When it tips off league play with a 1 p.m. New Year's Eve tip-off against third-ranked Ohio State, it'll face one of its toughest tests of the season right off the bat, a different Buckeye team than in years past but just as strong.
Ohio State doesn't have that guy on this team, that one impossible matchup, whether it was Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger or Deshaun Thomas, it could always turn to. What it does have is a stifling defense, led by an outstanding group of guards.
"We think this is going to be the toughest, most physical team we've played," senior Terone Johnson said.
Purdue's trending well, coming off a hard-fought win at West Virginia in its non-conference finale, but the Buckeyes are rolling, coming in at 13-0, all of those wins - aside from a scare against Notre Dame - coming in decided fashion.
Projected starters (last game): C - Jay Simpson; F - Kendall Stephens; F- Basil Smotherman; G - Ronnie Johnson; G - Terone Johnson
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The numbers tell you what you need to know about Ohio State's defensive strength.
The Buckeyes are third nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 54 points per game. When they played at Marquette in mid-November, the Golden Eagles scored just 35. No opponent has scored more than the 69 points Ohio University managed in a 10-point loss.
Ohio State's last opponent, Louisiana-Monroe, scored a mere 31.
Opponents are shooting just 36.4 percent against the Buckeyes, led by the Big Ten's top defensive player, Aaron Craft, and another guard who's not far behind, Shannon Scott. The two have 60 steals between them this season.
"Their ability to contain the dribble and have discipline (really stands out," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "They can sense weakness and they're very aggressive when they see weakness, when you turn your back on the ball or you're loose with the basketball. They're going to attack you. If you take care of the ball and you're strong and you show the ability to break them down off the dribble to where they have to worry about locking in to contain the dribble, you have a better chance."
Painter said it's not "fair" to discuss Ohio State's defensive acumen and only mention Craft, but it is the senior guard who's the headliner, as dogged a perimeter defender as there is.
Some Purdue players are curious to see how the NCAA's emphasis on hand-checks and such carries over into Big Ten play, with point guard Ronnie Johnson going so far as to suggest Craft can often be the beneficiary of some benefit of the doubt from officials.
"Personally I think the refs let him get away with a lot of calls they would make on another defender," the sophomore said. "It's just what they let him do. But you can't be casual with the ball. You have to take care of it and be conscious (of them)."
Though he was just 5-of-15 shooting last season against the Buckeyes, the left-handed Johnson seemed to give Craft some problems when the Buckeyes won in Mackey Arena 74-64 last Jan. 8. The then-freshman handed out seven assists to just two turnovers in that game.
But for both Ronnie Johnson and fellow point guard Bryson Scott, the Buckeye guards will give them all they can handle.
"They really pressure the ball and get in passing lanes and they're really good with helping in the post also," Terone Johnson said. "They'll take your ball if you're lackadaisical and that's huge for them defensively. They really play hard defensively."
Purdue showed improved patience on offense against West Virginia, which it'll need against the Buckeyes, who'll prey on mistakes and hurried shots.
Last time Purdue played an opponent of this caliber, it was fifth-ranked Oklahoma State in Florida, where the Boilermakers' over-eagerness on offense to open the game all but ended it before it began.
That could serve as a cautionary lesson for the Boilermakers against this OSU, albeit one with a bit less offensive firepower than the other.
Ohio State has matched its stifling defense with an often-middling offense, averaging 74.8 points per game, more than only Nebraska, Illinois and Northwestern among Big Ten members.
It doesn't have its usual elite scorer this season but it has a dangerous array of threats nonetheless.
Lenzelle Smith is a 45-percent three-point shooter who's really hurt Purdue in past meetings, while LaQuinton Ross is a versatile scoring forward who'll be a very difficult matchup for the Boilermaker frontcourt. Amir Williams is a post presence on offense and Craft the straw that stirs the drink, an excellent and reliable decision-maker above all else.
"They have more balance with this group from a numbers standpoint," Painter said. "But with that being said, Lenzelle Smith, LaQuinton Ross those are guys who can break out and have big-time games."
Ohio State's guards will be a prime test for a Boilermaker backcourt that played well at West Virginia.
This will be the first Big Ten game for Purdue's six newcomers: Three freshmen, plus redshirt freshman Jay Simpson and fifth-year transfers Errick PeckClick "(Painter) said, 'We're as good as our guards are,' and we felt like we weren't playing together, turning the ball over, stuff like that," Terone Johnson said. "We had to pick it up and me personally, I think I did that. But coming into this next game, it'll be a big test for us."Here to view this Link. and Sterling CarterClick "(Painter) said, 'We're as good as our guards are,' and we felt like we weren't playing together, turning the ball over, stuff like that," Terone Johnson said. "We had to pick it up and me personally, I think I did that. But coming into this next game, it'll be a big test for us."Here to view this Link..
"I'm anxious to get out there and see what everybody's talking about and how intense it is," Scott said. "I'm really looking forward to playing in that game and bringing what I was bringing earlier this season and just doing the best I can."
Simpson might be an important player for the Boilermakers against the Buckeyes, as it remains to be seen whether veteran center Travis Carroll will be available after hurting his knee Friday.
"I expect (Big Ten play) to be tough, fast-paced and physical," Simpson said, "and just two teams battling it out."
Of note: Ohio State is the second-worst foul-shooting team in the Big Ten, ahead of only Purdue, at 68.6 percent … Opponents shoot only 24.3 percent from three-point range against the Buckeyes, matching up in this opener with a Boilermaker team that's shot 50 percent in its last three games … The Buckeyes are No. 1 among conference teams in turnover margin, at +4.62.
Prediction: Despite its record and astronomical ranking, Ohio State would seem vulnerable, certainly not unbeatable if Purdue plays to its potential, exhibits patience on offense and avoids foul trouble, especially Hammons. The Boilermakers would seem to be trending upward heading into Big Ten play based on the West Virginia game. The result could be a monumental upset. We'll call a near-miss, though. Ohio State 70 , Purdue 67
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