Until Thursday at about 7:10 PM Eastern, the Purdue Boilermakers were assumed to have simply been on the short end of two tough games against the best competition in the Big Ten. Now, they’re on a three-game losing streak, and questions about the offense and the team’s ability to get over their funk are being raised.
Meanwhile, Penn State has gone from having been eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention (five different times, in fact) to only needing to win two more games in the regular season to put themselves squarely in the bubble. The team is riding high, coming off a season sweep of previously top-ranked Ohio State, the latter win by 23 points. The Lions finally believe they can not just play with anyone, but actually beat anyone. That’s a dangerous mindset when belief matches reality.*
The matchup, thus, looks a lot different today than it did two weeks ago, with one team looking to stop the bleeding while the other looks to solidify its tournament resume. This should provide plenty of motivation for both teams to play their best basketball, as a loss here will have implications for the remaining games of the season.
Scouting the opposition
Purdue is one of the oldest teams in the country, certainly in the Big Ten. The quartet of P.J. Thompson, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, and Isaac Haas all see over 50% of Purdue’s minutes allocation. Haas, who splits time with Matt Haarms at center, is the only one of the four whose time on the floor doesn’t eclipse 70%. That is four seniors who have seen everything there is to see, and would explain their previous 19-game win streak.
The formula for Purdue has been simple but effective: Let Haas get whatever he wants inside (when he’s not being called for a foul for being too tall), and when the double team comes, put the ball outside and let one of Purdue’s more than capable shooters do the rest. Until its recent slide, this formula was working almost to perfection. Teams would try their hardest to avoid anything inside while the Boilers were more than happy to let that happens as they took three after three and single digit leads became insurmountable blowouts in a matter of minutes.
Every Purdue player not named Haas or Haarms that sees any meaningful time on the floor, which includes Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline, shoots the ball above 39 percent from three-point land. Mathias, Vincent Edwards, and Thompson shoot above 40%. The only player who sees significant time without closing in on 40% is Nojel Eastern at 33.3%, but he only sees 29% of the team’s minutes. This battle will be decided at the three point line, and if Purdue is able to start making them again (they shot under 35% in three of the past four games), this could get out of hand early.
What to watch for
Can Penn State do it too? - Rutgers, Michigan State, and Wisconsin were all able to slow down Purdue by letting Haas battle one-on-one inside and forcing the guards to settle for bad shots outside. If Mike Watkins is able to hold his own inside, and the combination of him and Julian Moore can slow down the inevitable Haas/Haarms matchup Purdue likes to implement, the Lions could have an opportunity to disrupt Purdue’s rhythm long enough to take advantage.
Foul Trouble - Foul trouble hasn’t jeopardized the team since the Michigan State game, and it will need to continue against Purdue, as the team cannot afford to lose any of its starting players for an extended period of time in this one. Meanwhile, they will need to find ways to get Purdue’s prolific players in foul trouble early, as not having Haas/Haarms for an extended period of time could throw off the Boilermakers’ entire game plan.
Tit for tat - If Purdue does manage to get hot from three, the Nittany Lions will have no choice but to match them point for point outside the arc. They’ll also need to slow the game down as to avoid going from close to blowout in the span of minutes, as has been the case with Purdue for so long.
Mental warfare - Can Penn State get inside the minds of Purdue’s players by grabbing an early lead, hopefully demoralizing them early? It worked against Ohio State...
If I’d written this two weeks ago, I would have easily chalked this up as the team’s requisite blowout on their way to another disappointing season. Now? Now it’s a whole different ball game. Maybe I’m just riding high from the Ohio State game still, but I don’t think the Lions are ready to lose just yet. Penn State 79, Purdue 78.