Saddle Up is our daily look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Wednesday night's rundown.
No. 4 Purdue at No. 12 Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: If you're one of the college basketball fans who doesn't live in a market that carries the Big Ten Network, or that doesn't have DirecTV, well, man. I'm sorry. That's no good. Because tonight is one of the biggest games the Big Ten has had in years, and you're going to have to follow along on the Internet. You're also going to have to rush home from work; a 6:30 p.m. ET start time is mighty unfriendly to those Big Ten fans who live in the central time zone, which is most of them.
Sneak out early. Duck your boss on your way out. Put up an out-of-office notification email. ("I'm not in the office, because I'm watching an awesome basketball game. Please direct all urgent issues to Person X, and don't bother me for the next few hours, nerds.") Do what you need to do, because the battle between the fighting Evan Turners and Matt Painter's steadfast and solid Boilermakers team is full of implications. If Purdue wins, they make a very strong case to displace Villanova as the fourth No. 1 seed and might cruise to the Big Ten title. If Ohio State wins, it boosts its own tourney resume and gets the added bonus of a foot forward in the Big Ten title race. The Big Ten is loaded at the top; tonight's result should provide some measure of separation.
The most notable match up on hand is, obviously, Evan Turner versus, well, anyone Matt Painter decides to send Turner's way. The Boilermakers are great at harassing opposing guards, and the one chink in Turner's armor is his tendency to turn the ball over. Expect Painter to try and smother Turner with multiple defenders as soon as he crosses the half-court line, and maybe before. E'Twaun Moore and Chris Kramer will play a prominent role, and it wouldn't be shocking to see Robbie Hummel try to keep Turner from dominating inside.
That's a solid strategy, but it leaves Purdue open to Ohio State's biggest non-Turner strength: shooting. The Buckeyes hit their outside shots. That efficiency means Turner doesn't need to dominate the scoreline for OSU to stay productive on offense; he merely needs to be enough of a distraction to dominate the other team's gameplan. If Purdue can find a balance between keeping Turner away from the areas he usually owns, as well as keeping OSU's shooters from getting too many kickouts and easy, Turner-delivered looks, Purdue has a great chance to win. But that, as with anything Villian-related, is easier said than done.
Whatever both teams decide to do, the numbers would point toward a close game: Ohio State is the country's eighth-best offense; Purdue is its seventh-best defense. Ohio State has the No. 24 defense in the country; Purdue has the No. 24 offense. Both teams have their eyes on deep tournament runs, and both teams are hitting their late-season strides. Like I said, rush home from work. Screw your personal file. This one is worth it.
But that's not all! Bonus previews, notes, and errata: Be sure to check out Hammer And Rails' lengthy preview of tonight's game; same goes for Boiled Sports, who says the anticipation "almost feels like a football game," which, were I a Purdue basketball player, would offend me. For the OSU-interested, you can find excellent fan-centric previews at Eleven Warriors and Buckeye Battle Cry. The Big Ten Network seems rather excited about tonight's game, too. And don't forget the implications. So many implications! (I like writing the word "implications." Implications. OK, sheesh, I'll stop.)
Everywhere else: Duke gets a chance to prove itself on the road against a decidedly mediocre Miami (FL) team, which should be no problem, except this is Duke on the road, and, well, you know ... West Virginia goes to Providence, where Bob Huggins' men will attempt to sidestep the recent plague of Big East upsets ... Nebraska plays Kansas State in Manhattan; have fun, Huskers ... Your sneaky-good game of the night? Texas at Missouri ... Georgia has played well on the road in the SEC; their next challenge is at Tennessee ... Notre Dame, barely hanging on to a bubble spot, will face fellow bubblers Louisville at Freedom Hall ... In a stacked A-10 with six possible NCAA tournament teams, Rhode Island at St. Louis means a lot ... and two fringe ACC bubble teams will try to sort themselves out when Florida State goes to Virginia.