The Big Ten season finally makes its way to Happy Valley on Wednesday night when Penn State hosts No. 10 Purdue at 6:30 P.M. on the Big Ten Network.
The Nittany Lions will be looking to knock off a Boilermaker squad that has played surprisingly without star Robbie Hummel in the early going. Purdue enters the contest 13-1 and already 2-0 in Big Ten play with wins over Michigan and Northwestern. The Boilermakers' sole loss was a puzzling one, a nine point defeat against now 11-4 Richmond.
Purdue is paced by two big scorers, E'Twaun Moore at just over 20 points per game and JaJuan Johnson at 19.9. They'll be looking to do much of the damage as the Boilermakers invade the Bryce Jordan Center.
Penn State will be looking to rebound from a frustrating defeat at Michigan on Sunday that dropped the Lions to 1-1 in the conference and 8-5 overall. Despite big efforts from the team's big three scorers, Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson, Penn State still fell in a game that would have launched the Lions to a great start in conference play. Now, the Lions need to start pulling some upsets if they have any hope of dancing come March.
Keys to the game after the jump.
When Penn State Has The Ball...
- Really, it's getting a little ridiculous how little Penn State's role players are scoring. After coming up with only 12 points against Indiana, players not named Battle, Jackson and Brooks only scored seven points against Michigan, and five of those came from Billy Oliver. It's time for starters Tim Frazier and especially Andrew Jones to step up and offer some supplementary scoring. They don't have to post big numbers, but they've got to do better than the two combined points they scored against Michigan. Jones, especially, as a senior who should be able to create his own opportunities once in a while in this offense, needs to start doing something.
- Purdue's Johnson is a beast in the middle, averaging over two blocks per game, which is hardly good news when Talor Battle tries to get to the cup. The forwards need to find a way to get him out of Bubby's way. Whether that's bumping him out of the way in the lane or pulling him out by hitting some shots early, the forwards need to do something to open up the inside, or the Penn State offense will be forced into a bunch of jumpers, which probably won't end well for this team.
- Penn State has been pretty good about holding onto the ball this season, but it'll be especially important in this game against a team as loaded as Purdue. The Lions can't afford to give away possessions to the Boilermakers if they hope to pull the upset.
When Purdue Has The Ball...
- Penn State can go about shutting down Purdue one of two ways. It can either choose to try and take away Moore and/or Johnson or force those two to beat them by guarding up everyone else well. It'll probably be difficult to do both, though. The Lions did a good job of closing on Moore last season when they held him to nine points at the Jordan Center and only ended up losing by two, so that might be the way to go. Of course, they did allow Keaton Grant to post an unusual 17, though.
- For goodness sakes guard the perimeter. Purdue is decent from deep at 38% and the last thing Penn State wants to do is let the Boilermakers bomb away from deep because that will get them beat. The defense was a step slow on seemingly every possession against Michigan and got carved up to the tune of 8-20 from deep. Can't let that happen against Purdue, or the Lions will pay.
There's a good chance Penn State is going to lose this game, but if one of the big guns has an off night the Lions have a chance. Without John Hart, who has been injured recently, the Boilermakers won't field a roster with a single player that averages over six points per game beyond Moore and Johnson. This bodes well for a Penn State team that isn't very deep itself. Johnson will offer the strenest test to what has been solid interior defense by Penn State this year, but if they can contain him, look for the Lions to at least keep things close as they did last spring.