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#9 Purdue vs Penn St. - Big Ten Tournament Preview

Penn St. fresh off a win and games in back to back days will have to play a fresh Purdue team in Indianapolis.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Shrewsberry might not have had the win/loss success in his first year as Penn State’s head coach that he’d want, but there’s no denying he’s building something in Pennsylvania after his team went to Indianapolis and pulled off the upset over Chris Holttman’s Ohio State Buckeyes late on Thursday night.

It sets up a fascinating match-up for a head coach that was one of Coach Painter’s assistants just last season.

#9 Purdue will be the fresher team thanks to the double-bye and Penn State will be playing their third game in three state days. The odds will be stacked Penn State in a rematch of a game Penn State lost at home by 7 points in early January. Penn State showed then what it showed last night, Coach Shrewsberry has one of the best offensive systems in the country that leverages his team’s strengths and attacks space and opponent’s defensive liabilities.

In their only regular season match up, Purdue went into Penn State and won 74-67. The game was closer than even the 7 point lead suggests. The Nittany Lions played Purdue tough, their guards gave Purdue fits on offense, and it was only after a dominant performance by Trevion Williams, scoring 21 points, that Purdue was finally able to pull away late.

Fast forward two months and Penn State has still struggled to win games, but they found a formula against Ohio State. Their offense, Coach Shrewsberry’s offense, is a beautiful orchestration of hard off ball action, high pick and rolls, constant ball movement, and attacking mismatches. They’re much better than they should be at creating advantages and space for a team that lacks great offensive players of their own. Instead, any night, a handful of Penn State players can go off, using pick and rolls and isolating against smaller guards.

Two things Purdue has been particularly susceptible to most the season.

For Purdue, size and star power will be their biggest advantages. Penn State certainly doesn’t have a Jaden Ivey on their roster. Nor do they have anyone close to Zach Edey’s 7’4 frame, but it was Trevion Williams that bullied and decimated the Nittany Lions in the first match up.

Trevion Williams scored 21 points in that game on just 12 shot attempts. He hasn’t scored more than 12 points in a game since February. It was one of the few times this year the All-American looked like the dominant inside force of last season. The big man has struggled to find an offensive rhythm as Edey has shown himself as Painter’s best option inside.

Purdue should win this game. They are the heavy favorites, potential 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournaments and the favorites to win the Big Ten Tournament. This game is about finding that monster again. The team that beat #23 North Carolina and #8 Villanova in back to back games early in their non-conference has struggled against the likes of Maryland and Indiana. The Purdue team that dominated Illinois and had the best offense in the country, has lost 2 of their last 3 games.

Purdue’s offense has looked unstoppable at times this season. It still ranks as the best unit in the country, but it’s scored more than 70 points in just one of its last six games. Its bench has went from one of its biggest strengths to a non factor. Purdue is no longer overwhelming teams with a ten man rotation. It’s now struggling to get contributions from anyone outside Ethan Morton and Trevion Williams.

This Big Ten Tournament will mean a lot to a lot of teams. Maybe none more than Purdue. Who has to show to the committee and themselves that their resume isn’t one of a paper tiger, but a sleeping giant. That the monsters in their closet aren’t coming for them, but going to be unleashed and controlled by a team with as much talent and experience as any in the country. That last year’s loss to North Texas wasn’t just an aberration, but the necessary narrative.

They lost and they learned. They battled and they hardened.

That proof of quench starts now, against their former assistant coach, against the first of many David’s they’ll need to squash to prove they’re worthy of being the Goliath’s they look like on paper.