Penn State At Purdue: Preview Of Avoiding Last Place

USA TODAY Sports

Purdue should have a relatively easier game after three straight ranked teams.

The general consensus is that Penn State and Nebraska are going to battle for last place in the Big Ten. Penn State has serious injury concerns while Nebraska couldn't score in a women's prison with a fistful of pardons. Most of the conference looks at their games against these two teams as wins and fodder for a better record. A loss by anyone to them would be devastating.

That is especially true for Purdue, who is trying to reach at least .500 so some postseason tournament will come calling. Purdue's NCAA chances are very slim barring a run in Chicago or an unexpected strong finish in conference play. The NIT is still a strong possibility though, and getting any postseason experience for this young team is good. It gives them a few more games to grow and gel before next season.

Because of that, Sunday's game against Penn State is a must-win, as is the mid-week game against Nebraska. Purdue is going to struggle to get to .500 in league play and it is safe to say it will not get there with a loss to either of those schools. Fortunately, this is a much more winnable game after two tough ones against Michigan State and Ohio State.

Penn St. Nittany Lions

Location: State College, PA

2011-12 record: 12-20, 4-14 Big Ten

2012-13 Record: 8-7, 0-3 Big Ten

RPI: 147

2012 Postseason: None

Blog Representation: Black Shoe Diaries

Series With Purdue: Purdue Leads 27-11

Last Purdue win: 80-56 on 2/29/2012 at Purdue

Last Penn State win: 65-45 on 1/5/2012 at Penn State

Time: Noon

TV: Big Ten Network

Odds: Not Posted Yet

Last season the Boilers split a pair of blowouts with Penn State. The loss in State College was perhaps the worst I have ever seen a Matt Painter coached team play as Billy Oliver, a guy who had to give up college basketball a few weeks later, hit seven three's and Purdue got diddle-squat outside of Robbie Hummel and D.J. Byrd. Purdue shot 32% from the field, got out-rebounded by 10, and generally looked awful. Fortunately, it was a holiday break game for Penn State so no one was there and the tape was hopefully burned.

Purdue turned the tables in a convincing 24-point home victory on Senior Night with Rob giving a 26-8-6 line and generally going out guns blazing in his final home game. The 44-point swing has to be one of the largest in Purdue basketball history for a single-season split with a team.

This season's Penn State team hasn't done a whole lot better, especially with Tim Frazier out for the season. I thought before the season he could play well enough to swing a few games for them single-handedly. He only played in four games before being lost for the season with an injury. The good news is that he'll likely be back next season with a more experienced Penn State team.

That doesn't help now. The Nittany Lions have a nice 60-57 win over the same Bucknell team that beat us in the opener. Other than that, things have been a struggle to reach 8-7. They had to go to overtime with 6-9 Delaware State. Akron blasted them by 25. They are 0-3 to start Big Ten play with consecutive double-digit home losses to Indiana and Northwestern.

In Big Ten play the Nittany Lions are only averaging 52 points per game. That's fine when they got dragged down into a 60-51 Bo Ryan slugfest in the opener, but they were bad in the first half against Indiana (27 points) and worse against Northwestern (18 points).

This helps Purdue if the Boilers go through another "struggle to score" stretch. D.J. Newbill (15.3 points) has had an excellent first season in Happy Valley after transferring in from Southerm Mississippi. Along with Jermaine Marshall (14.5 ppg) they have quite the capable backcourt.

Unfortunately, everything goes through Newbill and Marshall. Nick Colella is the only other active player on the roster that has anything close to even one assist per game. Marshall, Brandon Taylor, and Colella will take the occasional three, but this is very much a "send Marshall and Newbill to the basket" team. With the improved defensive performance from Ronnie Johnson and Terone Johnson Purdue can take that away.

A.J. Hammons should have an absolutely huge game on the low block Sunday because Penn State has no one that comes close to his size. Donovan Jack is the tallest regular player at 6'9", but he is giving up almost 80 pounds to Hammons. Sasa Borovnjak is also 6'9", but is still giving up 40 pounds and three inches. Ross Travis, Penn State's leading rebounder, is also only 6'6". With Jacob Lawson, Donnie Hale, Travis Carroll, and Sandi Marcius playing in rotation there is no excuse for Purdue to not own the paint and be out-rebounded.

Penn State is a poor shooting team. They are under 40% from the field, under 70% from the line, and under 29% from three as a team. They also turn the ball over 13 times per game to nine assists. Newbill has a 57-55 assist-to-turnover ratio and Marshall is worse.

This should be a relatively easy game for Purdue, but we have seen few of those this season. Purdue has gotten better each week and even in the last two losses there have been some very positive signs. Against a team that is not as talented as the first three we saw during the conference schedule I expect that improvement to really show through.

Start thinking of postseason plans if:

  • Hammons dominates like he should
  • RJ and TJ have a strong defensive game
  • Purdue controls the glass
  • Byrd hits a few threes
  • Purdue prevents a Billy Oliver-type situation from developing

Mourn a major step back if:

  • Newbill and Marshall don't turn the ball over
  • Someone like Taylor of Colella goes crazy from three
  • Hammons can't stay on the floor
  • The Hot Lava offense takes over
  • Honestly, if Purdue royally screws this one up because this should be a win

Prediction: Purdue 64, Penn State 54

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