I admit that I likely won't pay a ton of attention to tonight's game. I might be headed to Kokomo to see my No. 3 rated Wildkats open their season. This is a bonus game anyway. Thanks to NCAA rules we get to add a game to our official Puerto Rico tournament slate, so Western Michigan agreed to come to Mackey Arena for tonight's game. It wasn't even included in the season ticket package, so it will likely combine with tomorrow's holiday to be the lightest home crowd of the year.
It should be a win too. WMU was the team that went 0-4 down in Puerto Rico, losing to Temple, Iona, and Colorado. They also lost to South Dakota State in their opener as well. As far as their all-time mark against Purdue, we lead the series 7-1 with the last meeting being a 65-56 win back in 1996. Their only win in the series came in 1994 when they won 90-81 at home over a team that eventually went on to win the Big Ten.
The Broncos haven't been to an NCAA tournament since 2004, and they only have two other appearances, 1998 and 1976, in addition to that 2004 showing. Last season they were 21-13 and lost in the second round of the CIT tournament to Buffalo. The year before that they were 18-15, so they do know how to win some ballgames. What they lack is a win over a really good team in that time.
Matt Stainbrook and Demetrius Ward have proven to be the two best players over a small sample size this season. Stainbrook is an excellent big man at 6'9" 190 pounds who averages 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds as a sophomore. Since we need Jacob Lawson, Sandi Marcius, and Travis Carroll to get reps against good bigs this will be a very nice test for them.
Ward is a 6'3" senior guard that is averaging 15.3 points per game. He also distributes well with four assists per contest. Mike Douglas, Flenard Whitfield, and Nate Hutcheson round out their starting five and each averages better than nine points per game. Whitfield also pulls down more than eight rebounds per game, giving them a good pair of forwards with Stainbrook on the other side. Once again, Marcius, Carroll, and Lawson will be tested.
On our end, this may be our first chance to see Donnie Hale in a regular season game. Coach Painter said a decision would be made after the Puerto Rico trip. In my opinion we need all the help we can get on the glass and in the paint. If he can spell Hummel for a few minutes as a scorer and rebounder he will be an asset. If he can outrebounds Lawson, Carroll, or Marcius he can be an asset. We have seen so much depth at guard that it perplexes me as to why we haven't tried to do the same with our forwards.
This should be a good test. They have just enough talent to make us work for this win, but not too much that we should ever feel like we are in danger. I expect a strong 10-15 point win tonight where we get to continue working on the important areas of defense, rebounding, and free throws.