Basketball Preview: Ohio State Faces Sixth-Ranked Purdue on the Road

By Griffin Strom on January 30, 2022 at 7:35 am
E.J. Liddell, Trevion Williams
Grace Hollars/IndyStar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Just a single-digit margin separated the Buckeyes and Boilermakers in all three meetings between the two programs a season ago.

Ohio State got the last laugh with an overtime win in Big Ten Tournament play last March, but the scarlet and gray will be in hostile territory on Sunday when it faces nearly the exact same team Purdue had last season. And while the names and faces are largely the same, the Boilermakers have only gotten better since their last meeting with the Buckeyes.

Purdue (17-3, 6-3 B1G) Mackey Arena Noon CBS

No. 6 Purdue has not dipped beneath a seventh-place ranking in the AP Top 25 in 2021-22, starting the season 17-3 with wins over three ranked opponents (North Carolina, Villanova and Illinois). Matt Painter and company have only lost one game at Mackey Arena, where they dropped only one game last season as well, and the 16th-ranked Buckeyes will face an uphill battle trying to become the second Big Ten team to do so this year.

“Purdue’s DNA and their style of play and formula for winning today, you could say is very similar to what it was 10 or 20 years ago,” Ohio State assistant coach Ryan Pedon said on Saturday. “I think there’s differences, but at the end of the day, what they hang their hat on, that hasn’t changed. Facing that for the first time, you’re either buying into the scouting report or you get taught a lesson real quick. Hopeful that our new guys understand that.”

Purdue’s only losses have come by five points or less. Rutgers scraped out a two-point win over the Boilermakers on Dec. 9, and both Wisconsin and Indiana pulled off similarly slim victories against Purdue earlier this month. Beyond those two losses, two other teams (North Carolina State and Illinois) have been able to push the Boilermakers to overtime, but Purdue won both games.

The only two games Ohio State has dropped in its past 11 have been to Wisconsin and Indiana, which are two of the three teams to beat Purdue this season. But a Boilermaker team that may have multiple first-team All-Big Ten performers this year could be the best team Ohio State has played yet this year.

What to Watch For

Wheeler a game-time decision

A foot injury sidelined Jamari Wheeler for the first time ever in his five-year college basketball career Thursday, and Ohio State’s starting point guard won’t want to miss a second straight game. Pedon said Ohio State is hopeful about his status, but Wheeler remained a game-time decision as of Saturday. Wheeler leads the Buckeyes in assists this season, with an average of 3.8, and his 7.1 points per game – not to mention his defensive prowess on the perimeter – are not insignificant either.

“Jamari’s a really important piece to our puzzle,” Pedon said. “He gives us that experience, toughness, he leads with his defense. Obviously we’d love to have him, but ultimately his long-term health is gonna be most important to us.”

Update: Wheeler will be available for the Buckeyes.

Familiar faces

The Boilermakers’ roster continuity is one large reason for the group’s success this season. Every starter from the 2020-21 team is back, even if some of them aren’t regular starters this year, and Purdue’s top seven scorers all have at least a year of experience in the program under their belt. Per Sports Reference, Purdue returned 94.6 percent of its scoring and 90.9 percent of its minutes played from last year’s roster. By comparison, Ohio State returned just 64.8 percent of its scoring and 64.5 percent of its minutes played from a year ago.

“They’re very similar,” Pedon said. “Purdue’s system, it can tweak a little bit year to year offensively, but for the most part defensively, they look very much the same as they did last year just because the pieces are all there – they remain from last year. They have so many guys returning.”

Big Ten’s best offense

With four players averaging at least 12 points per game, Purdue has the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers’ average of 84.7 points is also fourth-best in the country. Led by the inside-out combination of second-year standouts Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey, the Purdue offense is the only one in the conference averaging better than 50 percent shooting from the floor (50.6). The Boilermakers are one of just three teams in the country that are doing so. Purdue also paces the conference in 3-point field goal percentage; its 40.9 percent mark also ranks third in the nation.

