Posted by MATT JONES
After tonight, don’t let any college basketball pundits out there deceive you or try and add nuance to the debate. If you watched the Ohio State-Purdue game on Tuesday night, you know the discussion is now over. As of today, the Buckeyes are the best team in college basketball. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Ohio State will be the best team in college basketball at the end of the year and it certainly doesn’t mean that Ohio State will win the NCAA Tournament. As anyone who sang the praises of Texas at this point last season can attest, a lot can happen between now and that fateful Monday in early April. But as anyone who watched even ten minutes of Ohio State’s 87-64 shellacking of the Boilermakers would surely agree, as of today, the Buckeyes are at the top of the college basketball ladder.
Purdue was dismantled in Columbus with systematic precision in as complete a performance as we have seen in college basketball this season. Six of the eight players in the Ohio State rotation scored in double digits, showcasing the unparalleled diversity of weapons this team has on the offensive end. While much has been written about Jared Sullinger’s domination inside, it is Ohio State’s secondary options that make it difficult to contain. Double team Sullinger and you risk William Buford and Jon Diebler crushing your spirits from three point land. Extend your defense to the arc and you are vulnerable to Deshaun Thomas cutting to the rim. Play straight up defense and Aaron Craft drops a dime that leads to an easy lay-up. No defensive strategy has been able to shut down the Buckeye attack and it isn’t even clear which is most effective.
Even worse for opponents, while you can’t easily defend the Buckeyes, they have a myriad of options to defend you. The Buckeyes athleticism on the wing allows them to extend out and disrupt your shooters, and when beaten off the dribble, funneling all action towards Sullinger guarantees a contested shot in the paint. Trying to crash the boards and grab offensive rebounds is a losing proposition, as Jared Sullinger and his gigantic backside control virtually every carom off the rim. The Buckeyes can be vulnerable to a methodical offense that limits possessions and is patient with the basketball, but if Matta’s group can get one rally, as it did early against Purdue, that gameplan essentially foregoes any possibility of a comeback.
The Buckeyes aren’t so dominant that they can’t be beaten. In fact, I would bet that they will lose their first game during the back-to-back frozen tundra stretch of the Big Ten schedule, when they travel to Minnesota and then Wisconsin in early February. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t sit at this point as the clear choice for the best team in college basketball. Duke, Kansas and Pittsburgh are all within striking distance, but none of those three teams could have put as thorough a spanking on a team like Purdue as we saw from Ohio State on Tuesday.
A lot can change between now and Selection Sunday and as Kansas showed us against Northern Iowa last season, even the best of teams can run up against a buzzsaw in a one game tournament scenario. But as tonight’s game showcased, for now the college basketball season has its clear favorite. The Buckeyes may not win the title in March, but as Purdue can certainly attest, they own the season in January.