Fans expected a lot of the two true freshman and many around the program knew there was a chance they could start, but many outside of West Lafayette knew that Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer would impact the Boilers so quickly. Smith is averaging 10.7 points, 3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game while Loyer is averaging 10.3 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. The two freshman guards have shown some inconsistency thus far, especially against Marquette early in the game, but they were able to find their level and impact the game.
Zach Edey is off to one of the best starts in college basketball averaging 20.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 3.3 blocks per contest. This production capability was always just around the corner as soon as he didn’t need to split time with a player like Trevion Williams. As long as Edey continues his improvement in his defense on screens and is able to stay out of foul trouble, he is going to get 25-30 minutes a night on a regular basis. If he is able to do that, there is no reason the big man can’t continue to average 20 and 12 throughout the entire season. That would likely put him in the conversation for B1G Player of the Year and First Team All American.
Outside of Edey, the Boilers strength really lies in the depth of the bench with Brandon Newman and David Jenkins Jr. providing scoring punch with the second line. Newman has shown incredible growth this off season and is averaging 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while Jenkins has the ability to put points on the board quickly averaging 7.5 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist. What will be interesting is if Purdue goes to the combination of Smith and Jenkins to handle the pressure WVU will bring as it gives you the two best ball handlers along with Jenkins playing his more natural off guard position.
West Virginia Mountaineers:
There are very few programs who are simply synonymous with their head coach and Bob Huggins and West Virginia are one of those. Huggins’ teams at WVU encompass an aggressive and attacking style on both the offensive and defensive ends and when those teams are built with veterans, they can really make it difficult for even the best of teams in the country.
West Virginia has four players that average 10 points or more and spread their scoring around pretty well with two more averaging 6 or more as well. This is a team who shares the ball well but does have some issues with turnovers of their own averaging nearly 12 per game.
WVU will look to senior Erik Stevenson to generate offense for them and he has the ability to go into the post against smaller guards. He runs the floor well and looks to shoot the ball quickly in transition, especially from behind the arc.
Tre Mitchell will also start for the Mountaineers and he could give Edey problems in the PnR and PnP as he is able to step outside and shoot well from behind the arc at 50% on the season on limited attempts. Mitchell isn’t a big body so he isn’t going to offer much resistance in the paint defending Edey but he is athletic and can make Edey uncomfortable having to run up and down the floor and defending him in space
WVU also has a familiar face in Iowa transfer Joe Toussaint coming off the bench and scoring just over 10 points per game. He provides depth for WVU and is able to control the point well averaging 3.3 assists to .3 turnovers per game. Toussaint is also a good shooter from behind the arc at 38.5% per game on the season.
Purdue Wins If...
Purdue wins this game if they can limit their turnovers, control the tempo of the game, and it allows Zach Edey room to work in the paint. Purdue isn’t going to win this game if they make a bunch of mistakes, turn the ball over, and give up fast break points, which is easier said than done against a team like West Virginia. A lot of that will be determined by Purdue maintaining composure and not letting the Mountaineers speed them up. This is a game where Edey needs to be able to assert himself inside, get the Mountaineers in foul trouble, and get to the line to slow the game down. Purdue’s wings and guards need to start hitting their open threes or they won’t be able to beat teams like West Virginia.
West Virginia Wins If...
West Virginia wins if they can limit Edey’s effectiveness by putting him in positions to defend in space and forcing Purdue into rotations that give up open three point shots. They will also look to force Purdue into turnovers that lead to fast break point opportunities. If West Virginia can get Purdue to 13 turnovers, I don’t think they’ll have a problem winning this game.
West Virginia has a lot of veterans on this team with six seniors who play major minutes but not a lot of experience after that with only sophomores and freshman behind them. Purdue struggled with a similar team in Marquette but this West Virginia team appears to be much better. However, I think Purdue has the better overall team and they start to hit some of those open threes that just haven’t gone down up to this point in time.
West Virginia: 66