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The Three Pointer: Purdue vs. Nebraska

The Boilers travel to Lincoln to take on a surprising Cornhusker squad that is looking for a signature win.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

The Purdue Boilermakers will look to continue their work to establish themselves as the clear favorite in the race for another B1G title as they travel to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Boilers will head into the game as the #1 ranked team in the country for the fourth consecutive week and the fifth overall this season while the Cornhuskers have yet to receive any votes in any AP poll so far this season. Purdue is also ranked 2nd in Kenpom while Nebraska is ranked 52nd, which places the Cornhuskers as the 8th highest rated opponent so far this season. That is just ahead of Iowa (53rd) and Northwestern (56th).

In their previous game, the Boilers dominated for most of the game until a late game surge by the Illini coupled with an extended drought on offense allowed the visitors to pull within three points with less than 15 seconds remaining. The Boilers held leads of 16 and 21 that were eventually reduced to three but the game never seemingly felt in doubt. Usually led by National Player of the Year candidate Zach Edey, Purdue got a career type game from Trey Kaufman-Renn as he scored 23 points and grabbed 4 rebounds (3 offensive) while Edey struggled to just 10 points and 15 rebounds in 23 minutes of action due to foul trouble.

Nebraska seems to be a bit of an enigma this season as the Cornhuskers stand at 12-3 on the season but played one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the country with an average Kenpom ranking of 238 per opponent (as a comparison, Purdue’s average opponent ranking is 102). They are led by one of the more exciting players in the B1G, Keisei Tominaga, who is averaging 14.2 points on 35.4% from behind the arc. He is a player who can heat up during the course of a game and quickly hit three or four shots from behind the arc to turn a game upside down or bring his team back into the fold. Overall the Cornhuskers feature four players that are scoring in double figures and features nine players getting at least 13 minutes of playing time per game.

Let’s get into ‘The Three Pointer!’

1 | Don’t Let Tominaga Get Clean Looks

Tominaga is a guy that any opponent needs to ensure they keep their eyes on him at all times. He is constantly on the move and plays without the ball at an incredibly high level so having eyes on him is going to be a major key for the Boilers. Tominaga is shooting at a very good rate of 35.4% from behind the arc but his usage is the highest on the team as he take 6.1 threes per game on average. That usage means Purdue will likely use Lance Jones, Ethan Morton, and Myles Colvin as the primary defenders against him to use their length and defensive abilities to slow him down.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Nebraska Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska gives Tominaga a lot of leeway on the offensive end and more often times than not, if the guard has the ball in his hands, he is going to shoot it. He has shown a better ability off the dribble this season and although he isn’t a high level scorer in that regard, showing that ability does open up his game a bit more. The key is going to be sticking to him off the ball as he runs off screens and looks to score as soon as he catches the ball. The positive is that Tominaga isn’t a major threat to setup his teammates as he only averages 1.1 assists per game with a season high of 4 against Kansas State.

Purdue fans are familiar with Tominaga as he had a bit of his coming out party three seasons ago against the Boilers. As a freshman, Tominaga scored 11 quick points against the Boilers going 4 of 5 from the field and hitting both of his three pointers. He also had good games against the Boilers last season as he went for 19 and 16 but only accounted for a single assist in each game.

2 | Continue to Get Production from the Power Forward Position

The last several games, Purdue has really flexed it overall power in the depth of their roster in the way that it is currently constructed. The spotlight is on Edey, Smith, and Loyer for all of the right reasons but when TKR and Mason Gillis are playing the way they have been over the last several games, it makes Purdue incredibly difficult to not just defend but to score on and ultimately beat. Against the Illini, for example, the power forward position combined had the following stat line: 31 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block, and 2 turnovers. That is just a level of production and efficiency that many teams are not going to be able to match up with when you are combining them with the big 3 Purdue does have.

Zach Edey hasn’t struggled to keep himself in a game in quite some time and watching Purdue be able to extend the lead from 3 to 15 at the half without him on the floor was an incredibly encouraging sight. That has been the biggest knock on Purdue by the national media up to this point and the Boilers showed they can beat a well thought of team who is playing really well right now without their best player. In fact, in that first half Edey had only 9 minutes of floor time, TKR and Gillis combined for 18 points on 5-9 shooting.

As the season wears on, showing a continued ability to have different scoring options than Edey and Smith is incredibly important. The fact that Purdue now has four different starters that have scored at least 20 points in a game and another two players in Lance Jones and Mason Gillis who have also gone for twenty points multiple times in their careers means Purdue’s offense is far from being one dimensional (Jones has scored 20 points in a game eighteen times in his career).

