In winning their first fourteen games of the season the Purdue Boilermakers did nothing to dispel the notion that they had a very good chance of getting to the Final Four. But while a record of 14-3 is nothing to disregard there have been some worrisome issues for Matt Painter's squad, who dropped their third consecutive game on Saturday. And the biggest issue may be the tallest man in the rotation, JaJuan Johnson. Over the last three games the junior has averaged just six points per game and struggled through eighteen foul-plagued minutes in Evanston before fouling out.
One of the biggest games of the day tips at high noon in Morgantown when West Virginia hosts Syracuse in a matchup of Top 10 teams. Both are coming off of routine victories over teams expected to finish in the bottom portion of the Big East standings, avoiding the pitfall of looking past the task at hand. The Orange are one of the nation's best offensive teams, leading the country in field goal percentage and assists per game. Wesley Johnson received a good deal of praise for their early start but truth be told Jim Boeheim's got weapons throughout the rotation.
Before getting into the games of Thursday it would be appropriate to mention the tragic death of University of Southern Indiana basketball player Jeron Lewis, who fell and hit his head during a game against Kentucky Wesleyan. Tragically the senior had returned to school following the birth of his first child around Christmas. An autopsy will be performed on Friday. Jeron Lewis was 21 years old.
Three Key Happenings
On a night that saw some of the nation's best teams go on the road and pick up victories it was appropriate that one of the less experienced teams fell in front of a raucous crowd. North Carolina started off slowly and paid dearly at Clemson, falling by the final score of 83-64. Trevor Booker led the way with 21 points while Demontez Stitt (20 points) and Tanner Smith (14 points, six rebounds, five steals) helped make life difficult for North Carolina. Dexter Strickland scored seventeen off the bench but he was the only player to score in double figures for the Tar Heels.
Thursday's schedule may be lacking in regards to "marquee" games but there are important conference games to check out. Louisiana Tech hosts Fresno State in a matchup of the WAC's only two undefeated and there will be plenty of offensive talent on display. Kyle Gibson currently leads the conference in scoring and teammate Magnum Rolle has played the way people expected the LSU transfer to play when his career began. But on the other end, Louisiana Tech will have to account for Paul George and Sylvester Seay, two wings with the ability to light up the scoreboard.
It didn't look too good for Ohio State at the half of their game at #6 Purdue on Tuesday night. Robbie Hummel put on a shooting exhibition, knocking down eight three pointers on the way to 29 first half points as the Boilers went into the locker room up 41-29. But when you have one of the leading candidates for national Player of the Year you're never out of a game, especially if he's still recovering from a broken back. Ohio State outscored Purdue by sixteen in the second half in picking up a key Big Ten road win 70-66, with Evan Turner leading the way.
Wednesday night doesn't lack for appealing matchups on the hardwood, with one of the best rivalries in the Big East last decade sharing the stage with key games in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 ad Mountain West. Connecticut, who can use a "big" win this season, hosts a resurgent Pittsburgh squad that is one of two Big East teams still undefeated in conference play. Ashton Gibbs has stepped up in recent weeks and the return of Gilbert Brown and Jermaine Dixon has given Jamie Dixon's team more depth on the perimeter.
The first Big Monday of the season was supposed to be tipped off with an entertaining affair from the Big East between Villanova and Louisville. With both teams entering the game undefeated in league play there was no reason to think otherwise...until the game got underway. When it was all said and done there were sixty-seven fouls, ninety-four foul shots, forty-four turnovers...and one 36-point performance from Scottie Reynolds. Reynolds scored sixteen points in the final six minutes of the game on Monday night, leading the fourth-ranked Wildcats to a 92-84 victory.
While the overall schedule on Tuesday is a bit lean there are some important games to keep an eye on. Texas A&M hits the road to take on Kansas State, who should still be upset about their game at Missouri ended on Saturday. In Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen K-State has one of the best backcourt tandems you'll see. As for the Aggies they tend to play a bit more deliberate offensively with Donald Sloan leading the way. But what could work against A&M is the Big 12's dominance in home games. Member schools are a staggering 112-1 at home to this point in the season.
The first "Big Monday" of the season delivers a pair of undefeated teams (in conference play) in the Big East followed by "Bedlam" in the Big 12. Villanova visits Louisville in a game that should prove to be entertaining given the deep backcourts. Villanova will have to deal with a Louisville defense that pressured full-court only to fall into an active 2-3 zone. But they've got plenty of playmakers and perimeter shooters with Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher leading the way. The key for the Cardinals will be to turn the Wildcats over while limiting their own miscues.