This is the big one.
With 8 games left in the season Purdue trails Maryland and Wisconsin by two games in the loss column thanks to dick-tripping at Iowa and Nebraska. The Terrapins have also lost to Nebraska, but since then they are the hottest team in the league with seven straight wins. Purdue needs to win out and have both the Badgers and Terps each lose twice. Of those four required losses, one will come on February 22nd when Maryland goes to Madison. The second can come tomorrow.
That’s what makes this game so huge. Win it, and Purdue still has a chance to win at least a share of the Big Ten title. It would also have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament should there be a two or three-way tie because then Purdue would hold the tiebreaker over both Maryland and Wisconsin. Lose, and the hopes of a 23rd Big Ten title are dashed unless something crazy happens down the stretch. A loss also see Purdue miss a big chance at a huge road win for NCAA seeding purposes, and it may end the streak of 32 straight weeks in the top 25. I don’t see Purdue getting a top 4 seed in March without winning this game, but a victory opens a path not only to a four seed, but a possible three seed (or even a two if things really break right).
Those are the stakes, so let’s preview this.
From: College Park, MD
Date : Saturday, February 4, 2017
Tip Time: Noon
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: No Line Yet
2015-16 Record: 27-9, 12-6 Big Ten (lost to Kansas 79-63 in NCAA Sweet 16)
2016-17 Record: 20-2, 8-1
Opponent Blog: Testudo Times
Series with Purdue: Maryland leads 2-1
Last Maryland Win: 72-61 at Maryland on 2/6/2016
Last Purdue Win: 83-79 at Purdue on 2/27/2016
NCAA Tournament History: 2002 National Champions, 26 appearances, including two straight
The Terrapins are the answer to a couple of trivia questions. First, they are the most recent Big Ten program to win a national title (even though they weren’t in the Big Ten at the time). We have them to thank that the “Five Banners” argument is not six. And yes, we are deeply grateful for that. The second trivia question they are the answer to is that they are one of two programs in the Big Ten to have an all-time winning record over Purdue in basketball. Ohio State holds an 89-86 advantage after Purdue has now won two in a row over the Buckeyes. Maryland’s series is much newer. Purdue and Maryland had never played before the Terrapins joined the Big Ten. Maryland won the first two meetings before Purdue won in Mackey Arena last season to make it 2-1 in favor of the Terps all-time. They nearly got a third meeting with Purdue last season, but Melo Trimble missed a layup with two seconds left in the Big ten Tournament semifinals that would have given Maryland a win over Michigan State.
This year’s Maryland team is slightly less talented, but better overall. Gone are Robert Carter (who abused Purdue in College Park last season) and Diamond Stone. Trimble is still there as possibly the best guard in the conference. He has led the Terps to a 20-2 start where they have been absolutely excellent in close games. The only losses have come in a surprising 73-59 loss at home to Pittsburgh in the ACC/Big Ten challenge and a shocking 67-65 home loss to Nebraska where the Cornhuskers scored the game’s final 14 points.
That Nebraska game is the only one in which Maryland has not been poised and virtually perfect in crunch time. Towson and American played them close at home, but Maryland won by 5 and 6, respectively. They own 1-point wins over Georgetown, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State in non-conference play. In conference play they are an impressive 5-0 on the road, pulling out games late against Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Ohio State all on the road.
Amazingly, Maryland has only played two games in 22 against top 50 teams in the RPI. They won at Minnesota 85-78 and beat Oklahoma State 71-70. One could argue that Purdue will be the toughest opponent they have faced so far. We are the highest rated KenPom team they have faced for sure.
I mentioned Trimble as possibly the best guard in the conference. He is certainly playing like an all-Big Ten player. He is 6th in the conference in scoring at 17 points per game and only Caleb Swanigan and Malcolm Hill at Illinois have gotten to the line more. Trimble is a pure scorer. He can drive and get to the line, but he is also shooting 35% from three (42 of 119).
Trimble has gotten a nice assists from 6’7” freshman forward Justin Jackson. The Canadian is averaging 11.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and is shooting an impressive 46.3% from three. He can fill the role that Carter did against Purdue last year quite nicely. Jackson had 28 points at Minnesota and 22 at Ohio State, giving him 50 in the last two games total.
Another freshman, Anthony Cowan, has done well at the point too. He is averaging 10.8 points and 3.7 assists for the Terrapins. Turnovers can be a bit of a problem for him though. Against Ohio State he had none in 34 minutes, but in 31 minutes at Iowa he had 8.
What makes Maryland a dangerous matchup for Purdue is that they have the size to go at us directly. Michal Cekovsky is a 7’1” 250 pound junior center that can play Isaac Haas straight up. That is a luxury a lot of teams don’t have against us. He averages 7.9 points, but an astonishingly low 3 rebounds per game. The more dangerous defender is 6’10” Damonte Dodd. Dodd is one of the best shot blockers in the Big Ten at 2.1 per game. Dodd does not score a lot, but he is a solid defender that will challenge us in the paint. Cekovsky has been limited due to injury, however. He has played only a total of 15 minutes in the last three games and missed the six before that entirely.
Another freshman Purdue needs to be aware of is Kevin Huerter. He is averaging 8.7 points per game and is second behind Trimble in made three-pointers with 41.
This is a very interesting matchup because Maryland has a deeper bench, but they rely so much on Trimble and Jackson. They are virtually equal to Purdue defensively, but the Boilers outscore them by 8 points per game. While Purdue averages 19.6 assists per game (best in the conference and one of the best in America.) Maryland is much more one-on-one. They average only 13.7 assists per game.
I hate to say it, but it is really as simple as what Purdue team shows up. If the team that played so poorly in the second halves at Iowa and Nebraska shows up Purdue is not going to win. The inside-out game needs to be working where anyone can make the key pass for a basket. Swanigan and Haas have to be aware of the double team and find the open shooter on the best 3-point shooting team in the conference. When the double team is not there they have to avoid turnovers and score.
Purdue’s perimeter defense has to be better than it was against Nebraska. Trimble and Jackson are going to drive when given the chance, so it is critical to stay in front of them. They can’t be given free reign to drive to the basket. This will be a difficult road game no doubt, but Purdue has shown it has the talent to go in and win. Maryland’s poise in close games (and Purdue’s lack of it) is a concern for me. The Terps are not going to tighten up when the game is close in the final four minutes. We know Purdue will. Only against Notre Dame and at Ohio State has Purdue really gotten it done in a close game after the last media timeout. Against Villanova, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska it got way too tight and lost as a result.
If it is a close game I give the edge to Maryland because of that. If Purdue can build a lead like it did in East Lansing and be up 7-10 points with 4 minutes left I like our chances. We already know Swanigan is going to get his double-double. Trimble is going to get his. Jackson has been playing really, really well of late and Maryland needs him to keep doing so. Purdue needs Vince Edwards to continue his hot streak from Wednesday. It should be a fun one, and only the rest of the season is relying on this one. It is a Sweet 16 type of game and a chance for Purdue to make a statement going forward.