#1 Purdue (23-2, Big 10 12-2) vs. Northwestern (17-7, Big 10 8-5)
Sunday, February 12, 2023, 2:00 EST
Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Illinois
Northwestern Starting Lineup
|C||34||Matthew Nicholson||Jr||7'0"||255||Clarkston, MI|
|F||31||Robbie Beran||Sr||6'9"||215||Richmond, VA|
|F||1||Chase Audige||RS Sr||6'4"||200||Coram, NY||William & Mary|
|G||3||Ty Berry||Jr||6'3"||185||Newton, KS|
|G||0||Boo Buie||Sr||6'2"||180||Albany, NY|
|C||10||Tydus Verhoeven||Sr||6'9"||235||Manteca, CA||UTEP|
|F||13||Brooks Barnhizer||So||6'6"||215||Lafayette, IN|
|F||2||Nick Martinelli||Fr||6'7"||200||Glenview, IL|
|G||5||Julian Roper||So||6'3"||180||Detroit, MI|
Note: Nicholson and Verhoeven have split time at center 45% and 45% in NU’s last five games, so we can only assume the Wildcats will start the center who better sizes up to Edey.
Additional note: Purdue will not face another roster filled with such cool names this season.
Northwestern On Offense
The Wildcats don’t shoot particularly well and sometimes rely on creating a lot of turnovers. Defense creating offense, etc. etc.
Despite a season filled with steals-turned-layups, Northwestern is one of the more patient teams in winding down the shot clock with an average possession length of 18.4 seconds. Patience in waiting for the perfect time to attack the lane or waiting for the right jumpshot will be of paramount importance against an equally patient, tight, clean Boilermakers defense.
They also don’t turn the ball over terribly often, ranked 22rd in the country at a ratio of one turnover every .115 possessions. Of those turnovers, they allow a steal every .072 possessions, good for 13th.
NU’s offense is high in adjusted offensive efficiency mostly due to their lack of turning the ball over even if they miss shots with decent enough offensive rebounding ability. The Cats draw a lot of fouls and hit 74.4% of their free throws (74th nationally), but they’re facing a team that’s pretty darn good at staying out of foul trouble.
Their field goal percentage from three point land is a 273rd-ranked 32.1. From two, they’re a lowly 292nd at 47.1%. And good news for Purdue’s legion of length, Northwestern has 10.6% of their shots blocked. That’s 302nd in the country as 8.9% is the current NCAA average. While the Wildcats have length, they don’t necessarily have a huge imposing physical presence on the court, and I can see Edey having another game with four or five blocks.
The Cats’ setups when they bring the ball fully up-court vary depending on their personnel, sometimes featuring three around the arc with two around the block, but with the size Nicholson offers for Edey, who’s much more accustomed to defending opponents under 6’10”, I personally see the Wildcats sticking to more of a four-high one-low setup. Nicholson is not a prolific scorer by statistical standards but is a capable scorer when called upon, and may even be called upon in a similar way Edey is with Purdue’s offense—to draw a double team before finding an open shooter. That said, I doubt Edey will have any trouble holding his own down low and double-teams will be far less frequent than opposing teams typically double him on the other end of the court.
Northwestern on Defense
Before we get into any statistics, we should address that NU, by most preseason predictions, was not supposed to have a good year. They’ve coalesced as a unit and are playing some truly outstanding defense. Their defense has been the major factor in achieving their current position of being tied for the second-best record in a cannibalizing conference like the Big 10.
Their adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 95.0 is ranked 29th in men’s college hoops and is highlighted by these factors:
The Wildcats allow a 71st-ranked effective field goal percentage of 47.8 behind a steal percentage of 11.9 (34th), a block percentage of 14.2 (16th), and while they’re susceptible to allowing open threes (34.5 opponent 3P%, ranked 211th), they have a 17th-ranked 2P% of 44.9. They’re a big team and they play pretty physically without one notably dominant defender, and since they’re one of the few squads who can potentially get away with not having to double team Zach Edey, those open threes may not be much of an issue if Matthew Nicholson can take care of things in the paint defensively.
They create a lot of turnovers, with a rate of 21.8 (33rd). They’ve shown that they can press, something that’s been an issue for Purdue this season, but most opportunities at full court pressure require a team to keep hitting shots to force inbound passes from the baseline. I don’t see the Wildcats having that type of offensive game.
I hate to say it, but if they (mostly Nicholson) can stifle Edey down low while not missing assignments around the perimeter, they have a good chance at keeping this thing neck and neck from tipoff to the final seconds.
X-Factor - Don’t Let Them Steal The Ball
Normally I’d call this x-factor a general “turnover battle” or whatever you’d like to call it, but with Northwestern being great at generating transition points via steals while not being an especially great shooting team, Purdue really has to take care of the ball.
The Wildcats are one of the best defensive teams in the conference and actually have a center who’s comparable in size to Edey, so if Northwestern can finish the game with more possessions than Purdue, especially in front of a home crowd which did not have these expectations coming into the season, they are capable of giving the nation’s top-ranked team a third loss.
Purdue - 68
Northwestern - 63
Purdue - 64
Northwestern - 57
I anticipate the pace of this game being slower than most Purdue will see for the remainder of the season, especially with the Wildcats not being the most adept shooters, thus allowing time for Matt Painter’s team to set up their regular offense filled with ball movement and running down the shot clock, not allowing many opportunities for full-court pressure. This one will be slow and remain close throughout, but as much of a best case scenario season Northwestern is having, this is the type of team (as pesky as they can be) that Purdue is built to outlast so long as the Boilers have a par-for-our-course shooting afternoon.