The Purdue Boilermakers will get a chance at revenge when the Northwestern Wildcats make the trip to Mackey Arena after a second straight season of an upset victory as the number one team in the country. The Boilers will look to continue a their current five game winnings streak and look to continue on the path towards a #1 seed come tourney time. The Wildcats are 15-5 overall and are ranked 60th in the NET due to an awful quad 4 loss to Chicago State (287th NET). That loss is a seed dropping loss as the Wildcats could find themselves on the 8 or 9 line come March.
The Wildcats continue to be led by 1st Team All B1G Guard Boo Buie who is playing at an All American level this season. The 5th year senior guard is averaging 18.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.4 steals per game and quite literally can keep Northwestern in games against superior opponents by himself with 31 points & 9 assists against Purdue and 29 points and 7 assists against Illinois, for example. The Wildcats are looking to sweep the Boilers to push them up the seeding ladder and stay in contention for a regular season B1G title as the Wildcats are just two games behind Wisconsin (8-1) and one game behind Purdue (8-2).
Let’s get into ‘The Three Pointer!’
1 | Make It Difficult for Boo Buie
This is obviously easier said than done because the Northwestern guard is about as good as they come in the nation this season at the point guard position. He has only failed to score in double digits in just three games this season and is averaging 20.7 points per game in conference. Purdue has some very good perimeter defenders in Lance Jones and Braden Smith and could even put Myles Colvin or Cam Heide on Buie to use their length to frustrate, but Purdue doesn’t have a guy who will simply be able to lock him down. So what can the Boilers do?
First, the Boilers need to just make it difficult for Buie and get him into 15 or 20 shots to get to his average. He is too good and Northwestern relies on him so much that he is going to get his points but making him inefficient is the best course of action. Secondly, the Boilers can’t let the secondary scorers in Brooks Barnhizer, Ryan Langborg, and Ty Berry get to their spots and get open looks. As much as Buie hurt Purdue if the first matchup, it was these Langborg and Berry having career days that did them in (going for 20 and 21 points).
2 | Don’t Turn the Ball Over
This is sort of a rinse and repeat concept for Purdue this season as it is one of the major keys to the Boilers success (and really one for most teams). When Purdue doesn’t turn the ball over, they are incredibly difficult to defeat since they out rebound almost every single team (Rutgers aside, it seems). When a team is as talented as Purdue is overall, inferior opponents need to find an advantage to win and the turnover issue is how Purdue lost the last matchup with Northwestern.
In the game at Northwestern in December, Purdue had 17 turnovers which led to 20 points for the Wildcats. On the other side of that equation, Northwestern had only 3 turnovers and gave up just 6 points. Six turnovers from Braden Smith were an issue but Loyer (2), TKR (3), and Gillis (2) contributed to that high total as well. Cutting their turnovers into just a singular one a piece would have reduced Purdue’s total to 13 turnovers (around their average) and likely allowed Purdue to win as the game went to overtime.
At home, Purdue is a much better at limiting their turnovers versus when they are on the road. In B1G action this season, Purdue is averaging 12.3 turnovers per game on the road while averaging 9.75 per game at Mackey Arena. That almost 3 turnover differential is a major key to the Boilers success anywhere as the offense is so efficient that when they don’t simply give the opponent extra possessions they are incredible difficult to beat.
Purdue needs to start seeing their two biggest pieces in Smith and Edey cutting down their overall turnover numbers but you’ll live with theirs at times. They key is not having other guys have multiple turnovers that allow the number to go from 9 to 12 or more.
3 | Defend the 3pt Line and Force Northwestern into Contested Jump Shots
Northwestern will enter the game against Purdue as one of the better shooting teams in the conference from behind the arc. At 38.1% as a team, the Wildcats are behind only Purdue (40%) and rank 25th in the country. They will start four players who shoot 36.4% or better from behind the arc around Matthew Nicholson who has yet to even attempt a three point shot this season but is a very good passer and screener for his teammates. Given that Northwestern really only plays seven players as Luke Hunger (10.3 minutes per game) and Nick Martinelli (20.5 minutes per game) also shoot respectable percentages but on far lower volume than their counterparts, Purdue can’t afford to simply leave players open for shots.
