Hoops Preview: Penn State Hopes To Stay Alive Against Purdue
Penn State did it again. Just one day ago, I was writing about Penn State surviving Nebraska in the first round. While I tempered expectations for the matchup with Iowa and predicted a tightly-contested loss, the Nittany Lions pulled off the upset over the Hawkeyes. For Penn State, that means another day of life in Chicago as the Big Ten Tournament wears on.
This time, it’s Purdue that will take to the hardwood to try and silence a mangy Nittany Lions squad that just won’t go away. The season may be a disappointment no matter what happens in the remainder of this tournament. However, a victory over the Boilermakers and a semifinal berth would be some tangible consolation for Pat Chambers, D.J. Newbill, and Penn State basketball as a whole.
_The Enemy (Is Everywhere)
Purdue is in the upper echelon of the Big Ten this season, finishing the regular season at 20-11 overall with a 12-6 conference record. That was good for the third-best Big Ten record, tied with Michigan State and Iowa. Notable wins for the Boilermakers include victories over No. 25 Iowa, No. 22 Indiana, and No. 20 Ohio State.
Purdue averages 70.8 points per game, 88th best in the nation, with a 45.7 field goal percentage, 77th in the nation. In the two major indexes — RPI and BPI — Purdue is ranked at 59th and 40th in the country respectively, far ahead of the Nittany Lions. The teams met just once this season, with an overtime affair leaning towards Purdue in the extra period. Penn State fell 84-77 in the Jan. 17 matchup.
Purdue has no standout leading scorer. Junior center A.J. Hammons leads the team with 11.5 points per game along with 6.5 boards and a whopping 2.8 blocks. He is trailed closely in scoring by junior guard Rapheal Davis, who averages 11 points with 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists. The list doesn’t stop there. Senior guard Jon Octeus drops 9.6 a game, sophomore guard Kendall Stephens is good for 9, and freshman forward Vince Edwards adds on 8.7. That’s five players who account for just shy of 50 points per game.
How To Make Them Disappear Completely
Purdue is as well-rounded as a team comes. Hammons is a big body, standing at 7-foot-0 and 261 pounds as he dominates in the paint. Guards like Davis and Octeus can play small ball for the Boilermakers. Unlike Thursday’s upset win over Iowa, Penn State can’t focus on one or two guys to take them out of the game. This means that we’ll likely see a lot of zone and combination defensive schemes to avoid allowing any of Purdue’s standouts to pounce on an attractive matchup.
Having said that, not all Boilermakers come equal, at least not against Penn State. The Nittany Lions particuarly struggle with the bigs, and Hammons took advantage when the teams met. He went off, shooting 7-for-11 with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks. Stephens was less efficent from the field, shooting 7-for-16 to earn his 22 points. the young guard was on fire from long range, dropping 6-of-12 three point attempts. Ths afternoon, it could just as easily be Octeus with 15 and Davis with 20 as the high men for Purdue. But Chambers should stick with what he know, with Hammons and Stephens attracting some extra attention.
On the other side of the ball, Penn State should do exactly what it did the first time around: Give the ball to Newbill. He shot 13-for-23 against Purdue for a career-high 37 points. Penn State forced overtime in that game against a better team, so the formula may not have led to victory, but it’s sure worth trying again. Shep Garner was ice cold in that game, so he could earn some more looks if the shots are falling. If Newbill is on, though, Purdue will likely dare him to beat them on his own. And he just might do it.
KenPom Game Prep
I learned my lesson by predicting a loss against Iowa. The Nittany Lions may be a little more tired than Purdue physically, but they’re also a little fresher mentally after two wins, getting hotter by the day. Purdue will play its typical poised basketball, but Penn State pulls off another upset in similar fashion to Thursday, actually closing out a tight game for a change. Newbill leads the way with 25 or so points and Garner adds 15.
Penn State 65, Purdue 61. #WhyNotUs?