College Hoops Tuesday: Your Commentary

    
January 25th, 2011
No mistaking what the biggest game of the night is, especially when considering the conference title implications involved. Top-ranked Ohio State (20-0, 7-0) host #12 Purdue (17-3, 6-1) in a matchup of the top two teams in the Big Ten and a win over the Boilermakers would put Thad Matta's team on the fast track towards another conference championship. But this game also provides one of the best individual matchups of the season to date, one that will have the attention of both NBA scouts and college fans. Freshman Jared Sullinger (17.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg) has been an absolute beast on the block for the Buckeyes, most recently going for 27 points and 16 rebounds in Saturday's win at Illinois. Soft hands, nimble feet and a level of body control rarely seen in young big men make him essentially a lock for the NBA Draft lottery whenever he decides to leave Columbus.

The opposition will be senior JaJuan Johnson (20.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg), who may not have the muscle of Sullinger but is more than capable of doing damage inside. Johnson can also step out and knock down the mid-range jumper, something that could lead to the Boilermakers using him in a few more pick and pop situations in order to get the freshman away from the rim. But Sullinger's done a good job of avoiding foul trouble, fouling out of just one game and picking up four fouls in two others. And Sullinger isn't the only interior player that Purdue has to worry about tonight. Dallas Lauderdale is one of the most physical players in the country, and in some regards his role is similar to that of "security" guard to the star freshman. He doesn't score much and only grabs 4.2 rebounds per game in 18 minutes of action but the senior understands his role and plays within it. Add in freshman Deshaun Thomas, who has played better in wins over Iowa and Illinois, and you've got three players inside who can give the Boilers fits.

Purdue has other interior contributors who can play for a few minutes if needed, but Matt Painter's club relies on its perimeter players to help out Johnson on the boards. E'Twaun Moore (18.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) has played extremely well for Purdue, and his ability to not only make shots but also defend and rebound helps make up some of the production lost with Robbie Hummel sitting out. Even point guard Lewis Jackson averages three rebounds per game and Kelsey Barlow and D.J. Byrd can also grab a few boards from their perimeter positions. And with a rebound margin below a plus-4 it will indeed need to be "all hands on deck" in dealing with an Ohio State frontcourt that holds an overall size advantage. For the Buckeyes wings William Buford and David Lighty grab four rebounds per contest and with both possessing a variety of skills they're tough covers for anyone.

But the one player who has played well all season for Ohio State despite the many questions before the season began is Aaron Craft. Naysayers wondered how the Buckeyes would come close to replicating last year's success without a ball-handler like an Evan Turner much less an experienced point guard but the freshman has delivered. Craft averages 4.9 assists while turning the ball over just two times per contest, and in Saturday's win over Illinois he played very well defensively against Demetri McCamey. Add in the passing skills of Buford, Lighty and Jon Diebler (who can also shoot with the best of them from the perimeter) and you've got an unselfish club that doesn't care who gets the headlines. Purdue is also fortunate to have a rotation that not only understands but accepts their roles, a quality that will make them a factor come NCAA Tournament time. As for the Big Ten race, that verdict likely comes tonight.

Other games to keep an eye on include a Kansas team that may be emotionally spent as they visit Colorado. Thomas Robinson, who lost his mother on Friday, is back in Washington, D.C. after playing in Saturday's loss to Texas and you have to imagine that his teammates will step onto the floor ready to go with him in mind as opposed to dwelling on the end of their 69-game home win streak. But in Colorado the Jayhawks face a talented team led by Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, but the Buffs went on the road and dropped games at both Nebraska and Oklahoma last week. With a resume that lacks a major non-conference victory tonight's game could be a difference-maker for Colorado in regards to an NCAA Tournament resume. Connecticut visits Marquette with the Golden Eagles in a similar position to that of Colorado after a close loss at Notre Dame on Saturday night, and Syracuse looks to rebound from losses to Pittsburgh and Villanova at home with Seton Hall visiting.

And there's a nice rivalry game in Nashville with first-place Belmont visiting Lipscomb. Rick Byrd's Bruins are 10-0 in Atlantic Sun play following a 10-point win at second-place East Tennessee State on Sunday, and with their balance an undefeated run isn't out of the realm of possibility. The first meeting between these two got out of hand quickly 12 days ago, with Belmont jumping out to a 43-21 halftime lead on their way to an 88-52 win. Mick Hedgepeth and Drew Hanlen are just two of the eleven players that Coach Byrd can count on, and defensively Belmont limited Adnan Hodzic to seven points in 30 minutes of action in that game. Just like Purdue in the Big Ten, the rest of the Atlantic Sun may be rooting for the Bisons to win in order to keep hope of winning the regular season title alive.

Top 25
9:00 PM (12) Purdue at (1) Ohio State (ESPN)
9:00 PM (5) Connecticut at Marquette (ESPN3)
8:00 PM (6) Kansas at Colorado (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Seton Hall at (10) Syracuse (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (23) Florida at Georgia (ESPN)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Florida Gulf Coast at Stetson
7:00 PM North Carolina State at Clemson
7:00 PM Hartford at Vermont
7:00 PM New Hampshire at Maine
7:00 PM Richmond at Dayton (ESPNU)
7:00 PM USC Upstate at East Tennessee State
7:00 PM Campbell at Longwood
7:00 PM Buffalo at Western Michigan
7:30 PM Mercer at Kennesaw State
7:30 PM Bowling Green at Toledo (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Belmont at Lipscomb (ESPN3)
8:05 PM Missouri State at Drake (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Auburn at Arkansas (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech
10:00 PM UNLV at Wyoming (The Mtn.)
10:00 PM Cal State Fullerton at Cal State Bakersfield