After more than a week Purdue basketball finally returns to the court. I have to admit that the last week without a game to bring us all down after another loss. It has been a week to look toward the future, with tomorrow night's game dragging us back to the present in the hope that there will be a sign that things are getting better.
Much is riding on this home game against Northwestern. Any hope of reaching the NIT or any other postseason tournament likely rests on winning this game. As the lowest rated team left it could be Purdue's final chance for a win this season as well.
Location: Evanston, IL
2011-12 record: 19-14, 8-10 Big Ten
2012-13 Record: 13-14, 4-10 Big Ten
2012 Postseason: Lost to Washington 76-55 in NIT 2nd Round
Blog Representation: Sippin' On Purple
Series With Purdue: Purdue Leads 122-44
Last Purdue win: 87-77 at Purdue on 2/12/2012
Last Northwestern win: 75-60 at Northwestern on 2/2/2013
TV: Big Ten Network
Odds: Purdue by 6.5
What is there to know about Northwestern since playing them three weeks ago? Well, they have lost four in a row, haven't scored more than 60 points per game, and have been to held to 41 in their last two games. Jared Swopshire, their No. 2 leading scorer, was lost for the season, leaving them without two of their best players.
That leaves much to Reggie Hearn, who only torched Purdue for 26 points despite being a former Northwestern walk-on, which is probably about the lowest form of walk-on in the league. Hearn was 11 of 17 from the field in the game in Evanston. This from a 46% shooter from the field. It was a career day for the senior, and one that would need to be replicated if Northwestern is to earn the first sweep of the two-game season series since 1951.
Northwestern is simply not scoring at all, something that has not happened since playing a lackadaisical Purdue defense three weeks ago. The 75 points scored against Purdue was Northwestern's best offensive game since scoring 80 against Fairleigh Dickenson in mid-November. It is so bad that they have been held under 50 four times in the last seven games.
Hearn is the only one doing anything of late. He is getting some help from Dave Sobolewski and Tre Demps, but there is no consistency outside of Hearn. Really, this should be simple. Purdue needs to play with effort on defense, lock down everyone else, and dare Hearn to score 50 and beat us by himself. It is safe to say that is not going to happen.
What concerns me is that Purdue looked completely lost on both ends of the floor the first time around. D.J. Byrd hit some threes, but the Boilers let one of the worst shooting teams in Division I shoot 53% from the floor and 42% from three. It was unacceptable and a pathetic defensive effort.
Purdue did get a nice 19-13-3 game from A.J. Hammons even though he missed the bus and did not start. That start led to Purdue falling behind 12-0 and never really getting into the game. It did not matter that Northwestern is a team that struggles to score and hold leads. Purdue never made any defensive adjustments and seemed content to just get beat. Maybe it was a carryover from the Indiana game previously, but it was pretty plain that Purdue quit.
As long as Purdue plays with some heart and effort, something that desperately needed to be recaptured over the past week, the Boilers should win easily. Northwestern is playing some pretty awful basketball right now. That's how Purdue was able to win at Penn State for the lone bright spot since the calendar turned to February. Even in that game Purdue did not play well, but Penn State played worse.
Hammons needs to play dominant basketball in the post and the Johnsons need to start showing some urgency on the defensive end. Purdue is a team that plays best when its defense is nasty and creates more offense. That urgency needs to come back. Until it does, Purdue won't win much of anything.
We'll know more tomorrow. A win means this team still has a little fight left in it. A loss means the remaining five games will only serve as glorified exhibitions, because it likely guarantees the Boilers will finish 12-19. Prediction: Purdue 56, Northwestern 45