As a Purdue fan, this week has been kind of relaxing. With no midweek game due to finals there has not been the usual sniping back and forth between the “We’ll be alright, we just need to gain experience,” crowd and the “We’ll be lucky to win another game, Painter has peaked, needs to be fired, and possibly brought before The Hague” crowd. Expect that to change on Saturday, as the final marquee non-conference game of the season takes place against Notre Dame in Indianapolis.
I do think this game is critically important to our postseason hopes. So far, we are 0-3 against major conference opponents by 11 total points. We’ve been really close, with the Florida State game being the most frustrating. Going 0-4 means we have a tough non-conference slate lacking in substance. Sure, Davidson is undefeated against teams not named Purdue and Belmont looks good, but we need a major conference win in the worst way.
When you look at KenPom, Purdue is at a healthy 14. We have losses to No. 4, 11, 15, and 37, all away from home. We probably should have beaten Texas and definitely had Florida State beaten before blowing it, but the overall profile is not damaging… yet. We have to start winning some of these games, starting with Saturday at the Fieldhouse.
From: South Bend, Indiana
Date : Saturday, December 15, 2018
Tip Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Arena: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (17,923)
Online: CBS Sports Live
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: No Line Yet
2017-18 Record: 20-15, 8-10 ACC (Los tot Penn State 73-63 in NIT Second Round
2018-19 Record: 6-3
Opponent Blog: One Foot Down
Series with Purdue: Notre Dame Leads 22-21
Last Notre Dame Win: 94-63 in Indianapolis on 12/20/2014
Last Purdue Win: 86-81 in Indianapolis on 12/17/2016
NCAA History: 36 appearances. 1978 Final Four
Coach: Mike Brey (409-204 in 18th season at Notre Dame, 508-255 overall)
Last season Notre Dame missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009 mostly because Bonzie Colson got hurt. They started the year 6-0 and won the Maui Invitational, but then dropped non-conference games to Michigan State, Ball State, and Indiana. A seven game losing streak without Colson in January dug them too deep of a hole before he was able to return.
This year’s edition of the Fighting Irish is a lot like Purdue. They are a young team still trying to put everything together. On November 14th Radford (who also won at Texas) upset them 63-60 at home. They were able to beat DePaul and Illinois, but in their last two games they lost to Oklahoma by 5 in the Jimmy V. Classic in New York and at UCLA by 3. Like Purdue, they have been close in games, but haven’t found a way to close.
Junior guard TJ Gibbs leads them with 13.7 points and 3.4 assists per game. His scoring is down slightly after being over 15 points per game last year. John Mooney, a 6’9” forward, averages 11.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game as a dominant interior presence. He can also shoot threes, however, at 44.4%. D.J. Harvey, a 6’8” sophomore forward, also is in double figures at 10.4 points per game.
After those three the youth really takes over. Prentiss Hubb is a promising freshman guard who averages 8.6 points per game. Nate Lazewski, Dane Goodwin, and Robby Carmody are all freshmen that play regularly. Carmody is someone we’re certainly familiar with, as coach Painter heavily recruited him for a while. Senior guard Rex Pflueger has also emerged as a solid contributor.
At times Notre Dame’s offense has really struggled. They are only shooting 41.3% from the field and 31.2% from there, but as we saw against Texas, those numbers can mean very little. They are a pretty strong defensive team giving up only 67.3 points per game. Juwan Durham is also an excellent shot blocker with 22 through 9 games. Pflueger has 15 steals and 33 assists on the season at the point, too.
These teams kind of feel like mirror images of each other except for Purdue having Carsen Edwards. Carsen was fantastic at Texas, but we learned that even when he drops 40 it is not an automatic win. Purdue needs the other four guys on the floor to be complementary scorers and we struggle to find two guys to fill that role, let alone four.
That is the most troubling thing for Purdue right now. Unless Ryan Cline is on we’re getting nothing or next to nothing from too many players. Grady Eifert played 21 minutes at Texas and didn’t even attempt a shot. Nojel Eastern struggled to make anything outside of 5 feet from the basket, even free throws, so our recent starting lineup alone already has us playing 3 on 5 offensively.
I can see this being the game where Painter changes things up. It is time to move either Aaron Wheeler or Evan Boudreaux into the starting lineup at the four. When Matt Haarms goes out either Wheeler or Boudreaux needs to shift to the 5 or Trevion Williams needs to play. We already can’t redshirt him, so you might as well play him.
Finally, we need something, anything, from Sasha Stefanovic or Eric Hunter. Hunter has been scoreless for four consecutive games. Sasha has had great hustle moments, but has been scoreless in the last two games. Right now you’re looking at Sasha, Hunter, Eifert, and Eastern as virtual non-factors offensively. That’s nearly half of our nine-man rotation. We’re not going to win many games with them putting up constant zeroes no matter what Painter does.
That’s what this comes down to. We don’t need guys that are struggling to break out and suddenly become double-digit scorers. We just need them to be consistent 3-5 point scorers. That’s all. It really is a small leap, but so far it has been the difference between 6-4 and 9-1 with a likely top 15 ranking.