The brackets have finally come together for an opportunity for the Purdue Boilermakers or the Penn State Nittany Lions to take home the B1G Conference Tournament Title. After previews up and down the bracket over the four days, the winners from each portion of the bracket will meet on Sunday in the United Center where Purdue will get the opportunity to become the first team to win the conference regular season title and B1G Tourney title as the #1 seed in the same season since Michigan State did so in 2019 while also becoming just the 10th #1 seed to win the tourney since it started in 1998 (25 tourneys due to 2020 cancellation due to Covid).
This year’s championship game will be Purdue’s 6th appearance in the title game having won it once in 2009 and being runner up four times in 1998, 2016, 2018, and 2022. Penn State will be appearing in their second ever title game and first since 2011. They became just the third ever double digit seed to make the title game and will attempt to become the first to ever win the conference title game. The lowest seed to ever win the B1G Tourney was Michigan in 2017 as an 8 seed, the same season their plane nearly crashed.
Oddly enough, this will be the second time Purdue plays Rutgers, Ohio State, and Penn State in a row. This time around, Purdue avenged its first loss of the season against the Scarlet Knights and completed the season sweep against the Buckeyes. The two games were played in entirely different fashions as Purdue relied on veterans in Mason Gillis and David Jenkins Jr to take down a great Rutgers defense while shooting well from inside and out to blow past a fatigued Ohio State.
Over the past 3 seasons, Rutgers has been Purdue’s kryptonite, taking 5 of 6 and knocking off Purdue twice when the Boilermakers were number 1 in the nation. The length and aggressiveness of Rutgers’ guards just puts Purdue into a bind and the youth of the back court has led to turnovers in this matchup. On Friday, Purdue was able to break the press pretty effectively, stumbling a few times. As mentioned by Matt Painter after the game, Purdue was not outplayed and that was exemplified in Mason Gillis’ play as the junior forward flew in for offensive rebounds and loose balls. But this time, those effort plays led to points as Gillis dropped 20 points and helped will Purdue through a cold start where Rutgers got out to a 17-5 lead. David Jenkins Jr had a big game, making 3 threes on three attempts and scoring 12 points. Zach Edey was the only other Purdue player to score in double figures, as he dropped 16 and 11 in a “slow” performance. Purdue was able to edge the Scarlet Knights 70-65 and advance to the semis.
Against the Buckeyes in the semifinals, Purdue was able to establish a shooting game that had been lacking lately. Fletcher Loyer hit his first 3 pointer and DJJ made 2 more in the first half. As a team, Purdue shot 5-6 from deep in the first half, but they also established a strong inside attack against a depleted front court. Zach Edey would get a lot of shots up, finishing the first half with 17. Braden Smith also had a nice first half as he did not miss a shot and had 10 at the break. For the Buckeyes, Roddy Gayle’s outside shooting kept the Buckeyes in it, scoring 16 of OSU’s 34 while shooting 5-6 from deep. The second half was about Purdue taking advantage of OSU playing 4 games in 4 days, as the Buckeye guards looked gassed. Brandon Newman and Ethan Morton showed elite defense on the OSU guards, forcing bad shots that just fell short for the half. Zach Edey would continue to get looks inside, finishing with 32 and 14 despite shooting 12/25. Purdue would build a lead and close the door late, ending the Buckeyes’ tourney hopes 80-66.
Today, Purdue will look to complete a second 3 game sweep over an opponent in the Nittany Lions and keep Micah Shrewsberry winless against Matt Painter. Much like the OSU game, Zach Edey should be licking his chops as Penn State doesn’t have much depth at their bigs. If PSU does not double Edey, it could lead to a very high usage of Big Maple, but if the Nittany Lions double or triple Edey, Purdue will have to rely on outside shooters to make their perimeter shots. Something that seemed to work for Purdue against Ohio State was the lineup with Edey and Furst as Furst held an advantage over the second biggest player for OSU. Edey could then dump down to Furst for a layup or Furst could be in position for an offensive board. Look for Purdue to inflict their size in this one and dare PSU to use their resources to protect down low. Purdue has shot better from deep in this tournament, so that could be a risky decision.
Penn State Nittany Lions:
Penn State has played extremely well in defeating Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana on their way to the title game. The Nittany Lions have shot the ball at an impressive rate from behind the arc in their first three games having hit on 23 of 64 three point shots for 35.9% but that is actually 3% lower than their season average of 38.9%. Penn State, as they have throughout the season, have lived and died by the three point shot and that is accounting for nearly 40% of their total shots taken through the tourney. Though, when they do decide to shoot the ball inside the arc they are hitting at exactly 50% for the tourney going 50/100 so far.
The Nittany Lions are led by All B1G guard Jalen Pickett who finally exploded onto the B1G Tourney scene against the Indiana Hoosiers going for 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in 37 minutes of action. Pickett is that dynamic of a guard and his ability to create on his own while also being a very good passer opens up the Penn State offense for set shooters like Seth Lundy, Andrew Funk, and Camren Wynter. Those three players all shoot better than 40% from behind the arc and are capable of ripping the net on any given night but when all four of those players are shooting at or above their averages like they have throughout the tourney, they become very difficult to defend.
There have been quite some struggles for Penn State as they have just an average margin of victory of 3 points through their three games, beating Indiana by 4 (77-73), Northwestern by 2 (67-65), and Illinois by 3 (79-76). They held leads as high as 10 against Illinois, 7 against Northwestern, and 15 against Indiana before allowing the games to become one possession games in the final 10 seconds of each game.
Heading into the final against Purdue, Penn State will likely look to try and switch things up on the Boilers after falling in both the regular season matchups. Kebbe Njie is a wonderful young big man but he doesn’t have the skill or size yet to really battle Edey for an entire game nor does he provide enough scoring punch to pull Edey away from the bucket to put Purdue in a bad situation. Look for head coach Micah Shrewsberry to possibly try a lineup that features Seth Lundy at the 5 to defend Edey but force him to defend in more space than he has been really asked to all season. Shrewsberry may try to get his five best 3 point shooters on the floor to take advantage of that disadvantage Purdue has on the defensive end. The question is, can they leverage it enough to make it worth their while if the biggest guy they have to defend Edey inside is 6’6 or 6’8? Look for Penn State to shoot 30 or more three’s against the Boilers as they shot 22 and 29 in the two previous matchups.
This is another test for Purdue that they will benefit from heading into the NCAA Tourney. Penn State is built much more like one of those plucky mid-majors that has given Purdue fits over the last several seasons with shooters at 4 positions and a serviceable big man inside. Can they leverage their advantages they will have on the glass where Penn State ranks 13th in the conference in team rebounding and dead last in offensive rebounding? Can Edey have another game where he steps up to the plate when challenged in a big game and come away with another 20+ point and 15+ rebound game? Edey was just ‘ok’ against Ohio State, going 12-25 from the field and leaving as many as 14 points on the floor from easy misses around the rim (when he wasn’t getting hacked). When Edey has had a game or two in a row where he has just been ‘ok’ like he has so far, he has exploded for big games. Can he do it again to all but cement his National Player of the Year campaign? He has 40 minutes to suddenly be in the conversation of Purdue’s Mt. Rushmore of basketball greats.
Penn State: 67