Thursday, February 18, 2010
The Morning After: Hard-Boiled
By Eamonn Brennan
The Morning After is our semi-daily look at last night's best hoops action. Try not to make it awkward. Oh, and sorry about that headline. I couldn't help myself.
No. 4 Purdue 60, No. 12 Ohio State 57: Any time you face a player as good as Evan Turner, the conventional strategy is simple: Make someone else beat you. It might not have been conscious, but Purdue's execution in last night's impressive road win at OSU was the exact opposite. It let Turner get his points (and his assists, and his rebounds, and pretty much anything else he wanted, because what are you going to do, triple-team him?) and the rest of the Buckeyes couldn't step up in time. By the time OSU started hitting the shots it usually makes to complement Turner's brilliance, it was too late: Purdue is simply too smart, too hard-nosed and too complete on defense to spot it 15 first-half points. OSU and Turner made a valiant comeback, but it was too late.
Purdue's defense didn't stop Turner -- he went for 29 points, seven rebounds, and five assists -- but what it did do was isolate Turner from the rest of his teammates. Purdue swarmed OSU with that patented man-to-man defense, and Ohio State's offense turned simple. There was no motion, no movement, none of the things that the Boilermakers kept wowing with on their own offensive end. Instead, Turner would bring the ball up the floor, receive a screen or an iso call, go to the hoop and oftentimes score. But even a player as good as Turner can't rebound all of his misses. Even Turner can't find himself on back cuts. Even Turner can't make every shot. Ohio State had six assists all game; Turner had five of them.
In the end, it's games like these that set Purdue apart from the Big Ten pack. The Boilermakers have elite talent -- JaJuan Johnson is perpetually slept on; sooner or later we'll learn -- but they also have the depth and style, that hard-nosed, lockdown defense thing that you can feel when you watch them, to outlast mercurial teams like Ohio State. Matt Painter's boys are not perfect, and they're not Kansas, but they're the closest thing the Big Ten has to a Final Four favorite. That much is no longer in dispute.
Louisville 91, Notre Dame 89, 2OT: Which team needed this one more? Louisville, coming off an upset of Syracuse and trying to fight its way back into safe bubble territory? Or Notre Dame, whose bubble hopes are almost entirely waned, but who could maybe take a win at Louisville to the committee as a résumé-builder? Hard to say. What I do know that is that a Louisville win -- in which Samardo Samuels scored a career-high 36 points, including 16-of-19 from the free throw line, marking the only real difference between these teams in Four Factors land -- moves Louisville into legitimate tourney consideration, and just might move Notre Dame off the bubble for good. Such is life in the middle of the Big East.
Missouri 82, No. 17 Texas 77: Is Texas going to drop out of the Top 25? This is the Longhorns' sixth loss in nine games, and while there's nothing wrong with losing at Missouri -- Missouri is a tough out, to be sure -- a team as talented as Texas losing so many games in the stretch run of its season, just as the country's elite are hitting their stride and doing their best work, ought to be hugely discouraging to voters. Take a gander at those Big 12 standings: Texas is 6-5 in the conference, behind Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Baylor and, yes, Missouri, which moved to 7-4 with Wednesday night's win. Texas is one of the most-talented teams in the country. How does that happen? Anyone with a really good answer -- something besides "Rick Barnes plays too many players" -- wins a cookie. Not kidding. I will mail you a cookie of your choosing. Just please help me understand this, because I am so very confused.