The Purdue Boilermakers were able to improve their conference to 4-1 and take the top spot of the conference standings after an impressive 76-63 victory against Penn State at the Palestra which also moved their overall record to 15-1. The Nebraska Cornhuskers are currently 9-8 and just 2-4 in conference play after falling in their last game to Illinois 50-76.
Let’s take a look at the important matchups ahead of the matchup at Mackey Arena in front of the first crowd with students in 2023:
1 | Zach Edey vs. Nebraska’s Low Side Double Team
Nebraska did as good of a job defending Edey as any other team on the schedule by limiting him to just 7 shot attempts (low was 5 against Florida A&M) but Edey still was able to make 5 of those attempts but scored a season low 11 points. The key though, over the last few games, has been Edey’s ability to feel the double and be patient to shoot over it or pass out to open shooters. Purdue has done a good job over the last two games to hit those open shots generated by the gravitational pull that Edey is in the post.
The key to preventing these double teams moving forward is going to be Purdue continuing to hit open shots from behind the arc and that has happened the last two games where Purdue has shot 41.9% and 44.4%. Purdue now stands at 32.2% on the season but likely need to be around 35% as a team to continue preventing teams collapsing on Edey the rest of the season.
Purdue has also altered some of their offense to better take advantage of those types of double teams that Nebraska used but Edey has missed the cutters, mostly Furst, Gillis, and Morton, to take full advantage. Edey’s passing out of the post has proven to be a potential weapon this season but an ability to turn and face the basket would help see more over the double team to get layups at the basket. It would also be great to see Edey take a ‘jump’ shot at some point if he can face the basket.
2 | Who Guards Sam Griesel?
With Juwan Gary out with a shoulder injury, it will be very interesting to see how Purdue matches up with Nebraska. It was likely that Purdue would have placed Gillis, Furst, and TKR on Gary so it will be interesting to see how Nebraska counters that to gain an advantage on Purdue. I suspect that they may try to go with Blaise Keita who is a 6’11 sophomore to defend Edey which slides Derrick Walker to the 4 and saves him from having to defend the post. Keita has also started five games for the Huskers this season. This would mean Ethan Morton, Brandon Newman, and Mason Gillis will draw the primary role of defending Griesel. However, I think there is a more viable option to help Nebraska gain an advantage with Griesel.
Nebraska may be better served starting their best threat from outside in Keisei Tominaga to force Purdue to defend three guards and getting Griesel matched up more against Purdue’s forwards rather than the larger wings in Morton and Newman. No matter who starts, I think the importance of Griesel to Nebraska may mean Morton guards him no matter who else is on the floor as Griesel. Don’t be surprise to see Morton switched off Griesel though if another Nebraska player begins to make shots and Coach Painter needs to try and halt that player.
3 | Purdue vs. B1G Refs
Listen, I’m not one to pile on refs because having to do anything above a freshman high school game requires a lot of skill and ability to see the game from multiple angles and understand the game in depth. However, I think it goes without saying the refs in the B1G have been an abject disaster and when coaches start making public statements about how poor it has been, then you know it is a problem. It is one thing to call a game consistently throughout to allow some physicality to shine through but it is different to allow players to defend others that are bigger (or smaller in Braden Smith’s case) differently.
Purdue thrives at drawing fouls and getting to the free throw line but they are also a team that seems to be really even keeled and able to adjust to how a game is being called. That being said, how these games are being called are wildly inconsistent and in same manner overly physical to how the game should be played. It is one thing to play through some contact and have a physical game but when opposing players are allowed to defend Zach Edey differently simply because he is bigger than them, that’s an issue. We have seen Edey get his hands and arms raked by defenders that, had it been against a 6’8 and 210 pound player would have drawn a foul.
If the refs call a solid game that doesn’t allow Nebraska the ability to defend overly physical (using hands and their bodies to defend), Purdue should get to the foul line 20+ times tonight and have an advantage with their deep bench. If the refs decide that fouls won’t be called in an effort to ‘even up’ the game, Purdue could be in for a long evening.
I think Purdue’s sort of worked their way out of that shooting slump but doing so continued to win most of their games by being patient and grinding games away on the defensive end. Purdue will have an advantage against an already limited Nebraska team with Juwan Gary being out with a shoulder injury and a short bench. This will also mark the first time in almost a month that Purdue students will be able to watch Purdue inside Mackey Arena and it should provide a tough environment.
Edey grabs another double-double, Smith controls the flow of the game from the point guard position, and Morton does more Ethan Morton things on offense and defense.