The Purdue Boilermakers will head into a familiar place of struggle when they head to the RAC to take on the Rutgers Scarlett Knights. It will be an effort to exercise some demons over the previous two seasons as the Boilers have lost back to back games on the road to Rutgers. The Boilers will not have the #1 in front of their name in this installment but will still be a game that the Scarlett Knights will enter confident in knowing they have beaten the Boilers in just this type of setting before.
Rutgers is 10-8 overall this season and just 2-5 in the B1G and struggling in a bit of a transition year as they will welcome the best recruiting class in their program’s history next season that features the second and third rated recruits in the country in Ace Bailey and Dylan Harper. Steve Piekiell is still one of the best in the college landscape as a head coach and his philosophies and strategies have proven difficult for Purdue to handle, even with the Boilers have the more talented team in each matchup.
Audre Hyatt, a transfer from LSU, is the leading scorer for the Scarlett Knights at 12.2 points per game but Cliff Omoruyi, the big man in the middle, is where Rutgers gets their energy and effort from. Omoruyi is one of the best interior post defenders in the country who has the second most blocked shots in the country (59).
Let’s get into ‘The Three Pointer!’
1 | Let Braden Smith Cook
Prior to the game against Michigan, Smith hit a bit of a bump in the road as he wasn’t shooting particularly well. He had gone just 15-51 (29%) from the field in the five games prior but had 14 turnovers (2.8) per game. It’s hard to be too concerned because he did average 8.4 (42 total) assists per game in that same time frame. It shows that he can impact the game so heavily for the Boilers, even when he isn’t shooting the ball well.
However, in that Michigan game Smith went 4-4 from the field with 7 rebounds, 10 assists, and only 2 turnovers. That type of game is where Purdue needs Smith to be and he is capable of doing that every single night. When Smith is at the top of his game and manipulating the defense the way he was against Michigan, Purdue becomes nearly unstoppable on offense because he is so good at either creating for himself or for others.
Smith’s growth this season is his ability to find the middle ground in creating for others and creating for himself, something he said he struggled with given his frame of mind as a point guard. His teammates and coaches have pushed for him to create more for himself and seeing him continue to be aggressive in that regard likely got him through that rough patch to the new year. If he can do that, there is no reason we shouldn’t be on triple-double watch most nights for the sophomore guard.
2 | Don’t Let Rutgers’ Offense Get Going
Rutgers has continued with their history of having a tough nosed defense that will give really good teams fits at times. On Kenpom, Rutgers has the 10th rated defense in the country which would be the second highest rated defensive team the Boilers have faced this season (Tennessee). That hasn’t really been much of an inhibitor to the Boilers as the other top defensive opponents have had Purdue score their highest point totals:
- Tennessee: Rated the 2nd best defensive team on Kenpom, Tennessee gave up 71. That is the 5th highest of all games for the Vols this season.
- Arizona: Rated the 12th defensive team on Kenpom, Arizona gave up 92
- Maryland: Rated the 13th defensive team on Kenpom, Purdue scored the 2nd highest amount of points (67) in a loss for Maryland
- Illinois: Rated the 35th defensive team on Kenpom, Illinois gave up 83 points. That is the second highest total in a regulation game in a loss for the Illini (gave up 86 to Tennessee and 91 to FAU in a win)
- Alabama: Rated the 57th defensive team on Kenpom. Purdue scored 92 points which is the most the Crimson Tide have given up.
This isn’t a point about Purdue’s offensive capabilities because I think it goes to say they will likely find a way there but they can’t allow a bad offensive team (Rutgers is rated 257th offense by Kenpom) to give them a chance. Their defense can be that good that it buoys them on their home court if the offense is given a chance to get going.
Rutgers is an atrocious 29% from behind the arc this season which places them 336th in the country but that does tick up to 31% in just conference games (good for 11th in the conference). Simply put, they don’t have the offensive capacity to really hang with Purdue for a 40 minute game and likely don’t have the strengths on their roster where Purdue’s perceived weaknesses are. That means, unless Purdue allows Rutgers to gain confidence and believe they can hang with them, this should be a win for Purdue.
Rutgers likely needs to score in at least 75 to win this game, a mark they have only hit 4 times this season. One of those came in a loss to Iowa, who doesn't play much defense to begin with. The other three came in victories against Howard (85), LIU (83), and Nebraska in overtime (87). Although the standard may be 75 for the Boilers, don’t be surprised to see Rutgers in the low 60’s.
