[box]Gophers vs. Purdue

(12-4, 0-3) 12-4, 2-1)
5 pm, Williams Arena
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1500 AM[/box]


Thank goodness it has been a mild winter. I don’t ask much from Golden Gopher basketball other than to be a distraction through the coldest months of the year. Now, on January 8th, the season is already in danger of spinning hopelessly out of control.

I won’t rehash the home loss to Iowa other than to write that Iowa is not good, the Gophers were worse, and that the Gophers have an extremely difficult task to get to the NCAA tournament. If they don’t beat Purdue, it might be time to focus more on next season’s draft pick (crap).

Lurking in the background of the horrible start to Big Ten play is the bizarre state of Big Ten basketball in general. If the Gophers can somehow, someway, figure things out, they could potentially pick up some season saving wings. Purdue was the latest victim to the craziness of the Big Ten, losing to a bad, bad, bad, Penn State team. Throw in Wisconsin’s home woes, Indiana’s road woes, Michigan looking generally unimpressive, Illinois looking awful, and whatever else might happen this season, there is some room for a Gopher run. However, they need to find a way to win a Big Ten game for the first time in nearly a year first.

Continuing what has become a trend, Tubby Smith hinted that he is willing to try something new, as long as it is the wrong thing. Joe Coleman may be entering the starting line up replacing Austin Hollins. I would have inserted Andre Hollins into the starting line-up, but Coleman gives the team a player that will attack the basket, so I can live with that. But why keep the poor defending, offense killing, terrible fauxhawk that is Maverick Ahanmisi on the floor? A point guard with poor court vision, poor ball handling, and no aggressiveness whatsoever will lead to a bad offense, regardless of who else is on the floor.

Purdue brings their own issues to The Barn, but they don’t match the issues they had leaving The Barn two seasons ago, when Robbie Hummel left the arena on crutches, was later diagnosed with a torn ACL, later tore another ACL, and has not been back to The Barn until today. He isn’t quite the same player he once was, though not because of the injuries. He used to have teammates whose mere presence spread the court and gave him opportunities to score. There is no guard who sucks in the entire defense, or a center who automatically draws a double team. Hummel will still score his 16 points and get his six rebounds per game, but he won’t get any help.

Purdue was picked to have a pretty good season with a trip to the NCAA tournament all but guaranteed. This projection was based on the expected improvement  of Robbie Hummel’s teammates. That never happened, and now Purdue has major depth issues. Fatigue led to losses to Xavier and Butler, and while they attempted to stage a comeback against Penn State, they ultimately ran out of gas.

Ryne Smith is the only other Boilermaker scoring in double figures at just over 10 points per game. He averages three three-pointers per game and a free-throw per game. Lewis Jackson is still lightening quick, still tiny, and still not a very good shooter. If Purdue focuses on creating opportunities off the pick and roll, and they should, could have a big day. Kelsey Barlow, in another dimension finally took a big step forward, hasn’t in this dimension and is shooting only 44% from the floor. In the middle is a gaping hole where the combo of Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius do little more than occupy space.

When Purdue has the ball:

Purdue’s main achievement on offense this season has been avoiding mistakes. They commit the third fewest turnovers in the country, led by Lewis Jackson’s excellent ball handling and his 2 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Free-throws have killed Purdue. They don’t get to the line and are one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country. The lack of extra points at the line makes avoiding turnovers even more important. The Boilermakers tend to shoot a lot of three-pointers, with Ryne Smith and Robbie Hummel being the only real threats. If  the Gophers can keep them from getting open shots, Purdue’s offense will bog down.

When the Gophers have the ball:

The good news is that Purdue rarely plays zone, so even if the Gophers have no idea how to pass, cut, or shoot, it likely won’t matter. The other good news is that the Boilermaker defense is the worse than it has been since 2006, though it is still pretty good. The Boilermakers are above average in every defensive category except forcing turnovers, but are not elite in any of them.

The Gophers absolutely need to attack the basket the basket. There is not much size inside, or many players that can defend the basket. Getting Marcius or Carroll in foul trouble early could cause some major problems for the Boilermakers. The Gophers would also be well-advised to push the pace, even if Tubby Smith seems allergic to exciting basketball lately. Minnesota’s half-court offense is broken, so why not do everything they can to score another way?