The production is more than just scoring as the forward position weighs heavily on the defensive end and as a rebounding force. Their ability to defend and switch allows Purdue to protect Edey a bit in their defensive concepts and allows him to stay more in the paint as a rim protector to deter shots at the rim. This helps in Purdue’s want to force contested jump shots and floaters versus shots at the rim and three pointers.

3 | Feed’y the Edey

This is probably the most one sided Purdue will face from a roster standpoint in the B1G when it comes to defending Edey in the post. Nebraska’s tallest player who sees regular playing time is forward Rienk Mast, a 6’9 240 pound transfer from Bradley. After that, it would be Josiah Allick who is 6’8 and 220 pounds. It just gets really ugly really quickly if Mast gets into any sort of foul trouble. Edey is tall enough at 7’4 that if he can get low post position, he can simply turn over the double team and shoot over them.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Being on the road in the B1G is hard and Purdue hasn’t always shot the ball well away from Mackey Arena. This season, Purdue experienced the second worst shooting night from behind the arc when they traveled to Northwestern (26.3%) and eight of Purdue’s thirteen shooting nights below 30% from the arc came in neutral site games or true road games. In fact, Purdue’s three lowest shooting percentages from behind the arc this season are all games away from Mackey (Gonzaga, Northwestern, Tennessee).

Against this Cornhuskers squad, Edey should continue to be the focal point of the entire offense and there just isn’t a way for Nebraska to contain him. Edey is going to continually be double and triple teamed but as he continues to be swarmed, he will continue to pass out of them quickly for reposts or open shots at the perimeter. Not that Purdue should force feed their big man but he definitely needs to be used to grind down a team on the road and should get the opportunity for twelve to fifteen shots. Although Coach Painter doesn’t go in with a target of shots for Edey every game, road games in the B1G are tough and riding your best player is always the best option. When that option is the defending NPOY and who may end up being one of the best players in the history of the conference, it is even better.

And 1 | Limit the Turnovers

Plain and simple: when Purdue doesn’t turn the ball over more than 12 times, they consistently win in convincing fashion. In Purdue’s lone loss this season at Northwestern the Boilers turned the ball over 17 times, a season high so far. During the 2022-2023 season, Purdue turned the ball over at least thirteen times on nine occasions and suffered four of their six losses (@ Indiana, FDU, @ Northwestern, Rutgers). It is probably Purdue’s most significant stat line when it comes to their losses over the last several seasons, as it is for almost any program.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue can live with turnovers more than most other programs in the country because they are so efficient at both ends of the floor, ranking 2nd in adjusted offense and 8th in adjusted defense on Kenpom. The issue that Matt Painter has talked about is not having bad turnovers that lead to points and momentum for the other team or guys that aren’t asked to do most of the heavy lifting turning the ball over. Purdue can live with a game where Braden Smith and Zach Edey each have four turnovers if that means everyone else isn’t turning the ball over a bunch as well. Fletcher Loyer, Mason Gillis, and Lance Jones can’t have games of 3 or more turnovers when that happens as well because they aren’t asked to carry that kind of load. That’s what Coach Painter was referencing when he talked about guys turning the ball over doing things they don’t need or aren’t asked to do.

Players to Watch:

Keisei Tominaga | #3 | Guard | Junior | 6’2 178 | 14.2 pts, 2 reb, 1.1 ast, 35.4% 3pt

The electric guard has grown a bit of a cult following because of his ability to suddenly get nuclear during the course of a game. Tominaga has hit Purdue with some good games in the past and can be a player who can buoy a Cornhuskers squad looking to pull a season defining upset. Tominaga is a player who can’t be given much room to breathe until he is 40 feet from the bucket.

Rienk Mast | #51 | Forward | Junior | 6’9 240 | 12.9 pts, 9.1 reb, 2.9 ast, 30.4% 3pt

Mast is going to be the guy that Edey guards and the lengthy forward has some ability to step out to the three point line. He also leads the team in rebounding and assists so he is really the player they look to facilitate and make things happen in the half court. From a matchup perspective, it could give Edey some difficulties. The issue is Mast is just overwhelmed defensively on the inside against Edey and any sort of foul trouble he gets into will be almost ensure a Nebraska loss.

Prediction:

Purdue enjoys the most overwhelming advantage in all of college basketball and that showed against the Illini when Edey was able to stay on the court and the visitors couldn’t contain him and were largely stifled offensively. When Edey is on the floor and Purdue is connected defensively like they were against the Illini, there isn’t another team in the country that can hang with them for an entire game. What Purdue proved in the last game was that they can beat a top 10 team without that overwhelming advantage and that will pay dividends later on.

The Cornhuskers just don’t have the interior presence that Purdue has and eventually that wears on a team. Purdue is favored by 7.5 points and the thought should be that any victory on the road is a good victory, especially one that will likely continue to be a Quad 1 victory throughout the season.

Purdue: 81
Nebraska: 73