Golden Gophers vs. Purdue Boilermakers
6:00 pm (CST) at Mackey Arena (West Lafayette Indiana)
Radio: WCCO 830 AM
College basketball is the most forgiving of all sports. There is not a set number of teams in each conference that advance to the NCAA tournament. One bad game won’t spoil a season. The season is long enough to make amends for previous poor play. Most importantly, redemption is only a game away.
After a rough week at the end of November the Gophers appear to have turned around their season, having won seven games in a row and back to back wins to start the Big Ten season. If they had been able to win any of the games they lost by single digits, the team would likely be ranked heading into Tuesday’s game instead of flying under the radar and clawing their way out of their early season hole. If the Gophers can beat their first top 5 road team since the 1970′s, they’ll be sky high and well on their way to a NCAA tournament bid. The dark days of November will be long forgotten.
The Gophers have not fared well against the Boilermakers recently. Tubby Smith is 0-2 since he joined the Gophers two seasons ago, losing by eight at home last year and 12 in February of 2008. The Gophers were heavy underdogs in both games and at the very least did not embarrass themselves. Minnesota’s last win against Purdue was a complete fluke in 2oo7 under Jim Molinari at The Barn. Their last win at Purdue was a 59-57 win in 2005 that cemented the Gophers place in the NCAA tournament.
Purdue features one of the most experienced rosters in the Big Ten and starts two senior and three juniors, the former baby boilers. Their starting line-up is the best in the conference, but their bench is much less intimidating. Ryne Smith leads their reserves with only 4.8 points per game. No other non-starter scores more than 4 points per game. Depth is especially a concern on the inside. Patrick Bade, a 6’8” freshman averages 10 minutes and 3 points per game. He is the only interior bench player 6’8” or taller.
That starting line up is a forced to be reckoned with though. E’twaun Moore averages 16 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Robbie Hummel averages 15 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. JaJuan Johnson scores 14.6 points per game while leading the team in rebounding at 6.8 per contest. Keaton Grant has scored in double digit the last two times he has faced the Gophers. Chris Kramer fouls every play, but gets the calls often enough to be considered a “great” defender, even though he has not made a three pointer this year. If you are keeping track at home, those are three players who score more points than anyone on the Gophers, two players averaging more rebounds, a certifiable Gopher killer, and the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Purdue, of course, has not lost a game so far this season. There was some doubt as to whether their record was a product of great play or a favorable schedule, but those doubts were erased with their 77-62 win over then number six West Virginia. Their other impressive wins include a win over pre-gun toting Tennessee on a neutral court and a win at Alabama. For those who like to compare common opponents, Purdue beat St. Joe’s by 25 (Gophers won by 23 against St. Joe’s), Purdue beat South Dakota State by 11 (the Gophers beat the Jackrabbits by 30), and they won at Iowa by 11 (the Gophers won at Iowa by 12). On paper, at least against common opponents, the Gophers stack up quite favorably.
As one would expect from an undefeated team that ranks fourth in the country, Purdue does just about everything very well. They have the 31st best offense in the country averaging more than 1.2 points per possession. They aren’t spectacular shooters, ranking 57th in the country in shooting two point field goals, and they venture into bad territory making only 31.1% from behind the three point line. However, they have committed the eighth fewest turnovers in the country, which does a lot to overcome poor shooting. They also make their free throws at a 74.4% clip. This is not a team that will beat itself.
Purdue is best known for their defense which is high intensity, almost exclusively half-court, in your face, with plenty of jumping into passing lanes. Overall their defense ranks seventh in the country (ranking two spots behind the Gophers). They force the sixth most turnovers in the country, remarkable for a team that rarely presses, and they suffocate the inside, allowing only 40.4% shooting from inside the three point line. Outside they are very vulnerable. With so much attention paid to interior defense, outside shots will be available. They are letting opponents make nearly 39% of their three point shots.
The Gophers will need to play their best game of the year to win on Tuesday in West Lafayette, but they are peaking at the right time. They do play the games for a reason, and the Gophers should be poised for an upset.
Keys for the Gophers
- Swarm the interior. Purdue is not a good outside shooting team. No regular player makes more than 35% of his outside shots. The Gophers generally double the post, and often get burned from the outside as a result, but Purdue has not demonstrated that they are capable of making even open outside shots. Look for the Gophers to double off of Chris Kramer on every opportunity.
- Contain JaJuan Johnson. If the Gophers can keep the junior center around his season averages , the Gophers should have a good chance to win. Colton Iverson will get the majority of minutes with Ralph Sampson out again due to an ankle injury. He will need to find a balance between being physical and staying out of foul trouble. His best bet is to get into position and stand his ground. Johnson has an incredible wing span, and any attempts to block his shots will come up short.
- Speed, speed, speed. The Gophers need to keep Purdue from getting settled on offense and from setting up their defense. The Iowa game plan should work well.
Keys for the Boilermakers
- Get the crowd into the game. The Paint Crew, Purdue’s student section, is still out on break. Despite that, it will be the most hostile environment the Gophers have faced this season by far.
- Make a few outside shots early. If the Gophers become at all reluctant to double team JaJuan Johnson, he will be unstoppable.
- Find Blake Hoffarber. Purdue is susceptible to three point shooting and back door cuts. Blake Hoffarber excels at three point shooting and back door cuts. If Hoffarber struggles, the Gophers don’t have much of chance.