Purdue continues to impress as the #1 team in the nation following an impressive 87-73 victory at home against the Iowa Hawkeyes but a cause for caution remains as Purdue has had back to back games with 16 and 17 turnovers which are the most the Boilers have had other than the 17 they had against West Virginia. Purdue will need to clean up those kinds of mistakes against a very good Northwestern team who is seeking a signature win to make a strong case as an at-large team for just the 2nd time in the program’s history.
Zach Edey continues his quest as the leading candidate for B1G Player of the Year and National Player of the Year as he was named the conferences Player of the Week for the 6th time this season. He is now just one off a conference record 7 times set by Ohio State’s Evan Turner with 4 weeks remaining in the season. After a solid performance of 14 points and 14 rebounds against the Hawkeyes, Edey now averages 22.1 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 2.3 blocks and the case for the programs first NPOY since Glenn Robinson’s in 1994.
Northwestern is led by a duo of senior guards in Boo Buie and Chase Audige along with a litany of other experience players but also features local product Brooks Barnhizer (Lafayette Jefferson, 2021). Buie is averaging 16.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists while Audige is at 15.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists but they will provide a good test for Purdue’s young backcourt.
Let’s get into the matchups to watch against the Wildcats!
1 | Zach Edey versus Mathew Nicolson
This is a game where Edey finally gets a guy that is in the ballpark of his size in that Nicolson is 7’ and 255 pounds but the fact remains he just isn’t the kind of player that Zach is. This season when Edey has had a guy that is more of his size, he has seemingly had more success than facing a team full of undersized players who are allowed to push and pull on him more aggressively. Northwestern is going to double pretty aggressively once Edey catches the ball so it will be important for him to get deep post position and for the wings and guards to get him the ball in positions for him to go quickly.
Another aspect to help free up Edey will be Purdue’s wings continuing to hit open threes off skip passes and ball rotations off those double teams. If Purdue can make Northwestern pay for the double teams by hitting shots or even having Edey underneath for offensive rebounds and putbacks, the Wildcats may end up being forced to single coverage inside against Edey.
Nicolson averages 6.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game but does not present any threats from outside that has given Purdue and Edey difficulties in coverage this season. After Nicolson, NW just doesn’t have much size and even through the double teams, Edey should be able to score over them if he keeps the ball high and doesn’t dribble too much.
2 | Purdue’s Domination on the Glass
Purdue has absolutely dominated the glass over the entire season where they are a nation’s best +12 per game but over the last three games’ numbers have been absurd. Purdue has outrebounded their opponents 119-64 while grabbing 40 offensive rebounds in that span, while foes have just 46 total defensive rebounds. Those three games featured two teams in the top 6 in total rebounds in Indiana and Iowa so those opponents aren’t bad rebounding teams.
Northwestern has been outrebounded in 10 of their games this season and in conference play rank 9th in rebounding margin (+.5) but have not yet faced a team of Purdue’s rebounding capabilities. In games against conference opponents that rank in the upper half of rebounding, Northwestern is being outrebounded by an average of 6.5 but there is a stark difference in the way that Purdue rebounds and other teams in the B1G this season.
This is always a key for Purdue under Coach Painter as he often says that rebounding is just effort and something that a team needs to bring with them on the road, especially in the B1G. Purdue’s effort in that aspect has led to being an elite rebounding team so far this season and has led to a nation’s best 39.0 offensive rebounding percentage. As a comparison, Illinois is the next highest B1G team at 35th with a 33.7 percentage. But what makes Purdue great is that they give up just 14% to their opponents which ranks 14th overall in the country. If Purdue can dominate the rebounding numbers against a team that does struggle to score, it would be a factor that makes victory easier.
3 | Braden Smith vs. Boo Buie
The success of Braden Smith up to this point in the season has been well documented but a freshman point guard having this type of success makes Coach Painter’s pre-season comments look like pure savant material. Smith took a position that most every fan and media member said would be the reason why Purdue would struggle and turned it into one of the reasons why Purdue now sits at 23-2 and looks like they will win their 25th B1G title along with placing themselves in the conversation for a #1 seed. The true freshman point guard is averaging 9.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists (5.1 in B1G play) but his ability to control the pace of the game and get good possessions for his teammates belies his experience.
For Northwestern, Boo Buie has been a staple in their lineup for four years now as the senior is enjoying his best season to date. He has started 84 total games in his time for the Wildcats but this season he has averaged 16.2 points and 4.5 assists. The key for Purdue will be if Smith is able to keep Buie in check to allow Morton to defend Chase Audige throughout the entire game to keep the Wildcats offense from getting on track to pair with their good defensive unit they have built throughout the season.
For Purdue, Smith doesn’t have to shut down Buie in totality for the Boilers to win but keeping him to his average or slightly below while maintaining control of the game as he has all season will be key.
This is a broken record type of prediction but unless a team is willing to just let Edey go one-on-one for an entire game, he is going to have to continue making smart decisions with the ball. Simply being patient when he gets the ball to see if a double team is coming to pass out to the open wing or guard or going quickly before the double team can get there will be the key for Purdue. Playing off an efficient Edey while also hitting their shots will leave a Wildcat offense that has struggled to score at times this season just won’t be able to keep up. The biggest question is who will be the Boilermaker to step up alongside Edey in this game? My bet goes to Mason Gillis again as he has shot 56% from behind the arc (14/25) over the past 5 games. Look for Gillis to get into double figures off catch-and-shoot threes off the attention paid to Edey in the post.