Purdue and Penn State will matchup for the third time this season but this meeting will determine the B1G Tourney Championship as both teams have made it through their portions of the bracket. Penn State, seeded 10th, went through the lower half and defeated Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana while the Boilers went through as the #1 seed and have defeated Rutgers and Ohio State. This will mark the second game in a row where Purdue’s opponent will have played on four consecutive days.
Let’s get into the important matchups:
1 | Brandon Newman vs. Jalen Pickett
This is going to be one heck of a matchup as Newman has seemingly started to put the puzzle pieces together late in his junior season as both a high level defender and scoring option. Defending Jalen Pickett, though, means defending one of the best guards and scorers in the country and that is what Newman will be asked to do throughout the game.
Jalen Pickett is about as important to what Penn State wants to do offensively as Zach Edey is for the Boilermakers. He is frequently tasked with creating his own shot or generating open looks for his teammates behind the arc for set shots that they hit at a very high percentage. Pickett is currently the team leader in points (17.8), rebounds (7.4), assists (6.8), and steals (1.0) while being just .1 blocks per game behind leading them in that category as well. Long story short, this is a player who will find himself on an NBA roster or will be playing high level ball in Europe.
To counter Pickett, Purdue will look to Brandon Newman who has appeared to finally being able to put the pieces together that Coach Matt Painter and fans have seen bits and pieces for the last three years. As a freshman, we saw the scoring potential but he lacked vision on the defensive end. As a sophomore, he had to take a backseat to Jaden Ivey and a regression seemed to occur in his decision making on offense. This season, we have seen the growth and maturity happen before our eyes and he has played his best basketball overall in his time at Purdue. He will be asked with a monumental task but it is one I wouldn’t ask any other Boilermaker to undertake in such a big game.
2 | Zach Edey vs. Penn State’s Double Teams
I’m not sure this will fully make sense to a lot of people but I’m going to attempt it anyway: Zach played just ‘ok’ against Ohio State and still walked away with 32 points. If he plays up to his potential like we have seen most of the season, he could have walked away with 50 points as he frequently missed shots he typically makes. In a game where the opponent has the capability to put 5 guys on the floor who are all 38% or better from behind the arc, Purdue is going to need Edey to leverage the advantages he provides Purdue to the extreme. This isn’t a game where Purdue can afford to have Zach go 12-25 again, nor can it afford a game where he gets just 7 shots and makes 5 of them (unless of course the other guys decide that now would be the time to start shooting 3’s like they are capable of). This is a game where Purdue needs Zach to elevate his game to a level that leaves little to no doubt about who the best player is in the country. Big games have seemed to bring out the best in Zach and this is the biggest game of his career up to this point.
Penn State will likely allow 6’10 Kebbe Njie the first crack at Edey as he is the Nittany Lions only player that stands taller than 6’8 that sees regular minutes. Njie showed he can defend Edey is spurts in the first two games but Edey still collected 30 and 18. Penn State may try to limit Zach’s shots as they did in the second matchup where he only got 9 total but hit on 7 of them. In the first matchup Edey went 14-21 and if that happens again, and if that happens again Penn State will need a game where they are hitting better than 45% from three to win. That being said, they are fully capable of doing so having 8 games of hitting that mark or better so far this season.
3 | Penn State Shooting from 3 vs. Purdue Defending the 3
This is where a team that lacks the ability to defend the post presence that Purdue not only gets from Zach Edey but also gets from Trey Kaufman-Renn and Caleb Furst (on limited opportunities) can maximize their skills to hurt them. If you can effectively trade 2’s for 3’s and force Edey into defending in space on the defense, it makes him less effective and might force Purdue into lineups they aren’t comfortable to use. However, Purdue has shown a defensive lineup of late that features both Brandon Newman and Ethan Morton alongside Braden Smith, Mason Gilllis, and Zach Edey that still provides enough scoring punch on the wings to be a major disruptor on defense.
Purdue ranks 31st in the country as opponent 3pt percentage at just 31.4% but Penn State comes in as the 8th best 3pt shooting team in the country at 38.7%. If Purdue is able to effectively defend the 3pt line, they stand a great chance at defeating Penn State but the issue comes in the form of Penn State going to a 5 out look that will force Edey away from the paint which allows Jalen Pickett to operate more freely.
What will also help the Boilers is that this will be the second opponent in a row that will be playing their fourth game in four days. Playing that many minutes in games that have been close games with their last game being an absolute scramble for the final 3 minutes may mean lots of contested jumpers are left short. Penn State uses their bench for just 25% of their minutes which is 5% lower than the national average and may mean they may struggle once the game gets into the later stages of the first half and recovering after halftime. Purdue, on the other hand, used their bench for 32.7% of minutes and has played one fewer game than the Nittany Lions.
Well, my prediction was already mostly thrown up in a previous article but I’ll mention a few different things here as well. Purdue will need some shooters to step up again in this game like they have in the prevoius two. It doesn’t have to be every single guy hitting shots but Jenkins hitting 3, Morton hitting 2, Smith hitting 3 and getting to the rim means Edey is getting the support he needs to really be effective inside. It would be incredibly helpful to see Loyer knock shots down at a good clip for not only his confidence but in the confidence in his teammates around him. I think this is another game where the sum of the parts steps up again and provides Edey the support he needs in another dominating game where he cements his National Player of the Year campaign.
Penn State: 66