- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of Tuesday night's best basketball action. It can't believe people are still talking about Jay Cutler.
No. 12 Purdue at No. 1 Ohio State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: If you've been reading the blog all day, then you've already seen Dana O'Neil's Purdue-Ohio State preview -- which focuses on the Jared Sullinger-JaJuan Johnson matchup, a battle of two of leading candidates for national player of the year honors -- as well as Andy's quick visit with Johnson earlier in the day. I'll let those stand in lieu of a large preview, because let's be honest: The Sullinger-Johnson matchup is the key to the game, and I can't communicate that any more eloquently than my colleagues already have.
That said, if Purdue manages to get this win, it will be because of its supporting cast. I'm not talking about E'Twaun Moore. Moore will have to be good, of course, but he's almost always good. If it weren't for Johnson's brilliance, Moore would be getting plenty of POY love himself. For Purdue, "supporting cast" means Lewis Jackson, Ryne Smith, and Kelsey Barlow.
Because Ohio State has so many non-Sullinger weapons -- Jon Diebler, David Lighty, William Buford, even Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas -- the Boilermakers could theoretically shut down Sully and still lose this game thanks to a variety of perimeter-oriented reasons. Assuming Purdue doubles Sullinger frequently, Jackson, Smith, Barlow and Moore have to be near-perfect in their rotations, because the Buckeyes don't miss outside shots often.
They also have to be good on offense. Jackson's penetration was one of the main reasons Purdue was so efficient against Michigan State Saturday. If he can get into the lane against Craft, he gives Purdue a major offensive advantage. Smith has to continue his hot-shooting ways; he's one of the main reasons Purdue's offense has actually improved even without injured star Robbie Hummel.
No team in the Big Ten, even one as accomplished and efficient as Purdue has been this season, can match up on a player-by-player basis with the Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU is just too talented. But if you can manage to contain Sullinger with smart doubles on the low block -- and maybe even force him into some foul trouble when he guards Johnson in the post -- and rotate to shooters when the Buckeyes get the ball swinging, you've got a fighting chance. If any Big Ten team can do it, it's Purdue. We'll see.
No. 5 Connecticut at Marquette, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN3: I was tempted to call this the upset alert of the night, but I'm actually not that sure a Marquette win would be all that much of an upset. Don't get me wrong, the Huskies are the superior team. But Marquette has been consistently underrated all season long, a trend that continues even as the Eagles have amassed the Big East's third-best efficiency margin against conference opponents to date. The Eagles have yet to be soundly beaten in any game this season. Their average margin of defeat in seven losses is four points, and their biggest loss was an 89-81 result at Pittsburgh. They've been offensively brilliant, tough to beat at home (just ask Notre Dame, which was routed in Milwaukee just a few games before its win at Pitt) and they play you close almost regardless of situation or talent.
Whether you want to call this an upset special, a trap game, or just a good old-fashioned quality matchup, don't be surprised if UConn needs some late Kemba Walker heroics to get out of the Bradley Center with a win Tuesday night. This Marquette team is (somehow, still) better than you think.
No. 6 Kansas at Colorado, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN3: If you're into that whole trap game distinction, this might be the better use of the term. One, Kansas is coming off a tough home loss to Texas. Two, Kansas is traveling to a suddenly revitalized Coors Events Center. Three, Kansas is traveling to a suddenly revitalized Coors Events Center to play a smarting Colorado team fresh off two ugly road losses (at Nebraska and, gulp, Oklahoma), but one that has shown it can hang with, and beat, good Big 12 competition at home and on the road.
And, yes, four: Kansas is making this trip without forward Thomas Robinson, who on Friday received word from his nine-year-old sister Jayla that their mother, Lisa, had died of a heart attack at age 37.
The Jayhawks have rallied around their mourning forward in the days following that awful news, but that's a lot for a team to overcome. Even if you discount the mental and emotional aspects of knowing that one of your close friends is hurting -- and, not to draw too sharp a comparison, but this is something a friend of mine recently went through, and nothing's quite so painful -- losing Robinson is a major blow to Kansas' interior dominance, especially on the glass where Robinson has been dominant.
The Buffaloes are a great offensive team and a bad defensive one, a great perimeter team and a poor interior one. Having Robinson away from Kansas certainly helps the Buffaloes' upset prospects. More than anything, though, it's the kind of thing that can shake a group of friends to its core. What happens on the court tonight, in the big picture, barely matters. But you can bet the Jayhawks are going to do their best to rise to the challenge all the same.
Everywhere else: You know it's a good night of hoops when you don't have time to get to Florida at Georgia, a big SEC game with NCAA tournament implications on the line. That tip is at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. ... Seton Hall visits the Carrier Dome, where the Orange will be looking to right the ship after consecutive losses to Pittsburgh and Villanova. ... Big game in the A-10, where 4-1 Richmond will try to put some daylight between itself and 3-2 Dayton in Dayton at 7 p.m. on ESPNU. ... The mightily impressive Belmont Bruins could get their biggest A-Sun challenge of the season at Lipscomb. ... Missouri State will try to avoid any untimely letdowns against an occasionally pesky Drake team in Des Moines. ... UNLV has a road date at Wyoming. ... Virginia Tech will be well aware of UNC's loss at Georgia Tech last week when the Hokies take the floor against the Jackets. ... And NC State will play at Clemson in the type of nondescript, uninteresting, middle-of-the-road ACC game we're going to see a lot of in February and March.