The tilt between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Purdue Boilermakers will bring with it some unique challenges for each team as they look to win their opening game of the Phil Knight - 85 Classic. They’ll likely be looking forward to playing Gonzaga in the second round on Friday night but first they’ll need to make sure they focus on a couple of these interesting matchups.
1 | Braden Smith vs. West Virginia Pressure Defense
Braden Smith was expected to be able to come in and grab that point guard role for Purdue this season given he is really the only true point guard Purdue has on its’ roster. However, few expected Smith to be able to take control of games in ways that he has shown already. In the second half against Marquette, Smith was arguably the best player on the floor and was able to single handily lead Purdue to a late game surge and victory. The experience he is about to get against WVU is likely a whole other level of pressure.
West Virginia is one of a few teams in the country that will play the kind of ultimate pressure defense for an entire game and that is something that has proven to give Purdue fits the last couple of seasons. The key will be if Purdue, behind Smith, is able to counter that pressure by getting some easy buckets in transition and forcing WVU to ease up on the pressure. They did so against Marquette and that was all the difference in the second half. Smith needs to keep his turnovers to a minimum and can’t have any of the ‘pick 6’ type like he did early on against Marquette.
2 | Purdue vs. the 3 Point Line
Purdue’s struggles behind the arc need to resolve themselves if Purdue is going to start beating some of the better teams on their schedule. Edey is about as known a commodity in college basketball this season and he is going to get his points and rebounds no matter who Purdue plays but if Purdue is going to build their resume and look for as good of a seed as they can come March, the three point shooting needs to become more consistent.
Purdue has the ability to be a team that shoots 40%+ as a team with guys like Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer, Brandon Newman, and David Jenkins Jr. taking most of those shots from deep. If Purdue can shoot well from deep as a team or simply have multiple guys able to hit consistently, it forces WVU into leaving Edey alone in the post and essentially being bludgeoned into defeat by the big man.
3 | Erik Stevenson vs. Ethan Morton
It is no secret that Purdue’s best perimeter defender is Ethan Morton and that WVU’s best overall player is Erik Stevenson. The 5th year senior is at his 4th different program after being at Wichita State, Washington, and South Carolina previously where he has produced well at each stop. What Stevenson hasn’t done consistently well over his previous stops is shoot the ball well from behind the arc but in his four games with the Mountaineers he is shooting 53.3% (8 of 15).
Ethan Morton is the likely Boilermaker to draw the assignment of Stevenson from the opening tip and he’ll look to use his size to give Stevenson issues trying to get free off screen action and forcing him to shoot over him. That does leave Fletcher Loyer to defend the bigger wing in Emmitt Matthews but Brandon Newman or Brian Waddell could be asked to pick up that assignment if necessary.