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Know thy Opponent: Northwestern Wildcats

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I spent New Year's Day 2010 watching Purdue easily dispatch West Virginia. That result made it even more frustrating to see the Mountaineers in the Final Four. It was one of the most fun games I have ever seen at Mackey, and the perfect way to start a new year.

That makes it even better that I am ending 2010 in Mackey Arena with my youngest nephew. The young man is going to his first Purdue basketball game. Mrs. T-Mill wanted to watch her Hurricanes play Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl. That left an open ticket, and I was happy to invite my nephew who has enjoyed a few football games now and is beginning to show an interest in basketball. Since the football Boilers brought him a win over Ohio State at his first game last season I hope the basketball Boilers will do the same, even though it wouldn't be as dramatic of a victory.

2009-10 Record: 20-14, 7-11 Big Ten

2010-11 Record: 9-1, 0-0 Big Ten

Postseason Result: Lost to Rhode Island 76-64 in NIT First Round

Blog Representation: Lake the Posts, Sippin' On Purple

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 119-43

Last Purdue win: 3/12/2010 69-61 at Conseco Fieldhouse (Big Ten Tournament)

Last Northwestern win: 1/16/2010 72-64 in Evanston

Time & TV Noon on ESPN2


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
John Shurna 10 33.2 7.7 12.6 61.1 3.3 5.1 64.7 4.6 6.5 70.8 0.9 4.4 5.3 3.3 2.1 1.6 0.8 1.4 23.3
Drew Crawford 10 31.0 6.2 12.5 49.6 1.7 5.2 32.7 1.7 1.9 89.5 1.2 2.9 4.1 2.7 1.6 1.1 0.7 2.3 15.8
Michael Thompson 10 35.0 5.4 10.7 50.5 2.3 5.8 39.7 1.4 2.1 66.7 0.2 1.7 1.9 4.6 2.0 1.5 0.0 1.9 14.5
Luke Mirkovic 10 25.5 2.6 5.2 50.0 0.0 0.2 0.0 1.9 3.2 59.4 2.7 4.7 7.4 2.2 1.2 1.1 0.7 2.1 7.1
JerShon Cobb 8 20.3 2.0 5.0 40.0 0.8 1.6 46.2 1.1 1.8 64.3 0.5 1.9 2.4 1.6 1.1 0.8 0.1 1.8 5.9
Alex Marcotullio 10 18.8 1.5 4.2 35.7 0.9 3.2 28.1 0.9 1.2 75.0 0.3 1.8 2.1 2.6 0.7 1.1 0.0 1.5 4.8
Davide Curletti 10 12.7 1.6 2.9 55.2 0.3 0.8 37.5 0.9 1.5 60.0 0.4 1.2 1.6 0.5 0.6 0.3 0.1 2.8 4.4
Mike Capocci 10 9.5 0.7 1.6 43.8 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.5 20.0 1.3 0.7 2.0 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.9 1.5
Ivan Peljusic 5 5.2 0.6 1.4 42.9 0.2 0.2 100.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.8 1.0 0.2 0.8 0.2 0.0 1.0 1.4
Jeff Ryan 10 10.1 0.2 0.7 28.6 0.1 0.2 50.0 0.7 0.8 87.5 0.2 1.6 1.8 0.6 0.3 0.4 0.1 0.7 1.2
Nick Fruendt 8 3.0 0.3 0.9 28.6 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.6 0.8 83.3 0.3 0.3 0.5 0.3 0.4 0.1 0.3 0.5 1.1
Reggie Hearn 9 1.8 0.0 0.4 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.2 0.2 100.0 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.2
Austin Nichols 6 2.3 0.0 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.0 0.5 0.0

The big story from this game is John Shurna. The 6'8" junior forward leads the Big Ten in scoring at 23.3 points per game, but he is questionable with a sprained ankle suffered in Northwestern's last game. He leads the conference in scoring by three points per game and ranks ninth nationally. Naturally, he is a very large part of Northwestern's Princeton offense. Not only can he be effective on backdoor cuts, his size gives him a matchup advantage from 3-point land. His shooting ability and deft touch with the basketball will remind Purdue fans of Robbie Hummel.

Sippin' On Purple has gotten on board the Purdue train of late, even going as far to say our incessant bitching about the lack of respect from the national media is correct. They view the Luka Mirkovic vs. JaJuan Johnson matchup as the key to the game. I tend to agree. Purdue is going to have a hard time losing games this year in which JJ can exert his will. Conversely, we're going to struggle if JJ's effectiveness is limited. There is a precedent of Northwestern doing this too. Last year JJ was limited to 7 points and three assists in a rare game in which he was a non-factor. They got JJ in foul trouble, limited him to 18 minutes, and he fouled out for the only time.

Senior Day in 2009 was very similar when the Wildcats won at Mackey Arena to ignite at large NCAA Tournament hopes. JJ had 11 points and three rebounds in a game where were allowed Northwestern, the worst offensive rebounding team in the league, to extend key possessions late by cleaning up the offensive glass. The year before, JJ was held scoreless in both Northwestern games.

I can't figure it out, but Northwestern has the Big Man's number for some reason. They also have Purdue's number as a whole. When they choose to go into their 1-3-1 halfcourt trap we look clueless against it. It throws us out of our offensive rhythm because we can't move the ball around the perimeter easily. If Northwestern is smart, they will run this defense all day long. We also struggle in help defense, leaving the backdoor offense open for cuts. One need look at our only loss this season. We lost to Richmond, who is the only team we have played that runs the Princeton offense.

The good news is that unless we see Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament, we probably won't see the Princeton offense again. Wisconsin runs a modified version of it, but Northwestern and Richmond are the only true Princeton teams we face. I think we struggle against this offense because we don't have disciplined, developed frontcourt depth to close down the backdoor passing lanes near the basket. We tend to collapse on drives too much too, leaving the kickout three open.

Northwestern point guard Michael Thompson is possibly the perfect point guard to run a Princeton offense. He can score or distribute on the drive and he is quick enough for the precise backdoor cuts needed. I will be fascinated to see him against Lewis Jackson because Thompson is a more accomplished scorer at 14.8 points per game. Thompson is also a very good 3-point shooter.

Drew Crawford is second on the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game. He can also shoot the three and score inside. What concerns me about Northwestern, especially if Shurna plays, is that they are such a bad matchup for us. They play us too well for me to feel comfortable. They are also looking for a solid road win to add to their NCAA resume. The last two years they have gotten the quality wins they need. They have only missed out on taking care of the bottom of the Big Ten. If they solve that problem this year they will likely get at least seven conference wins against Penn State, Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan. That would leave them about 2-3 wins short of their long-awaited NCAA bid.

This is a more important game than the Michigan game. We matched up well with the Wolverines, and it showed. That isn't the case with Northwestern. We need this win to set the pace early in a tough Big Ten, especially with Iowa and Penn State following this game. A 4-0 conference start headed to Minnesota with the possible return of John Hart by then) would be very nice.

Keys to the Game:

  • Defensive discipline
  • Hope Northwestern avoids the 1-3-1
  • Make JaJuan Johnson a factor
  • Keep having Ryne Smith shoot
  • Use the Hansons as backdoor help.