Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Suddenly, I realized the Gophers are playing at Purdue tonight, and it is my duty to at least make a half-assed attempt at a preview. Then I realized, I haven't really seen much of Purdue this year. A top 20 team in both polls, at the top of the Big Ten Standings, #29 in RPI and #24 in Pythagorean winning percentage, and I haven't seen them much. I was hoping one of the other Gopher bloggers would have a preview up, so I could just reword their preview and sound smart, but no such luck. Although over at From the Barn there was this nugget of goodness, which reads, in part, "Forward Dan Coleman has taken his game to the next level under Smith" which, quite literally, made me burst out laughing.
But on to the stuff that matters. Purdue is really having a tremendous season at 21-6 and 12-2 in the Big Ten. They are a lock for the NCAA tournament, with a shot at a top 3 seed, and have an impressive win over Louisville on the resume (although the Cards weren't at full strength that game). The Boilers had one of the top recruiting classes this season, and although there were some growing pains - losing at home to Wofford, giving away a game at Clemson - they are here, they're queer, deal with it.
The Boilers have a lot of guys who can hurt you, and are balanced in all areas. Such as:
9 guys play at least 15.6 minutes (Gophers 7)
7 guys score at least 5.6 points (Gophers 6)
8 guys grab at least 3 rebounds (Gophers 4)
6 guys dish at least 1.2 assists (Gophers 6)
5 guys nab at least 1 steal (Gophers 5)
7 guys have made at least ten threes this season (Gophers 5)
So they're balanced, and they're deep. The good news, is the gophers are also balanced and deep. Change around some of those arbitrary cutoffs used above, and they could probably match up even better. It's my personal opinion that Purdue is more talented, as Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore are both lightyears better than anybody the Gophers can trot out there, but we've seen this Minnesota team grind it out with better teams and keep it tight until they blow it at the end.
That's once again what will probably happen tonight. I'm fully expected a close, entertaining battle right down until about the 6 minute mark where the Gophers decide to run around like a bunch of idiots while Purdue calmly takes a close game and turns it into a 10 point win.
A couple of keys for the Gophers:
1. Three pointers. Yes, Minnesota is an excellent three point shooting team, tops in the Big Ten and 55th in the country at 38.1%. However, there is a tendency to fall in love with the three and stop getting in the paint. Against an excellent defensive team like Purdue (18th in defensive efficiency) who is also mediocre defending the three (160th nationally) it will be even easier to fall in love with the three ball. I'm not saying to avoid it, because I think it will be a key if the Gophers want to pull off an upset tonight, but there has to be some penetration and transition baskets as well.
2. Turnovers. Both teams are outstanding at turning their opponents over, with Minnesota ranking 8th and Purdue 9th in the country. However, Purdue is excellent at not turning it over on offense, 42nd in the country, while the Gophers come in 175th. If the Gophers can't take care of the ball, this is going to be disastrous.
3. The Big Three. Not the Gophers' guys. The Gophers don't have a big three. They have like a 1.5 sometimes. I mean Moore, Hummel, and Keaton Grant from Purdue. Although the Boilers are balanced, those are the top three scorers and the guys who scare you. They can all blow up, and blow up in a hurry, and all three shoot better than 40% from three point land, where the Gophers are only ok defensively. Moore has scored in double digits 9 straight games, including 28 against Northwestern. He can be limited, however, as Indiana held him to 3-15 shooting and Michigan State to 5-14. The Gophers will have to do the same. Keaton Grant can score inside and out, and had back-to-back 22 point games against Illinois and Iowa last month. I expect Westbrook to lock him down. Robbie Hummel, on the other hand, is an absolute nightmare matchup. He plays his best against good teams (17 against Indiana, 21 against Wisconsin, and a 24 point/11 rebound monster against Michigan State) and ranks 12th in the entire country in offensive rating. He comes in at 128.1, and according to Pomeroy "anything over 120 is excellent." He shoots 51% overall, including 46% from three and 86% from the line. Let's just hope the Gophers aren't good enough to keep him interested.
So there you have it. Purdue 77, Minnesota 67.
Penn State -3.5 vs. Iowa (L)
Miami +8.5 @ Clemson (L)
Cincinnati +11.5 @ Pitt (W)
Tex Tech/Texas A&M UNDER 131.5 (L)
Illinois State -3.5 vs. Creighton (W)
UAB +1 @ UTEP (W)
Baylor -4 @ Colorado (W)
Kansas -13.5 @ Iowa State (L)
Duke -15 vs. Georgia Tech (L)
West Virginia -5.5 @ DePaul (W)