By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
In the fickle world of high-profile sports, the Purdue Boilermakers are now my favorite college basketball team.
Just kidding. As you know, I've been crushing on Ohio State for a while and since the Buckeyes (20-7, 10-4 Big Ten) lost a game they should have won at West Virginia last month, they've bounced back so impressively that I thought there was no team in the country playing better than them.
Until Wednesday night.
Purdue avenged a January loss to OSU by earning a hard-fought, 60-57 win in Columbus and in the process, exposing the Buckeyes at least a little bit.
Ohio State's lack of depth is hardly a news bulletin, but it hadn't really caught up with the Bucks until Wednesday's first home loss of the season. The West Virginia setback was more a case of playing poorly after halftime than it was playing fatigued.
But if you paid attention to the way Purdue defended OSU's National Player of the Year candidate, Evan Turner, you'll agree he earned every one of his 29 points. He and three teammates played all 40 minutes, and while rallying late in front of the home crowd will certainly get the adrenaline pumping, I'm curious how just a six- or seven-man rotation will work on the back end of a two-games-in-three-days stretch on a neutral floor in next month's tournament. Sheesh, the Big Ten tournament will be even more difficult playing on consecutive days.
And in the case of Purdue (22-3, 10-3), I must admit, that three-game losing streak that followed its 14-0 start made me think perhaps the Boilermakers were more suited for a third-place finish in the Big Ten. But with home games against Illinois on Saturday and Michigan State eight days later, I think we'll see a team more than capable of winning the league.
It's hard not to be impressed with a road win in Columbus by a Purdue team that didn't get its first points from Robbie Hummel until eight minutes remained in the game. JaJuan Johnson stole the show for the visitors, connecting early and often from all over the floor. He finished with 24 points and seven rebounds, and committed only two fouls and one turnover in 39 minutes. He owned OSU bigs Dallas Lauderdale and Kyle Madsen.
Many bloggers like to sound the alarm after one loss, and while that's not my style, I will go far enough to suggest that maybe Thad Matta should give his boys Thursday off to soak in a tub and maybe not think about basketball for a day. It's mid-February, the team did just win nine straight Big Ten games and I'm sure they're exhausted. That's the advantage of playing so many Sunday games; if you want to rest your guys in a case like this, you can do it and still have a tough practice on Friday.
But it doesn't get much easier. OSU visits league bully Michigan State (21-6, 11-3) on Sunday (noon ET, CBS) to try to keep pace near the top of the Big Ten.