#20 Golden Gophers vs. #18 Purdue Boilermakers
6:00 (CST) at Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
TV: ESPN 2
Tickets: Still a few obstructed seats left
Chatroom: I won’t be here, but if you are, stop by and discuss the game
A young Big Ten team beats the highly ranked Louisville Cardinals on a neutral court, gains confidence from their upset win, and promptly tears through the conference season on the way to a #6 seed in the NCAA tournament. This isn’t the script to Minnesota’s season, at least not yet, but it is how Purdue surprised the conference and the country with a breakout season by a young team.
The Boilermakers haven’t quite matched last season’s success. Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer, an all conference performer and the Big Ten defensive player of the year respectively, have had nagging injuries, and nagging doubts have returned to West Lafayette. With nearly everyone returning from last year’s team that went 24-7 overall and 15-3 in the conference, Purdue was expected to be one of the favorites to win the conference title this season. While their overall record of 14-4 is better than their record last year at this time, the Boilermakers lost their first two conference games, and barely beat Northwestern last Thursday after a furious 14 point second half comeback. Their only high-profile non-conference wins were over Boston College and a considerably less spectacular Stephen Curry.
It seems success is easier to attain than maintain. As the Gophers have found out, it is often easier to win while flying under the radar. Last year Purdue was a collection of young but untested talent. This year, at least a handful of their players are household names. Everyone wants to win, especially against an up and coming team, but over a ranked team can be a season defining win. Good teams simply bring out the best in their opponents. Hopefully Purdue will bring out Minnesota’s best effort, because they will need it to beat the Boilermakers.
Purdue is at their best while playing defense, giving up .834 points per possession, good for fifth best in the country. They force the same number of turnovers as the Gophers, but it is their half court defense that is stifling. They allow their opponents to make 38% of their two point shots, the best in the country. They also aren’t easy to beat from distance, where they hold their opponents to 31.8% three-point shooting. They block a lot of shots, but not as many as the Gophers who are still the best in the country. Their ability to steal the ball is slightly above average. Their biggest weakness on defense, if you can even call it that, is in giving up offensive rebounds. So far this season their opponents collect 32.4% of possible offensive rebounds. If the Gophers can crash the boards and get second chances, it will help offset what will surely be a poor shooting night.
Unlike their defense, Purdue’s offense is only average. They play slightly faster than the Gophers, averaging three additional possessions per game. Their biggest strength is that they rarely commit turnovers. Minnesota won’t be able to sit back and wait for the Boilermakers to give the game away. They aren’t particularly good shooters, making only 36% of their three pointers and 48.8% of their two pointers. Some teams can get away with poor shooting nights because of their offensive rebounding ability, but not Purdue. They rank 255th in the country at offensive rebounding, or about as bad as the Gophers are preventing offensive rebounds. Purdue also doesn’t often get to the free throw line, much like the Gophers, but when they do, they shoot slightly better than Minnesota at 70.9%.
Keys for the Gophers
1. Calm down. In their last few games the Gophers just haven’t been themselves. They have gotten easily frustrated and at times appear to be trying to do too much. If the Gophers are going to win they will need relax and focus on the task at hand, not defending their ranking or justifying their hype.
2. Make free throws. Even if they had eventually figured out Northwestern’s 1-3-1 zone, it might not have mattered with their 5-11 shooting
3. Go inside. Whether Colton Iverson or Ralph Sampson III score with their back to the basket or Al Nolen and Lawrence Westbrook drive into the lane, the Gophers absolutely must find a way to score within 15 feet. Lately the Gophers have been settling for three pointers. They shot 27 last game and lost. They shot nine against Penn State, and it was a blow out. This is not a coincidence.
Keys for the Boilermakers.
1.Grab offensive rebounds. Its the same old story, but if the Gophers give up offensive rebounds they will most likely lose.
2. Shut down the inside early. If Minnesota can’t score on the inside early, they will slowly drift further and further out until they shoot exclusively three pointers.
3. Defensive toughness. Minnesota’s offensive is easily rattled. If they hold the Gophers to poor looks or force a shot clock violation or two, the wheels may come off the Gopher offense.
Key Players for the Gophers
1. Al Nolen has been struggling lately, particularly at distributing the ball. He will need to get the ball to his teammates in a position to score for the Gophers to have a chance.
2. Ralph Samspon III has been great when he gets the ball down low, and his rebounding is starting to improve. He will have his hands full with JaJuan Johnson, and will need to use his body against the slender Purdue forward.
3. Devron Bostick disappeared once again against Northwestern. He brings an ability to shoot and penetrate, perhaps more so than any other Gophers. This offensive versatility will be a big asset against such a good defensive team.
Key Players for the Boilermakers
1. Keaton Grant looks hardly anything like the player that made him one of Purdue’s most consistent scorers a year ago, but he may have regained his form after scoring 12 points in a win over Iowa.
2. Robbie Hummel is Purdue’s best rebounder and is only .1 points per game from being the team’s leading scorer.
3. E’twaun Moore’s scoring is up, but so are is turnovers. He is Purdue’s best perimeter player when he takes care of the ball.
Prediction: Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern doesn’t look nearly as bad after NU won at Michigan State. If the Gophers have learned they can’t shoot ill-advised three pointers all day an expect to win, they should be able to hold off the enigmatic Boilermakers. Minnesota 65 Purdue 59.
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