Three Important Buckeyes

Zed Key

Key started in one of Ohio State’s three matchups against Purdue last season due to the absence of E.J. Liddell, but he’ll be expected to play a much bigger role against the Boilermakers on Sunday than he ever did a year ago. The Buckeyes will be much more reliant on Key, who had just 10 points and five boards combined across those three games in 2020-21, and particularly on defense. At 6-foot-8, Key will likely be tasked with guarding 7-foot-4 Zach Edey to start out the game, and 6-foot-10 Trevion Williams will be just as much of a load coming off the bench.

Kyle Young

The fifth-year senior forward will also be instrumental in Ohio State’s defensive efforts against Edey and Williams. Don’t forget that in the Buckeyes’ last matchup against the Boilermakers, Young had the best half of his career before a blow to the head effectively ended his season. Young had 18 first-half points in Ohio State’s Big Ten Tournament game against Purdue last March, knocking down four 3-pointers in the process. His most recent effort against Minnesota suggests he might be able to get a rhythm going on offense. Young had 14 points in Thursday's matchup with the Gophers, his most since Dec. 8, and the Buckeyes could use some of that production to take pressure off of Liddell.

Meechie Johnson

In his first game back after a three-game absence due to a facial fracture and concussion, Johnson played the largest workload of his career to date with 30 minutes of action. But Johnson didn’t exactly make them count, scoring just three points on 1-for-7 shooting, though he had five boards and three assists. Johnson was Ohio State’s starting point guard in place of Wheeler against Minnesota, and he could be again if the Penn State transfer still isn’t ready to go or is limited by his injury on Sunday. If that is the case, Ohio State will likely need a better effort from Johnson if it’s going to defeat the highest-ranked team in the Big Ten.

Three Important Boilermakers

Player Position Height Weight Stats
ISAIAH THOMPSON G 6-1 160 6.3 PPG, 1.4 APG
JADEN IVEY G 6-4 195 16.6 PPG, 5 RPG
SASHA STEFANOVIC G 6-5 205 12.2 PPG, 3.6 APG
MASON GILLIS F 6-6 230 7.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG
ZACH EDEY C 7-4 295 14.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG

Jaden Ivey

His vast potential was plain to see a year ago, and Ivey has taken precisely the kind of step up in his second season that many expected him to. The 6-foot-4 guard has improved his game across the board as a sophomore, leading Purdue with an average of 16.6 points per game while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor. Last year, Ivey shot under 40 percent for the season. The Indiana native has also become Purdue’s most accurate 3-point shooter (among Boilermakers who have taken at least 50 threes on the season) as he’s shooting 43.8 percent from deep, an 18 percent increase from his first year. 

Zach Edey

Purdue’s 7-foot-4 center showed flashes as a freshman, but he’s become exponentially more frightening for Big Ten opponents in year two. In just 18.3 minutes per game, Edey is averaging 14.8 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 70.4 percent. Edey already has seven 20-point games this season, and even though he was far from dominant in three matchups with the Buckeyes a year ago, he should be much more of a focal point on Sunday.

Trevion Williams

Just how stacked is Purdue this season? Williams, who was a first-team All-Big Ten forward last season, has accepted a role coming off the bench as a senior just to make room for the rest of the talent. Williams put on a low post clinic in just about every matchup with Ohio State last year, averaging better than 19 points per game across the three meetings, and his 26-14-5 performance against the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament might still give Holtmann and company nightmares. Williams is playing fewer minutes this year than he was last year, but he’s still averaging 12.7 points, 8.5 boards and a career-high 3.1 assists per game.

How It Plays Out

Line: Purdue -10, O/U 148

Particularly at home, I think this Purdue team should be too much for Ohio State, although the Boilermakers have not been unbeatable this season. Williams has already proven to be a problem inside for Ohio State, and the emergence of Edey should only add to those troubles. Not to mention the potential impact of Ivey, whose game has evolved since the Buckeyes last matched up with the Boilermakers.

Prediction: Purdue 71, Ohio State 63

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