their team’s leading scorers, Carsen averages 16.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.2 steals in 27.8 minutes per game while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 40 percent from beyond the arc; Vincent comes in at 15.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 31.1 minutes per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 42 percent from long distance. They are not only the team’s best players offensively, but they are two of the major reasons why the Boilermakers are so good defensively as well.
Although they don’t get talked about as much as the Edwards and Haas, Mathias and Thompson are the team’s best three-point shooters and defenders who aren’t seven feet tall. Mathias averages 12.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.3 steals in 30.8 minutes per game while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 47 percent from long distance. Meanwhile, Thompson averages 8.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.4 steals in 28.2 minutes per game while knocking down 48 percent from the floor and 49 percent from three-point range.
Purdue can score inside or outside
With their two seven-footers, the Boilermakers can score inside the paint almost at will if opposing defenses don’t double team the big guys. The problem is that if you double team Haas or Haarms, they can kick it out for an open three-point shot, one that Purdue will most likely knock down.
Shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc as a team, Purdue is the third-best long distance shooting team in the country. To say that the Boilermakers offense is hard to stop would be an understatement.
Kam Williams suspension
In a game where perimeter shooting will be key, Ohio State will be without their top three-point shooter. After he was suspended indefinitely prior to Sunday’s win over Illinois, starting guard Kam Williams will also not make the trip to West Lafayette, Holtmann confirmed on Tuesday.
“He’s got class he needs to attend to tomorrow, so he’ll be here in Columbus finishing up work.” Holtmann said of Williams’ current suspension. “He’s got a project, going to class. We will re-evaluate things on Thursday.”
Although backup point guard Andrew Dakich has a better percentage from beyond the arc (50 percent), he only shoots just over one shot from long distance per game. Meanwhile, Williams connects on 46 percent of his threes and shoots almost three per game. The senior is Ohio State’s fifth-leading scorer, averaging 8.0 points, and 2.0 rebounds per game.
Williams may not score as much as he should, but his presence on the court alone opens things up for the Buckeyes’ offense. His ability to knockdown shots from the outside allows his teammates to get better looks inside. Against a dominate defense like Purdue’s, a player like Williams will absolutely be missed.
With that said, Andre Wesson will likely start in Williams’ place, much like he did this past Sunday. Although that somewhat improves the team defensively given Wesson’s size and strength, it’s a major hit offensively. The sophomore averages just 2.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game while shooting 34 percent from the field and 25 percent from three-point range. Williams’ suspension also makes Ohio State’s already thin backcourt even thinner. Against a team like the Boilermakers, depth is important, which is one of the biggest reasons Williams’ absence is a huge factor, especially his shooting.
Ohio State will have to play at its best for all 40 minutes
In a hostile environment like Ohio State will face Wednesday night at Purdue, the Buckeyes will have to play arguably their best game of the year both offensively and defensively in order to upset the Boilermakers on the road. Without their top three-point shooter, the scarlet and gray will be hindered offensively, but must make up for the absence. With guys like future Big Ten Player of the Year Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, C.J. Jackson, and Kaleb Wesson, among others, Ohio State has the talent to get the big-time win, but their depth could be the issue.
Also, they must somehow stop the seven-footers in the paint defensively while also doing their best to slow down Purdue’s offense from outside the arc as well. All components of their game must be clicking, but they have shown already that they can shock the college basketball world. Why not do it again?
Wednesday night is a huge opportunity for the Buckeyes. A win is not only a big-time upset away from home and will let the college basketball world know that they are the real deal, but it will also put Ohio State in first place in the conference standings as well as be a huge resume-boosting win come March. The scarlet and gray will have to bring their best game of the season if they want to pull off the upset, but if anyone can do it, it’s Holtmann’s bunch, even without their best three-point shooter.
Tip off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network. Due to the conference’s unbalanced schedule, this will (unfortunately) be the only matchup between the two this season.