With the conference season only a week away, we’ll be checking in with bloggers covering the rest of the Big Ten. To tip things off, Pete from The Purdue Basketball Blog answered a few questions. Needless to say, he is a bit optimistic.
FTB: Purdue is the lone remaining undefeated team in the Big Ten, when or will the Boilermakers finally lose?
PBB: On New Years, Purdue will play #6 West Virginia in West Lafayette. While I won’t say it will be their first loss, it will be our highest mountain to climb thus far.
While the Big Ten isn’t where we thought it would be, there are definitely several teams that always give us a good challenge regardless of either team’s record. Early in the Big Ten schedule, they will play Wisconsin on the road (1/9), OSU at home (1/12), and then back two away games at Northwestern (1/16) and Illinois (1/19). All of these teams can make Purdue pay if they catch us on an off night.
This is just the first third of the season. Michigan and Michigan State will be difficult games as well as Minnesota and Indiana (they are always out for blood regardless of their record).
FTB: How good is Purdue, really? The Tennessee win looks great, but other than that, none of the wins stick out too much. Why should Purdue be considered the best of the Big Ten, or shouldn’t they be?
PBB: Purdue should definitely be considered the best in the Big Ten. While Purdue can’t control who they play, they can control if they win or not. If you can find a team in the NCAA that plays better defense than Purdue, I’d like to hear it. Their defense, coupled with some of the Big Ten’s best offensive weapons, is why Purdue is ranked 4th in the nation.
Wake Forest, Alabama, and (as you mentioned) Tennessee have all been athletic teams that challenged Purdue’s Achilles Heel (our lack of font court depth). Purdue won those games, in a hard-fought fashion. When their backs were against the wall, they stayed focus, buckled down, and fought back to win.
Purdue hasn’t been shooting particularly well (44%FG and 31% 3P), but their tenacious defense and poise under pressure has limited the impact of their shooting woes.
As soon as they shoot like they are capable of shooting, they will go from great to…uhh…really great…
FTB: How has Purdue adjusted to the Lewis Jackson injury? How has his absence helped Purdue? How has it hurt?
PBB: Lewis Jackson’s injury obviously took a huge weapon out of Purdue’s offense, but their roster has the talent and experience to compensate for his loss.
During the 2007-2008 season, Keaton Grant ran the point, and Terrence Crump (our true PG) came off the bench to play the point. This experience helped the
transition when Grant needed to step up and take the point this year. He’s not the quickest or the strongest, but he makes good decisions and plays great defense.
One of the biggest surprises of the season has been the emergence of freshman point guard Kelsey Barlow. As an undervalued recruit, Barlow has surprised the Boilermaker nation by contributing 15-20 quality minutes a game. Being a 6’5” point guard, he creates miss-matches on both offense and defense. He also has fantastic vision and decision making abilities for a frosh.
While Lewis Jackson’s injury is very unfortunate, it has created opportunities for Purdue to develop young talent.
FTB: Which Boilermaker that we don’t know about will surprise everyone during the conference season?
PBB: Painter has been singing the praises of sophomore Ryne Smith. He has been dubbed the best shooter on the team. He didn’t play much his freshman year due to his development (mainly defensive related), but this year he has been able to give us a solid 15 minutes a game.
While his stats aren’t particularly impressive quite yet, he definitely has the potential to be a real game changer off the bench.
FTB: What do the Gophers have to do to finally beat Purdue again?
PBB: To beat Purdue, the Gophers will need to take care of the basketball, shoot well, and try to get JaJuan Johnson in foul trouble.
Considering Purdue hasn’t been shooting particularly well, they’ve compensating by playing tenacious defense and forcing turnovers; Purdue opponents average 19 TO’s a game. If you can limit these TO’s and make the most of your scoring opportunities, you will take away a huge aspect of Purdue’s game.
Behind JaJuan Johnson, 6’9” freshman Patrick Bade has the size but not the tenacity (or physicality) to compete at a high level. While he will definitely contribute after some development, personnel issues have forced him to play meaningful minutes immediately. Behind Johnson, Bade, and Hummel, we have no front court depth. Sandi Marcius, a 6’9” center, is a wildcard as he is recovering from a broken foot. We hope he can make an immediate impact, but in all honesty, no one knows for sure how he’ll fit in.
FTB: What will Purdue’s final record be and what will their NCAA tournament seed be? Who wins the Big Ten regular season? Who wins the Big Ten Tournament?
PBB: My bold prediction: Purdue ends up 26-4 (regular season), wins the Big Ten (and tournament) and enters the NCAA tournament as a #2 seed , setting the stage for a Final Four. How’s that for positive thinking?