Rachel Banham and her Minnesota Golden Gophers will suit up to play Purdue at Mackey on Thursday in a key B1G match up. While Purdue has an overall record of 13-2 with a perfect 4-0 record in conference play, Minnesota is 10-5 overall with a 2-2 conference record.
Under 2nd year coach Marlene Stollings, Minnesota looks to be a middle of the pack team in the conference this season. However there is still a lot of basketball to be played. Probably at this point Rachel Banham would be second in the running for B1G player of the year behind Tiffany Mitchell of Ohio State. At times Banham can look to be unstoppable. She scored 60 points in two games last week to earn B1G honor roll honors. That included a ridiculous display of shooting, going 10-15 in three pointers against Illinois. That is only two short of the all time B1G record of 12-16 treys set by our own Brittany Rayburn, up at Minnesota of all places. Not only is Banham a match up nightmare, but her supporting cast of Carrie Wagner and Mikayla Johnson, both also guards, are averaging 19.7 and 10.3 points per game respectively. Combine this with Banham's average of 23.4 ppg, and Minnesota has quite the scoring trio at the guard position. This makes me wonder if they are lacking in a good inside presence.
Coach Stollings likes to run a fast-paced guard-oriented offense, similar to Purdue's offense. So perhaps they may cancel each other out so to speak. However, other than a loss on the road against a disappointing Duke team, Minnesota has not played as tough a schedule as Purdue. Yes, Minnesota is averaging over 80 points per game, but they are giving up over 70 points per game. Therefore it seems likely that Purdue will use their tough and stifling defense to give them an edge. Opponents so far this year have had difficulty anticipating in practice just what kind of defense Purdue presents, and the results have shown up in the games this season. Purdue is ranked number 22 in the nation in lowest points allowed per game, with only 54 per game. Pretty much every high flying offense has run into a buzz saw against the Boilermakers this season. Expect this game to be no different.
Yes it will be a big challenge to contain the three-headed monster of players at the guard position for the Gophers, but the Boilers have their own 3 or 4 guard offense that is playing at a high level themselves. We went through a very cold spell against IU in the third quarter, but overall the Purdue offense is performing well. At this point it could be said that Purdue is presenting its own four-headed monster at the guard position, with Morrissette, Wilson, Keys, and Perry all performing at a high level. With a senior, two juniors, and a sophomore, this group is showing their experience level is paying off, and they are playing some really good basketball on both ends of the floor. McBryde is really coming along at the forward position. While not stretching out the defense with long range jump shots, McBryde is getting down low and becoming a force on the boards, defensively, and making a lot of layups. Her passing is also improved. Add in the height of Horrocks and Keisler, and Purdue should be able to put on some offensive fire power of their own. Hopefully Thornton is back to near 100%, and she brings a lot of speed and athleticism to the post. Murphy should be able to come in and provide some relief at guard, while Hamby is still nursing an injury that will keep her out at least 2-3 more weeks. In her absence, Purdue has run more standard sets with 2 guards, 2 forwards, and a center. With our forwards, mainly Perrry (yes she is truly a hybrid G/F) and McBryde, able to handle the ball well and especially with Perry's ball handling skills, expect this combination to give Minnesota some problems. Minnesota is simply not as good of a defensive team, and Purdue should be able to work the ball inside effectively.
I would be remiss if not commenting on the outstanding play of Andreona Keys of late. She just came off of a B1G honor roll award of her own, and is that player that simply does whatever Coach V needs her to do. Look for Keys to ball hawk on Banham for some or most of this game and use her physicality to provide some defensive intimidation, while also hitting the boards hard.
While this game could go either way, it is at Mackey and should be a hard fought battle. I expect the score to be rather close, as Minnesota with Banham at the helm can be a real handful. Our Boilers cannot afford to go into long scoring droughts if we expect to win this game. However, something tells me that our offense will be fine. Some good three point shooting would go a long way too, as this was lacking against IU. Usually after a game like that we come back with some good long range shooting in the next game.
I definitely do not see this game as any kind of runaway win for either team. It could even come down to the last minute of play to decide. However, it is at home, and Purdue has a better record against stiffer competition so far this season. Despite the presence of my pick for B1G player of the year Rachel Banham, I expect Purdue to win in a close one. I do have to say that I like watching Banham play, and also admire her determination to come back from an ACL tear early last season. Hopefully April Wilson and company can slow her down enough to pull out the win.
Prediction: Purdue 68 - Minnesota 64.