The stage was set for a great night of hoops.
Florida and Georgia had just finished a double overtime classic, giving way to a matchup between the two best teams in the Big Ten. There was undefeated Ohio State and player of the year candidate Jared Sullinger. There was visiting Purdue, who sat alone just one game behind the Buckeyes for first place in the Big Ten with their own player of the year candidate in JaJuan Johnson.
The game was ESPN. All the national writers were in the house. The crowd was buzzing. Twitter was fired up. And when ESPN was finally able to cut to the game … Ohio State was up 19-5?
It got worse.
At one point, the lead surpassed 30 points. The final was 87-64, but even Matt Painter admitted after the game that “We got five of six calls in the second half that were just mercy calls” and that “it really should have been 30 or 40 points.”
The Buckeyes built their lead by playing off of Sullinger in the post. When the freshman would get the ball, Purdue would immediately double. He was able to get it out quickly, and Ohio State’s ball movement resulted in a number of open looks from three.
Then Ohio State started to attack the basket. First, it was Aaron Craft. Then David Lighty joined in the mix. By the time Sullinger had capped Ohio State’s first half scoring with a jumper with his toe on the three point line, the Buckeyes had opened up a 46-26 halftime lead. The Boilermakers couldn’t stop anyone tonight.
Simply put, Purdue just didn’t come out of the gates ready to play on Tuesday night. There really isn’t much else to it. This isn’t a bad Boilermaker team, but they allowed the Buckeyes to land their first haymaker and never responded. Commence poleaxing.
Ohio State remains one of just two unbeatens left in the country, and with San Diego State set to play BYU at the Marriott Center tomorrow night, the Buckeyes may be heading into the weekend as the nation’s lone undefeated team.
Can they go undefeated for the entire regular season?
Personally, I doubt it. They play four of their next six games on the road, including trips to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and their rematch with the Boilermakers in West Lafayette. They also host Michigan State during that stretch. I’ll go on record now as saying I don’t think the Buckeyes will make it through that stretch unblemished.
But I won’t say that it isn’t possible. Minnesota has the size up front to battle with Sullinger, but with Al Nolen and Devoe Joseph both gone, I don’t know if they have enough offensive firepower to score on a very good Buckeye defense. Michigan State is in shambles, and the Buckeyes just embarrassed Purdue.
That leaves their trip to Wisconsin and later home dates with Illinois and the Badgers. The Kohl Center is always a tough place to play, and you can rest assured that Bo Ryan will have a game plan in place to try and neutralize The Sullinger Effect.
Only time will tell if they can go undefeated. But as of now, I think it is safe to say we know who the nation’s best team is.
One more note on the Boilermakers. I said this isn’t a bad Purdue team, and I stand by that, but I think it is time we start questioning just how good the Boilermakers are. Their 6-1 start in the Big Ten was a bit of a mirage. They only played two of the top six teams in the conference in that stretch, losing at Minnesota and beating a Michigan State team that is crumbling. They’ve also lost to West Virginia and Richmond, and their only quality win came at Virginia Tech in an ugly, 58-55 overtime game.
Purdue has to play five ranked teams in their next six games. That stretch should tell us whether or not the Boilermakers are going to be in the mix at the top of the Big Ten by the end of the season. Hopefully, this was just an off night.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.