3 | Don’t Turn the Ball Over
This has been one where Purdue has largely done a really good job so far this season, with their best outing in over 7 years coming against Michigan. Against Michigan, Purdue went nearly 30 minutes without a single turnover before Braden Smith tried a really difficult pass with the game having been decided about an hour before that with 15 minutes left in the first half. In fact, Purdue has dipped below the magic threshold of 12 turnovers per game this season after the previous game and is averaging 11.8 per game. That’s right around where Purdue has been the last several seasons but with their maturity and knowledge, they should be able to regulate that to under 10 per game.
The key players in this regard are the two players that have the ball in their hands more than any other Boilers: Braden Smith and Zach Edey. When those two don’t turn the ball over, Purdue stands a good chance to dominating the overall possessions in a game to a point it simply becomes almost impossible to beat Purdue unless you have a legendary type of shooting night (see Nebraska). That was also a game where half of the turnovers came from Lance Jones (4) and Fletcher Loyer (3), which simply can’t happen for Purdue.
Coach Painter mentioned the advantage that minimizing the turnovers they commit is a way to overwhelm an opponent, especially when you combine it with the way Purdue rebounds the ball this season:
@BoilerBall's @CoachPainter on the importance of ball control and rebounding for the Boilers this season. Coach emphasized how they are able to generate 15 or more possessions per game & how advantageous that is for Purdue. | @HammerAndRails pic.twitter.com/96LkAdKKfc— Jed Wilkinson (@PurdueWilkie) January 26, 2024
Limit the turnovers to less than 12 and Purdue should be able to control the game. That may be harder than usual because Rutgers does turn teams over at a high level. Entering the game against Purdue, Rutgers averages 15.06 opponent turnovers per game.
And 1 | Don’t Let The RAC Get Crazy
The RAC has become one of the toughest places to play in the country. Purdue is all to familiar with that concept as the Boilers have lost in back to back years to Rutgers while being ranked as the #1 team in the country. In fact, Rutgers holds a 5-2 advantage over the Boilers in the last seven meetings. Rutgers, this season, isn’t a good team but that doesn’t mean the RAC can’t intimidate an opponent into a bad game while pushing their home team to a victory. They did it to Nebraska just two games ago and have only dropped a single game at home this season to Illinois.
Since Steve Pikiell took over at Rutgers, the Scarlett Knights are an 97-37 which includes some of the really poor years early in his tenure trying to rebuild an abysmal program. If you go back to 2020, when Rutgers started to turn the corner under Pikiell, they are 64-15. It may not seem like much but Rutgers plays those tough games better at home and when a top team comes to the RAC, it can get difficult.
Purdue needs to ensure they continue to come out in the first segment of each half and not allow an inferior opponent to make runs and put them on their heels. Purdue has, at times, done that and allowed a team that had no business being within striking distance to be there. Taking the energy out of the crowd and removing fans from the seats early is a good way to win on the road and to do that Purdue will simply need to not allow Rutgers the chances to keep their fans engaged. Bury them early in the game and then don’t allow big runs of 6-0 or more throughout the game multiple times.
Players to Watch:
Aundre Hyatt | #5 | Senior | Forward | 6-6 225 | 12.2 pts, 5.4 reb, 1.4 ast, 34.6% 3pt (36-104)
A transfer from LSU, Hyatt is a big wing who struggled in his first couple of seasons of college ball. Averaging 8.8 last year, Hyatt has made a significant jump in his scoring ability and shoots the ball at a respectable percentage from behind the arc.
Cliff Omoruyi | #11 | Senior | Center | 6’11 240 | 10.8 pts, 9.3 reb, 3.3 blk, 20% (1-5)
The Rutgers big man has been a staple for Steve Pikiell in the middle. Rated as the 62nd best recruit in his 2020 class, Omoruyi is the highest rated recruit Pikiell brought to Piscataway until the 2024 class. An elite shot blocker and low post defender, Omoruyi is likely an NBA big next season with his size and athleticism.
It’s always hard to guess how a game is going to go when you are on the road in the B1G. What you do know, as the #2 team in the country, is that the fans are going to come out to watch the show and hope for an upset. That’s what Rutgers has kind of done to Purdue over the previous few seasons so there is no reason to think it couldn’t happen again for them. The RAC will start out loud and hostile and it’ll be up to the Boilers to silence that crowd and take the air out of the building.
Purdue has a tendency to start hot in games and make it really difficult for teams to play with them from behind. As a likely 8 or more point favorite on the road, that’s likely what will happen.