The Barn? We're playing a Barn tonight? I am all for the origins of the game, but let's go all the way on this. Minnesota should have lanterns hanging from the ceiling and straw brushed off to the side if they are going to call their home gym, "The Barn." There is nothing more ridiculous than commentators commenting about the weirdness of a particular floor. People were going nuts last week when Kentucky was playing at Vanderbilt. I doubt Matt Painter is going to get confused at Minnesota's raised floor just as John Calipari was confused about the floor at Vanderbilt. The bottom line is that it is the same length of floor wherever you go, just as Hoosiers taught us.I don't think our guys are going to be frightened because the gym is a little weird. They have won in every building in the league now after all.
Seriously though, this will be a tricky game tonight. We're facing a desperate team that needs a big splash in order to get back into the NCAA picture. We can be that big splash. Minnesota is a team that has been up and down all year, but I think they are currently right on the edge of the Bubble.
2008-09 record: 22-11, 9-9 Big Ten (lost to Texas 76-62 in NCAA Tournament first round)
2009-10 record: 16-10, 7-7 Big Ten
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 93-78
Last Purdue win: 1/5/10 at Purdue 79-60
Last Minnesota win: 1/7/07 at Minnesota 65-59
If the tournament began today I think the Gophers would be out. They have a few good wins (Butler, Ohio State, Wisconsin), but their RPI is only 77 with an SOS of 60. They missed chances for a good win against Texas A&M (neutral floor) and Michigan State (in the Barn) each by a point. They also have some bad losses to Michigan, at Northwestern, Portland, at Indiana, and at Miami. Had they only taken care of business in three of those five games they would be fine right now.
They have been playing well of late, however. Their recent home win over Wisconsin was particularly impressive, and the noted blog From the Barn asked where that team has been all season. They have also been rather formidable at home, going 13-0 agaisnt the other 49 states, but 0-2 against teams from Michigan. As a result, I now declare West Lafayette an official enclave of Michigan for one day.
Once again, we'll be facing Minnesota without one of its top players. The first time around it was center Ralph Sampson III who missed the game with a sprained ankle. This time, it is point guard and key distributor Al Nolen. Nolen has not played since the infamous court storming at Indiana because he was declared academically ineligible. Minnesota has been 4-4 since Nolen was declared ineligible, losing to Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Northwestern. They have beaten Indiana, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Northwestern in that time. Nolen only averaged 6.7 points per game, but he was one the conference's best point guards with 4.6 assists per game. In the first game he had 8 points and two assists on 1 of 10 shooting from the field, so his loss may be a benefit for the Gophers.
Sampson, however, is a big key because like Mike Tisdale, I think he is one of the few true centers in the Big Ten that can match up with JaJuan Johnson. He hasn't been the scorer that JJ is, but he is a better defensive weapon than people give him credit. He has only played one game against us in his career, and that came last year in Minneapolis. He had six points and seven rebounds in that game with one blocked shot. He averages a pair of blocks per game, the same as JJ.
Minnesota gets most of its scoring from the troika of Lawrence Westbrook, Blake Hoffarber, and Damian Johnson. All three average about 35 points together, but what concerns me the most is this team's depth. In our last few games we have been able to wear teams down with our defense. That will be difficult tonight because the Gophers have nine different players that average at least 11 minutes per game. In the first game they had a ten man rotation and everyone played at least nine minutes.
Ed. Note: Apparently Mr. Johnson seems to think we're a little overrated. I think he'll need mroe than 12 points in a 19 point blowout to back his talk up.
Fortunately, we controlled the first game throughout and no one really hurt us much. Paul Carter played the role of "token guy who has a career night against us" as has seemed so often this year. He scored 15 off the bench in just 14 minutes. It was easily his season high as he averages just 6.4 per game.
Minnesota has been playing better basketball of late because they are balancing their scoring. Against Wisconsin, they had four players in double figures. Against Indiana 11 players played and all of them scored, though the Hoosiers appear to have quit on their season and they no longer show an interest in playing defense. Minnesota currently leads the league in scoring, which is impressive in this league.
Fortunately, we had plenty of balance in the first game ourselves. We had four guys in double figures, Chris Kramer scored 15, and we got to the line 36 times. I think it is safe to say that replicating those numbers will result in a win tonight. There were some other hidden numbers in that game as well. We had nine blocked shots and both John Hart and Lewis Jackson did not play. Keaton Grant also only scored two while Kelsey Barlow wasn't starting. I like that we were essentially throwing a different look at them, but we can still go with the old look that was so successful.
I think the biggest question going into tonight is, "When will the letdown happen?" We've been playing at a very high level for some time now. We had the 3 game losing streak letdown in January, but other than that things have been humming along perfectly. We beat Illinois with a rather lackluster performance, but if we do that against a desperate team on the road tonight we're in trouble. As long as we keep playing at the same level though, we should be fine. This is a team we beat soundly in Mackey Arena. I have no reason to think we can't replicate the feat when we have dominated on the road for the past month.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Get JJ involved again
- Limit Sampson's effectiveness on defense.
- Prevent Minnesota from sharing the ball well.
- Keep getting to the foul line on the road.
- Play your game.
- Keep using E'Twaun Moore as "the red button"
PREDICTION: Purdue 72, Minnesota 67