This is what we have been working for. This is what Defend That, Digger is all about. Tomorrow is our chance to tell everyone person that doesn't believe in Purdue basketball as a national contender to shove it. As we saw the other day, statistics and facts are not enough. Facts are not enough. We're not going to get that national respect until we prove it on the court against one of the annointed.
With about 24 hours to tipoff it is hard to place where this game should be. Should we put it above a conference game even though it has absolutely no bearing on the Big Ten standings? Is it bigger than the Mackey Arena opener against Lew Alcindor and UCLA? Is it even bigger than last year's Duke visit?
Ultimately, I think it is up there in at least terms of pre-game hype. New Year's Day is typically a bastion of college football, but this game is big enough to make some people change the channel. It is a pair of top 10 teams facing each other. It is Purdue playing at home on New Year's Day for the first time in almost 80 years. It is the beloved Big East against the slow, boring Big Ten. It is possibly the last matchup of undefeated teams this season (unless Texas and Kansas meet as unbeatens in Big 12 play or Syracuse and West Virginia in Big East play). By my research, it is the first time Purdue has been involved in a game where both teams have been ranked in the top ten since last year's Duke game. Before that, you have to go back to the end of the Big Dog era, which was also against Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, that is exactly the type of atmosphere we should expect. We're not going to end up at Lucas Oil Stadium without beating a very good team like West Virginia along the way. Sure, there are always broken brackets and upsets in March, but ultimately the best teams figure out how to win games exactly like this one.
Honestly, I can't wait for this. The tickets have been on my fridge for months and it is finally here. Many Paint Crew members are coming back to campus early for the express purpose of coming tot his game. It is going to be packed. It is going to be loud. It is going to be awesome!
2008-09 record: 23-12, 10-8 Big East (lost to Dayton 68-60 in NCAA Tournament first round)
2009-10 record: 11-0
Blog representation: The Smoking Musket (Note: They are concentrating mostly on football right now)
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 4-0
Last Purdue win: 75-72 (OT) on 12/25/1980 in New York
Last meeting in West Lafayette: Purdue 94, West Virginia 83 on 12/11/1974
The first ever meeting with Purdue and West Virginia was also a double top 10 matchup back in 1961 in Los Angeles. Purdue has won all four games in the series, but the teams haven't played in 29 years. Like Purdue and the other four currently undefeated teams, the Mountaineers have earned their lofty ranking. They have squeezed out a pair of tough Big East games against Seton Hall (90-84 OT) and Marquette (63-62). They also recently beat a ranked Mississippi team and survived a challenge at Cleveland State. They won the 76 classic out in Anaheim over Thanksgiving, but upsets prevented them from facing Minnesota or Butler.
It's amazing, but we are seeing an almost mirror image of ourselves in them. They average 76.4 points per game, while we average 78.3. We average 1.27 points per possession, while they average 1.29. We hold teams to just over 59.58 points per game while West Virginia averages 61.45. Both teams feature a trio of leading scorers that average in double figures. West Virginia has a slight rebounding edge (39-37), but the Mountaineers have a bigger edge on the offensive glass. West Virginia shoots better from the field, but Purdue is the much better free throw shooting team. West Virginia averages two more turnovers per game than Purdue, but they also average two more assists.
As you can see, these teams are virtually equal on paper. Each team even has a close, last second win on its record. For Purdue it was the late win over Tennessee. For West Virginia, they survived a last second shot at Cleveland State and Da'Sean Butler hit a last second shot to beat Marquette Tuesday night.
The Marquette game could be very telling as to what Purdue needs to do to win. I was a little alarmed that we relied on our big three of JJ, Robbie, and E'Twaun so much against Iowa. West Virginia did that even more against Marquette. Butler (16.5 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.8 apg), Kevin Jones (15.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg), and Devin Ebanks (14 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 3 apg) had 54 of West Virginia's 63 points. That means we can have some success if we limit everyone else while preventing the big three from going completely nuts. Their big three has more size than our own big three only because E'Twaun is listed at 6'4" while they are all 6'7" or better.
The Mountaineers are entirely capable of having more scoring balance though. 6'2 sophomore guard Darryl Bryant is a nice complimentary player that averages nine points per game and 3.7 assists. He had a season high 15 in the second opener against Loyola (MD), so he can score if needed. He is more of a distributor, however. If we can disrupt his play we can disrupt their offense.
The one player that has really come on of late is Ebanks. He has missed four games this year, but the 6'9" sophomore has averaged 20.5 in the last two games. He also had am impressive 17 rebounds against Seton Hall. He also has not gone to the bench for a single second in each of the last two games. While primarily a post player, he can step out and hit the three if needed. He damn near had a triple-double with seven assist against Seton Hall. IT should also be noted that we almost saw him before this game. He originally committed to Indiana before Kelvin Sampson destroyed the program.
West Virginia is also a deep team. 12 different players have played at least seven games, though Casey Mitchell and Wellington Smith are the only other players averaging better than five points per game. Both are good 3-point shooters that we will need to guard on the perimeter. Joe Mazzulla and John Flowers can also contribute, as each plays more than 10 minutes per night.
It is hard to look at matchups in this one, but our success against Tennessee's bigger guards is a blueprint for this contest. Butler and Jones are versatile forwards that can step outside to shoot the three much like our own Robbie Hummel. They can also bang down low, meaning JaJuan Johnson and Patrick Bade will have their work cut out for them. It is their ability to play down low that scares me because West Virginia has good perimeter players. They can rotate to the post as well.
This is a tested team as well. They have played four very tough games in a row, plus three in four days out in Anaheim. They know what it is like to play good teams and they know how to play in hostile environments. This game will combine both tests.
Ultimately, it will come down to how well we respond in what will be a charged atmosphere. Last year against Duke the crowd was electric, but the players seemed almost overwhelmed by the moment. We weren't ready, and it showed over the course of the game. That experience will help with this team as we are definitely a more mature bunch now. That maturity showed against Tennessee and Alabama. It showed Tuesday when we trailed Iowa early. I think it will show in this one.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Do not get overwhelmed by The Moment
- Keep JJ out of foul trouble
- Defend the interior
- Give Kramer his best defensive matchup on the big three
- Shoot the ball better
- Attack the paint and get to the foul line
- Control the tempo
Prediction: Purdue 67, West Virginia 65