Purdue would clearly like to run Northwestern off the three point line and force them into contested jump shots in the midrange. They’ll need to defend to fight through screens much more effectively and not allow Buie, Barnhizer, and Berry to get them on their hip and get into the lane for easy floaters and putting Edey into bad situations where he can pick up fouls. Northwestern still does a good job inside the arc as they shoot 52.7% (89th) but having to deal with Edey inside and his 7’4 frame is much harder than open looks from behind the arc.
4 | Be Efficient and Maximize the Number of Possessions
Northwestern is a pretty good offensive team and one that, if they had a better defense, would likely be a top 25 team for most of this season. That side of the ball just seems to be their issue this season as the Wildcats rank 83rd in defensive efficiency on Kenpom and give up an average of 68.2 points per game (95th). Now, that number might not look so bad but you have to take into account that Northwestern doesn’t play with a lot of pace. In fact, Northwestern plays at one of the slowest paces in the country ranking 339th (out of 362 teams) in tempo according to Kenpom. So although the defensive numbers don’t look terrible, the average number of shots that opponents get per game against Northwestern is just 52. That is the 6th fewest per game in the country. When you then take into consideration that Northwestern then allows opponents to shoot 49.5% from inside the arc (173rd) and 35.8% from behind the arc (313th), that means opponents are incredibly efficient against them.
One way to maximize your possessions and still be efficient is to reduce the number of offensive rebounds you give up to opponents (something Purdue hasn’t done real well the last several games) and rebound the ball yourself on the offensive end. In the game against Rutgers, Purdue gave up 15 offensive rebounds, 15 second chance points, and had only 6 offensive rebounds of their own. Yes, some of that may be due to wild bounces off long shots from Rutgers and Purdue being efficient on their own end of the floor, but Purdue is too good of a rebounding team to allow that to happen. That is how an inferior opponent can beat you.
Northwestern is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country with just over 8 per game (320th in the country) but remain an efficient offensive team. Purdue cannot allow extra possessions to a team that will likely struggle to stop them on the offensive end from scoring 72 points at home. Hold Northwestern to 65 points and simply get to 70 by maximizing your possessions and getting more shot opportunities whether that is steals, limiting turnovers, and dominating the rebounding numbers, Purdue should win.
Players to Watch:
Boo Buie | #0 | Senior | Guard | 6’2 180 | 18.5 pts, 3.4 reb, 5.3 ast, 1.5 stl, 36.4% 3pt
Probably the best overall point guard in the country, Buie is playing at not just an All B1G level but at an All American level as well. The 5th year senior will likely go down as the best player in Northwestern program history and there is probably nobody better in late game situations with the ball in their hand in a close game, as Purdue knows very well.
Ty Berry | #3 | Senior | Guard | 6’1 190 | 11.4 pts, 4 reb, 1.3 ast, 1.5 stl, 42.5% 3pt
Now, many will likely say that Barnhizer or Langborg are probably more important to the Wildcats success but it is really the 4th scoring option in Berry. When he struggles as that fourth scorer in an offense that is so methodical, Northwestern has a really hard time scoring. In their 5 losses this season, Berry is averaging just 8.6 points per game. He tends to be a shot hunter and when his offense isn’t working it tends to spill itself to the defensive end as well. This would be a good matchup for Lance Jones to start with until Buie needs a bit more resistance to his scoring.
Edey went for 35 and 14 in the previous matchup and that is largely due to the fact that Northwestern just doesn’t have the interiot post presence to handle him. When he was doubled, he did a fantastic job of passing out of it and looking for a reset or getting the Wildcats into rotations. The issue will be not turning the ball over in a game where Purdue will likely have limited possessions due to Northwestern playing a slow and methodical pace. Can Purdue steal some possessions with Lance Jones and Braden Smith generating turnovers? Will Purdue shoot the ball well from behind the arc like they have all season at Mackey? Look for Gillis to continue his hot shooting and Cam Heide to leverage his abilities to help Purdue to a victory.