I have seen some ridiculous stuff after Thursday's loss at Minnesota. People were actually suggesting that E'Twaun Moore's resent three game slump should result in his benching. Seriously? You want to bench an All-America candidate that had a career high 31 in the game before this stretch? This has to be the most ludicrous, knee-jerk decision in the history of Purdue fandom.
I am pleasantly surprised that most people have seen this loss for what it is: a minor setback. Our next four games are very telling, and will go a long way towards establishing our long-term profile. While many people would take a split of this week's games, I think most everyone would have preferred to win the Minnesota game and lose at West Virginia. I would argue that in terms of NCAA seeding, the West Virginia game is more important. This team no longer has big Ten goals. It has national goals.
If we win the Big Ten along the way it is great, but we are going to drop at least 2-4 Big Ten games this year no matter how well we play. Proving ourselves outside of the conference, especially against the Big East, raises our national profile at the end of the year. That national profile enhances our seed, and therefore gives us an easier path to Houston. This team won the Big Ten a year ago. We have done that. While it is a noble goal, this has always been a Final Four or Bust season. I would gladly finish 2nd or 3rd in the Big Ten if it gets us to Houston. Your top four teams in the Big Ten will all receive decent seeds anyway. A win over West Virginia on the road will be something for the committee to use to compare us nationally.
2009-10 Record: 31-7, 13-5 Big East
2010-11 Record: 11-4, 3-2 Big East
Postseason Result: Lost to Duke 78-57 in National Semifinal
Blog Representation: The Smoking Musket
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 5-0
Last Purdue win: 1/1/10 77-62 at Purdue
Time & TV: 1:30pm on CBS
Call me crazy, but I was more worried about the Minnesota game than I am about this one. Minnesota is a difficult matchup for us because of their size and it showed. Because we had to play much of the game with the Travis Carroll/Sandi Marcius lineup it cut into us defensively. Their size also gave us trouble on the other end of the floor. The best teams can have success against nearly any matchup. Right now, teams with multiple solid big men (like Minnesota with Trevor Mbakwe, Colton Iverson, and Ralph Sampson III) will give us trouble not so much on the rebounding end, but because their size can great disrupt our offense. Combined the fact that a 6'7" Rodney Williams could effectively guard the perimeter, it is no wonder we struggled.
West Virginia does not pose the same matchup difficulties. This is far from the same team that made the Final Four last year, and their one player at 6'10" or better (Freshman Kevin Noreen) barely plays. Rememer, JaJuan Johnson had an absolute field day against them last year with multiple dunks. They never had an answer for him. This year he is better, and they are missing several of the players (Devin Ebanks, Da'Sean Butler, and Wellington Smith) that were supposed to stop him last year.
That makes West Virginia a heavily perimeter-oriented team. We have torn those apart so far. Our perimeter defense struggled against Minnesota for a couple of reasons. First, we had to protect the middle against Mbakwe, Iverson, and Sampson. This meant that Carroll and Marcius were on the floor, and they are not great perimeter defenders. Second, Blake Hoffarber had a mismatch against Ryne Smith because of his size and exploited it. Once we switched Kelsey Barlow on him, we did better.
Casey Mitchell leads the Mountaineers with 17.4 points per game and he is a solid 3-point shooter at 39%. He has upped his scoring average by almost 14 points per game over last year. He is one of three 3-point attempts in last year's contest for his only basket of the game. He had 27 points in a four point loss to Minnesota this year, with a season high 31 the game before against Vanderbilt. St. John's and Marquette held him slightly below his average in losses, while he was right at his average in West Virginia's fourth loss at Miami. At only 6'4", our perimeter D will be more suited to harass him.
The 6'8" Kevin Jones and 6'2" Darryl Bryant are West Virginia's other two players that average in double figures. Bryant is a 3-point threat, but he is more of a slasher and distributor. I think we can neutralize him better with Lewis Jackson, leaving Barlow to cover Mitchell and Moore to assist. Jones is the team's leading rebounder with John Flowers, but Flowers is only 6'7". Both with find JJ is a handful on defense. Plus their likelihood of doubling JJ will open the lane LewJack to drive and dish or score. Deniz Kilicli, a 6'9" Turkish forward will also see time in the post. He is a good offensive rebound who has had four 14-point games this year.
Braynt has been known to turn the ball over at the point, averaging 2.4 compared to 3.6 assists per game. As a team West Virginia averages 12 turnovers and 17 assists. Flowers is their lone consistent shot blocker at 2.5 per game, so we must watch him on the defensive end.
Again, this team is not nearly as big as Minnesota. I like that a lot because it should allow us to get back into the offensive flow we developed earlier. Even against the Golden Gophers we did very well before going the final nine minutes without a field goal. In that stretch we got some good looks that didn't fall, but Minnesota's size continually disrupted anything within 15 feet of the basket.
I really like our chances in this one based on JJ's domination last year. If he is consistent as he was at Minnesota he could go off for 45 with about five rim-shattering dunks. Robbie Hummel had 15 last year, but we didn't rely on the three that much. We were only 4 of 12 for the game, and Ryne Smith is more than capable of getting open for some more bombs. If E'Twaun can shake things off and go from 5 to 15 points it will open things up for the likes of LewJack and The Rain-man as well.
I also continue to be pleased with our rebounding effort, especially from the Hansons when they are in there. This could be a game, like Indiana State, where Barlow shines on the glass because his athleticism matches up well with them. I look for us to keep pounding the ball to JJ until they stop him, all while getting drives from LewJack and Barlow. Defensively I think we can squeeze this team to our pace on the perimeter just like last year, while JJ patrols the paint for shots to swat. If E'Twaun can get back on track and we return to our smooth offense of the previous nine games before Minnesota I think we get a surprisingly easy win. This team is not as good as Minnesota, and the desperation factor the Gophers had in their 1-3 conference start isn't there.
It is time for us to make a statement, and I think it comes tomorrow.Remember, this is a Final Four team from last year that we stomped with ease while they were undefeated, all when the national media was predicting the big, bad, Big East would roll into Mackey and get a win. They aren't nearly as good as they were last year, while aside from the final nine minutes at Minnesota (against a very good team) we have been rolling.