We can thank Jim Delaney for our title defense beginning so early. Since the Big Ten is insisting that the conference tournament be played in the wildly, hilariously overrated Madison Square Garden it has moved the entire conference schedule back. That means two early December conference games this weekend for everyone. These games feel like afterthoughts crammed onto the schedule, but they could end up deciding the league title.
Purdue goes to Maryland and hosts Northwestern for a pair of tricky games. Michigan State gets the gift of a home game against Nebraska and a trip to Rutgers. Minnesota gets Rutgers at home and goes to Nebraska. This gives Purdue a pair of much, much harder games as the “afterthought games” compared to the other two league contenders, especially when those two are also coming off of ACC/Big Ten Challenge games against ranked teams.
It is what it is though, and if Purdue can repeat its win in College Park from last season it should be fine. I don’t see us losing at home in the Mackey 50th anniversary game to a struggling Northwestern team. That leaves a Maryland team that is always a tough out on its home floor.
From: College Park, MD
Date : Friday, December 1, 2017
Tip Time: 7pm
Location: College Park, MD
Arena: Xfinity Center (17,950)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: Purdue by 2.5
2016-17 Record: 24-9, 12-6 Big Ten (Lost to Xavier 76-65 in NCAA First Round)
2016-17 Record: (6-2, 0-0)
Opponent Blog: Testudo Times
Series with Purdue: Series Tied 2-2
Last Maryland Win: 72-61 at Maryland on 2/6/2016
Last Purdue Win: 73-72 at Maryland on 2/4/2017
NCAA Tournament History: 2002 National Champions, 27 appearances, including 3 straight.
Coach: Mark Turgeon (144-70 in 7th season at Maryland, 394-229 overall)
The drive for last season’s Big Ten championship really began at Maryland last season. Purdue entered at 7-3, but had suffered disappointing losses to Iowa and Nebraska in its last two road games. Maryland was the first of two critical road games against the Terps and Indiana, and Purdue absolutely stole one in College Park. Purdue trailed for most of the game, but held Maryland without a field goal for the final 7:38. At one point in the second half Purdue was down 12, but a pair of free throws from Carsen Edwards with less than 3 seconds left allowed us to escape with a 1-point win.
And it was truly an escape. Purdue could have and probably should have lost this game a dozen times. We trailed by 12 in the second half. Caleb Swanigan fouled out. Isaac Haas had a travel after intercepting a desperation pass and gave the Terps a good look at a game winner. It all went Purdue’s way and we had our first road win over a ranked opponent in 4 years.
This year’s Maryland squad is struggling in life after Melo Trimble. They are off to a 6-2 start, but have lost games at Syracuse (72-70) and at home to St. Bonaventure (63-61). They had a close call against Bucknell in an 80-78 home win too. They are still decent at 77.3 points per game and they are strong defensively at 61.5 per game given up.
This is a very young Maryland team, too. Sophomore Anthony Cowan leads them at 14.8 points, 4.6 re bounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He had 6 points against Purdue last season and he is a pretty dynamic point guard that can both score and distribute. Fellow sophomore Kevin Huerter has also been strong at 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. He had a great game last year against Purdue with 11 points and 9 rebounds, but he missed what would have been the game-winning jumper after the Haas travel. He is dangerous on the perimeter at 44.7%.
Freshman center Bruno Fernando has debuted strong at 10.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, giving them the size they need to compete inside against us. He is a really good defensive center with three blocks in each of the last five games. He also added 18 points and 6 rebounds against Jackson State. He is more their Haas-type of center, while 7’1” Michal Cekovsky is their Matt Haarms and Mo Wagner analogue. Cekovsky only averages 5.8 points per game, but has a little more touch away from the basket. He was a nightmare against Purdue with 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 blocks.
Justin Jackson, another sophomore, is a strong forward at 9.1 points and a team high 8.8 rebounds. Darryl Morsell, Dion Wiley, and Jared Nickens all play big minutes. Nickens and Cekovsky are the only two seniors that play big minutes, so this team has a lot of potential going forward.
What concerns me about Maryland is their size. They have big guards with Huerter and Nickens. Jackson is an excellent rebounder and both Fernando and Cekovsky are great interior defenders. That means Purdue’s perimeter game is going to have to show up. That can be both good and bad. If Purdue is hitting its shots there are few teams in America that can beat us. If we’re not, stuff like Western Kentucky happens. Purdue didn’t exactly light the world on fire from three against Louisville, either.
Purdue won the Big Ten last year by defending its home court and stealing games on the road. We were 8-1 at home and 6-3 on the road. Going 6-3 in virtually any Big Ten season is excellent because there are no easy games. We learned that last year at Iowa, Nebraska, and Penn State. In the dungeon of noise that is Mackey Arena we know we’re going 8-1 or 9-0, as it took Minnesota playing out of its mind to beat us in overtime last year. The road is different. It is hostile. You steal what you can, and that is what Purdue did last season in Columbus, College Park, Bloomington, and State College.
This one is not going to be easy at all, but it one Purdue can get. A tough road win is a great way to begin our title defense, and this will definitely be earned. Get this and we don’t have to leave the state for a game until January 9th. Purdue 75, Maryland 73