Showdown In West Lafayette

Tomorrow afternoon two teams will play a game that will go a long way toward deciding who will be the regular season Big Ten basketball champion.  Ohio State travels to West Lafayette to take on the Purdue Boilermakers.

A lot is on the line.  The Buckeyes are 12-1 in the conference and have a two-game lead over second-place Purdue.  In their last outing, the Boilermakers won a huge home game against Wisconsin to take sole possession of second place.  They now look to topple the Buckeyes and pull within one game of the Big Ten lead.  They also will be looking for some revenge against Ohio State, which crushed Purdue 87-64 when the teams matched up earlier this season at Value City Arena.

The last game between these two teams is meaningless.  It was one of those magical games where everything went right for Ohio State and everything went wrong for Purdue.  (I have the game DVR’d and will probably not erase it for months; it is too much fun to watch.)  The rematch undoubtedly will be different.  Mackey Arena is one of the toughest venues in the Big Ten, and this year Purdue is undefeated at home against Big Ten opponents.  In the first game between these teams, JaJuan Johnson played well and scored 22 points, but he was almost a one-man team.  The Buckeyes managed to marginalize Purdue’s excellent shooting guard E’Twaun Moore and neutralize the Boilermakers’ waterbug-quick point guard, Lewis Jackson.  Aaron Craft had a breakout game for the Buckeyes, playing hard-as-nails defense and blowing past the Boilermakers’ defense for some embarrassingly easy layups.

Craft and the Buckeyes won’t surprise Purdue this time.  Matt Painter is one of the best coaches in the Big Ten and he will have the Boilermakers ready for this game.  Moore and Jackson, in particular, will be pumped for a chance to redeem themselves against the Buckeyes.  I expect another very difficult road test against a well-coached opponent that will be playing with a lot of talent and a lot of pride.

The Schott And The Nut House

I’ve had the opportunity to go see the Buckeyes play a number of basketball games at the Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center.  Its full name is a mouthful, but most OSU basketball fans just call it the Schott.

The Schott was designed as a multi-purpose facility.  The Ohio State men’s and women’s basketball teams play there, as does the men’s ice hockey team.  It hosts concerts — Roger Waters memorably performed The Wall there in October — and other events like Cirque du Soleil shows.  Because it is a multi-purpose facility, trade-offs have been made that make it a less-than-perfect basketball venue. Its interior is a big bowl, the better to have unobstructed sight lines from the loge boxes.  There is sound-dampening material in certain areas that helps with concert acoustics.  As a result, the Schott seems to swallow up sound and doesn’t reach the kind of ear-splitting levels that you would find at St. John Arena — or at other Big Ten basketball venues, like Illinois’ Assembly Hall or Purdue’s Mackey Arena.

The Nut House

For this reason, other Big Ten teams don’t consider the Schott a particularly intimidating place to play (apart from the fact, of course, that under Coach Thad Matta, Ohio State has had some intimidating basketball teams playing there).  To its credit, Ohio State’s Athletic Department seems to have recognized this issue.  This year they have moved more students down to the floor level, in an area called the Nut House.  The Nut House students are seated around the visitors’ bench and do their best to raise a ruckus.  They wear Nut House t-shirts and funky outfits, have standardized cheers and chants, sing songs, and wave “fathead” cutouts of the heads of OSU President E. Gordon Gee, a smurf, former OSU great Michael Redd, and Snooki from Jersey Shore, among others, in an effort to distract free throw shooters on the opposing team.  The most recent game, against Michigan, got about as loud as any game I’ve attended at the Schott.

Because of the design choices, the crowd at the Schott will never be able to reach the decibel levels found at some other college basketball venues.  However, I applaud the Athletic Department and, in particular, the Nut House students for working to make the Schott a venue that is louder, more interesting, more fun, and hopefully more intimidating for the opposing teams that have the temerity to try to defeat the Buckeyes on their home floor.