The undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes kick off their conference slate today against the Purdue Boilermakers on the road in the oft haunted confines of West Lafayette, Indiana.
Given that it's New Year's Eve, a 1:00 P.M. start, and in the middle of winter break for students, the Buckeyes probably shouldn't expect much in the way of too hostile of crowd support working against them, though the local contingency could be better than it would be on the flip side. Purdue, despite a 10-3 record, hasn't been particularly impressive yet this season, and I can't envision that changing against the suffocating Buckeye defense.
Let's just take a minute to reflect on the job that Ohio State's defense did on its out-of-conference opponents. According to Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency metric, Ohio State is the best defensive team in the country. Their rating of 85.5 is 4.3 points better than second place Virginia's 89.8. That difference is equivalent to the difference between Virginia's adjusted defensive rating and 23rd-rated Indiana's adjusted defensive rating. Some other defensive numbers:
- 2nd in the NCAA in points-per-possession allowed, only allowing 0.82.
- 3rd in effective field-goal percentage allowed at 40.1% and true-shooting percentage allowed at 43.8%
- First in 3PT% allowed at 24.3%,
- 14th in Turnover Percentage at 23.6%
In other words, Ohio State's defense has played hard, allowed teams to shoot minuscule percentages from the field, and forced turnovers regularly. That's why they are the best defensive team in the country, and they will look to take that title into conference play.
Purdue utilizes a deep rotation, with only Terone Johnson getting over 25 minutes-per-game and ten players getting over 13.6 minutes-per-game. Johnson, a senior wing, leads the Boilermakers in scoring with an efficient 14 points-per-contest. He's a tough slasher that has improved as a jump shooter this season. The other recognizable face on this roster is A.J. Hammons, their 7'0 sophomore center. Hammons' unique combination of size and athleticism still hasn't translated to actual production, and he's struggled with foul trouble early in the season. However, he's turned into a defensive demon in the middle when he's on the court, averaging 7.6 blocks-per-40. In fact, Hammons himself has more blocks than 180 NCAA teams this season. The matchup in the middle between he and Amir Williams will determine how long Purdue is able to stay in this game.
Overall though, Purdue hasn't shown the ability to actually stay in a basketball game with a good team yet this season. They defeated West Virginia on the road behind a strong performance from Terone Johnson and his brother Ronnie, the starting point guard. However, they lost to Washington State, Oklahoma State and Butler in their only other three games of consequence during non-conference play with only the Butler game being particularly close. I would be very surprised if they're able to keep this one close, even if no one will be there to see it.
Numbers to Know
LaQuinton Ross's points-per-game during the month of December. After a slow start, Ross seems to have flipped the switch and become Ohio State's go-to scorer.
Purdue's defensive rebounding rate. That is last place in the Big Ten so far this season, despite their seven-footer in Hammons. Ohio State has been a pretty average offensive rebounding team, but look for second chance points to be a point of contention in this game.
Purdue's true-shooting percentage. That is 11th in the Big Ten so far. Part of this is because the Boilermakers only shoot 65% from the free throw line, but taking inefficient shots is not the way to beat Ohio State. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott should be able to wreak havoc on the Johnson brothers on the perimeter.
Cast of Characters
A team captain, Johnson has consistently improved throughout his entire career in West Lafayette. He's a leader and tone-setter for the Boilermakers that plays hard defense and attacks the offense whenever he gets a chance.
It will be incumbent upon Terone's brother to stay calm in the face of the smothering defensive pressure he'll face from Craft. He's averaging 11 points and four assists per game with only 1.7 turnovers. Johnson will need to bring his 'A' game today.
His improvement really shouldn't be ignored this year. With Coach Thad Matta apparently on his...something, Williams has been a real weapon running the pick-and-roll with Scott, as well as an excellent interior defender. Nearly 10 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 63% from the field, he's a two-way center now that's been essential to Ohio State's winning streak.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Still Ohio State's leading scorer, the do-it-all senior has been the glue holding the Buckeyes together. He's shooting 45% from three-point range while scoring 13.4 points and averaging over five rebounds per contest, plus playing great defense every night. He and Craft have been instrumental leaders in setting the tone for how Coach Matta wants basketball to played.