Penn State is coming off back to back wins in conference play, the former against Indiana looking better after the Hoosiers made quick work of Ohio State on Thursday night. After a hard fought win against Northwestern on Wednesday, the Lions now face their biggest challenge to date, the No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers.
The brutality of the Big Ten is in full display when you look at Purdue’s ranking, then couple it with the fact that they are tied for seventh in the conference at the moment. Add a little bit more insult to injury, and throw in the fact that the Boilermakers are looking up at this very Nittany Lions team in the standings, as Penn State sits at 6th in the conference with a 2-2 record.
But don’t let that trivia item fool you. This game is as close to “house money” as Penn State will get this season, as the Boilermakers are still worthy of their lofty ranking, even if they stand to lose it after the loss to Wisconsin earlier in the week. Purdue has already beaten several tournament teams along the way, and has looked absolutely unstoppable while doing so. The Boilermakers have the exact same combination that is lethal to the Nittany Lions: Effective inside big men that command attention, and sharp shooters that rarely miss from beyond the arc.
If Penn State wants to make this a game, they’re going to need to figure out a way to replicate the performance from Wednesday. And not the part where they fell down 10 and mounted a comeback, but the part where they slowed the Wildcats down enough to be able to run their offensive sets. Because, with Purdue, they’re going to need to play the best game of their season. After all, it will be arguably the best team they’ve faced to date.*
Scouting The Opposition
Zach Edey. Trevion Williams. Jaden Ivey. Ethan Morton. Sasha Stefanovic. Eric Hunter Jr. Caleb Furst. Isaiah Thompson. Mason Gills. Brandon Newman. That is Purdue’s 10-deep rotation of players, all of which average at least 14 minutes per game. Of those players, only Edey hasn’t attempted a three. And, of the nine players that have, only Hunter has shot under 30%. If that weren’t terrifying already, of the remaining eight players, only First and Newman shoot under 40% from three. So to recap, Purdue has six players, one of which is its backup center, who all shoot at least 40% from three. This is how Purdue has so routinely found themselves burying opponents in the blink of an eye. The Boilermakers have a plethora of players who at any point can go off and make their opponents pay.
It’s not all bad news, however. Wisconsin and Rutgers, the former of which shot terribly from outside, found ways to beat Purdue by slowing down the onslaught. They also did it by taking care of the ball, in Wisconsin’s case, and having their own effective shooting night, in the case of Rutgers.
What To Watch For
Can Penn State slow down the towers inside? Williams and Edey will give the Nittany Lions’ inside presence trouble all night long, and Williams’s ability to go outside will force John Harrar and the gang to guard him outside of their comfort zones, with has proven problematic in the past.
And, not to beat a dead horse, but can Penn State do a better job of containing the outside barrage in this game than they did against Northwestern? That will go a long way in figuring out whether this game will get out of hand quickly or if the Lions will have a puncher’s chance.
Penn State has built some momentum off their two recent wins. But it’s hard to see them pulling off this upset, even if they also have the advantage of being coached by a former Purdue assistant. The Boilermakers have too much for the Lions to handle. Purdue 88, Penn State 66.
*Tom Izzo and Michigan State would beg to differ.