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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, February 07, 2018 6:20 pm

Pregame: Purdue (23-2, 12-0 Big Ten) vs. Ohio State (20-5, 11-1)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

After 19 straight wins, players and coaches at Purdue would be justified if they feel they've been a little disrespected by the national media. After all those wins, they remain stuck at No. 3 in the rankings, behind Villanova and Virginia, which have both lost more recently.

If anyone at Purdue is feeling disrespected, this week is when they'll want to show it. That starts tonight, as the Boilermakers welcome in No. 14 Ohio State, the first top 15 team they've played since they demolished then-No. 2 Arizona 89-64 back in late November. That was the first game of the current winning streak, which puts in perspective how much time it has really been since the Boilers lost.

On the line tonight, however, is much more than top 25 rankings. The winner of this game will be the leader in the Big Ten (although the teams will be tied if Ohio State wins, the Buckeyes will own the head-to-head tiebreaker). The Boilers are gunning for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but it will be difficult for the committee to give a top-line seed to a team that didn't even earn that distinction in its own conference tournament.

Despite a 12-0 start to the conference season, Purdue is not yet assured of that top seed in the Big Ten Tournament. With a trip to East Lansing to face No. 4 Michigan State looming next, tonight's game at home takes on added significance. Though the weather is bitterly cold here in West Lafayette, the crowd should be as raucous as it's been all season. Ohio State has some young players in its lineup, including sophomore Andre Wesson, who is starting in place of suspended senior guard Kam Williams. Those young players have been largely untested in hostile environments (Northwestern and Rutgers don't qualify) and the Mackey crowd might have an outsized effect tonight.

What I'm watching for: Will Ohio State go small? As I mentioned in my video preview of the game yesterday, Matt Painter said he's planned for Ohio State at times playing a super small lineup with 6-foot-7 Keita Bates-Diop at the 5. That could force Isaac Haas to guard Bates-Diop, the Big Ten's leading scorer and a nearly impossible assignment for the 7-foot-2 big man. If the Buckeyes do deploy this lineup, how will Purdue respond? Will they be able to effectively force the ball to Haas on offense while hiding him on defense? Bates-Diop is strong down low, and this is a wrinkle that will take some innovative thinking for Purdue to counter.