Three weeks ago, Ohio State looked to be a basketball team without real direction or identity. The Buckeyes had fallen to Iowa for the second time in as many contests, lost to an Indiana team that did not play exceptionally well, and did not seem to be able to muster any kind of offense down low.
Enter the tandem of D'Angelo Russell and Marc Loving. Russell has been playing lights-out basketball during the Buckeyes' three-game win streak, flirting with a triple-double in each contest. He posted a career-high 33 points against Northwestern and followed up with 22 and 18 against Indiana and Maryland. He has been the offensive spark that Ohio State needed to get back into the thick of the Big Ten race, and is making a legitimate claim to the Freshman of the Year crown. Loving has done his part, too. He has provided an excellent complement to Russell's dominating offensive presence, and gives the Buckeyes a reliable second option on the attacking end.
Purdue enters Wednesday's game riding a three-game conference win streak of their own. The Boilermakers also took down Indiana and Northwestern in that stretch, as well as putting away the Iowa team that gave the Buckeyes so much trouble this season. Purdue sits at No. 6 in the Big Ten heading into this game (Ohio State is No. 3), and will provide a stiff test for a young Buckeye squad that's finally starting to gel.
Numbers to Know:
Ohio State ranks third nationally in field goal percentage, with a team rate of 50.7%. That figure has been helped along immensely by the combined efforts of Marc Loving (49.1%) and D'Angelo Russell (47.7%). That makes the Buckeyes considerably more efficient than the Boilermakers, who rank fifty-eighth nationally, and shoot at a 46.3% clip.
The Buckeyes have yet to lose a game this season in which they've scored 75 points or more. They've hit that mark 11 times already, with 11 wins to show for it. Ohio State have proven that they can pull out wins when the game turns into a shootout, so if the scoring gets going early, that will suit their high-volume scoring offense just fine.
Purdue doesn't have a single player averaging more than 11 points per game. That's a stark contrast to the Ohio State offense, which boasts the aforementioned Russell and Loving. Russell is racking up 19.4 points per game, while Loving adds another 11.7. The Boilermakers lack a big-time scorer to keep pace with the efforts of the two best Buckeye shooters.
Cast of Characters:
What's left to say about Russell's game that hasn't been said already? Ohio State will go as far into the NCAA tournament as their freshman point guard takes them. Against a stout Indiana team, Russell carved out plenty of opportunities for himself, but on the few occasions he hit the bench, the Buckeye offense stalled out completely. Ohio State will need big minutes from him the rest of the season.
Thompson is second in minutes behind Russell, and the only other Buckeye player averaging in double figures for scoring after Russell and Loving. The senior forward is incredibly versatile, and does his best work in transition, when he can showcase the hops and finishing ability that earned him the nickname "Slam." He's shooting 49.2% from the floor this season.
Hammons is a center, and the leading scorer for the Boilermakers this season. The Buckeyes have favored a small-ball approach in light of Amir Williams' and Trey McDonald's struggles -- will they be able to contain Purdue's 7-footer and control the glass despite the size disadvantage? Or will Thad Matta have to return to a more traditional lineup to keep the Boilermakers honest?
Davis, a 6'5 guard, plays almost 30 minutes a night for the Boilermakers. He's their second-leading scorer behind Hammons at 10.8 points per game, and doesn't turn the ball over often. Davis is an inefficient outside shooter, but the Buckeyes will nonetheless need to contain him when he's got the ball in his hands. With his size and speed, he can pull down a few boards, too.
How to Watch
TV: 6:30 pm ET, Big Ten Network
Radio: 97.1 The Fan