The Nittany Lions almost did us a favor last night, but even then we still have to take care of business tomorrow. Had they been able to hold on for the upset at Michigan State it would have clinched us at least the #2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. While the #2 is no huge benefit, that would guarantee a game against either Northwestern or Indiana to start our title defense. I would much rather face Indiana or Northwestern than have a third game with Minnesota.
The real destiny lies in our own hands. It is quite simple: Beat Penn State, and a share the Big Ten regular season championship is ours for the first time in 14 years. That was the goal at the beginning of the season. It doesn't matter that we would share it with Ohio State and possibly Michigan State. One more win gets us a banner that will have no "done without Robbie Hummel" asterisk.
When I did my original season preview I predicted a 27-3 finish and 15-3 record in conference play. I even commented that there would be no way we would lose this game if the Big Ten title was at stake. After the way Penn State has played in recent weeks, I hope I am right.
2009-10 record: 11-18, 3-14 Big Ten
2008-09 record: 27-11, 10-8 Big Ten (won NIT)
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 23-10
Last Purdue win: 1/31/10 at Purdue 66-46
Last Penn State win: 1/6/09 at Penn State 67-64
When we last saw the Nittany Lions there was some serious concern that they might go 0-18 in the conference. They had lost at home to Indiana, which was the Hoosiers' first road win in nearly two years. The situation looked grim in the remaining nine games, but they have gone a respectable 3-5 since playing us. They swept (emphatically) Northwestern, ending the Wildcats' NCAA dreams in the process. They also played a very close ballgame with Michigan State at the Breslin Center last night.
Part of the reason they are playing better is that Talor Battle is finally getting some help. David Jackson has increased his scoring average by more than a point since we played them in late January. Jeff Brooks and Chris Babb have seen slight decreases, but last night was bizarre Penn State in a way. The Spartans contained Battle for the most part, but struggled against everyone else. Babb, Jackson, and Brooks were all in double figures, making this a dangerous team to play.
We should be able to work on our rebounding issues against Penn State. Battle is the leading rebounder at 5.5 per game. They don't have overwhelming size, so this is a great game for us to work on getting a body on people and blocking them out. That is going to be the only way we're going to outrebound people. We have to get better position and outwork people. I am reminded of my senior year when we had John Allison. John was 6'11", but I am confident that I, at 6', could out rebound him over the course of the game simply because of work and positioning. When a shot goes up we need to crash the glass and throw butts in someone's stomach to get position. From there, rebounding should be easy for athletic 6'3"-6'5" college basketball players no matter who you're facing.
With only an eight man rotation we should also be able to drive to the basket, get fouls, and wear them down over time. That is another strategy that will get us success in the postseason. Penn State has some good shooters in their regular rotation. Jackson, Andrew Jones, and Andrew Ott all shoot better than 50% from the field. They don't have a lot of attempts, however. We have to make sure they don't get those attempts. It should be noted, however, that Penn state went 10 deep last night, but got one point off the bench.
We won the last game by ratcheting up our defensive intensity in the second half, hitting threes, and limiting Battle to 13 points. Robbie had 23, but we didn't need a herculean effort from him like we had in so many other wins. This was a team win. It was LewJack's second game back, so Penn State did not see him as much as they will tomorrow. We didn't play exceptionally well, but we made sure that we didn't have to in order to win.
I expect a similar type of game tomorrow. We are the better team even without Robbie. We're on the road, but they have possibly the worst home court advantage in the league and a bunch of Purdue fans are planning on making the trip. The Paint Crew took the place over last year with only a handful of people in the upper deck, so imagine what they can do tomorrow with more. Even though Penn State is playing better, we still be able to work on adjustments for life without Robbie.
Finally, there is the fact that we need a win for the Big Ten title. We have come too far and worked for too long to get to this point without accomplishing the goal. Chris Kramer was energized at home Wednesday night. If we can carry that energy over to the entire team we should achieve goal #1 for the season.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Work on rebounding
- Continue playing solid team defense
- Attack the basket and get to the line
- Wear them down
- Stay focused on the title
Purdue 67, Penn State 60