For Ohio State, it’s pretty simple.
An 0-2 start in Big Ten play could mean the start of another long season for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State fell 75-70 at Illinois on Sunday night — its third loss this year by five points or fewer — to open conference play. The Buckeyes almost find themselves in a must-win situation Thursday when they host 20th-ranked Purdue.
It sounds crazy to have such a scenario in the first week of January, but when you look at Ohio State’s schedule to open Big Ten play, it’s not so farfetched anymore. After Thursday’s matchup with the Boilermakers, the Buckeyes play back-to-back road games at Minnesota and Wisconsin — a pair of top-40 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistical ratings — and then host Michigan State.
That upcoming slate is precisely why Ohio State needs a win over Purdue.
“Right now, we’re 0-1 in the Big Ten and it’s definitely something that we need: a win under our belt,” senior forward Marc Loving said. “There’s not really much after that. We need to get a win.”
It certainly won’t be easy as the Boilermakers present the Buckeyes with quite a challenge.
At 12-3, Purdue is one of the early-season favorites to win the Big Ten. The Boilermakers have a conference player of the year candidate in Caleb Swanigan — the sophomore big man is averaging 18.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per game — and him, Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards make up the best frontcourt in the league.
Ohio State will definitely have its hands full trying to avoid that 0-2 start in Big Ten play.
“The one thing I’ve learned over time here at Ohio State is every game is a big game,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said. “Guys know what’s at stake and you don’t have to bring it up that much. They understand.”
The Buckeyes need to find a way to upset 20th-ranked Purdue. If not, they could be looking at digging themselves in quite a hole to open the conference season.
“It’s easier said than done. ‘We’re home, this should be easy.’ It doesn’t work that way. We’ve got to go out and play,” Matta said.” We have to play better than we played the other night and when you’re playing a team like Purdue — I think they’re really, really good — we’ve got to do all the little things and we’ve got to do all the little things for 40 minutes.”