Like I said in my post from yesterday I can't believe how geeked out I am for this game, especially since Purdue is probably going to win by twenty. But I just can't help it. I can't wait for the game. I guess I'm a bit like Jennifer Aniston. She just knows that whatever guy she gets with is going to get sick of her and break her heart, but she keeps flinging herself at dudes anyway. That's me. But instead of dudes it means Gopher basketball. As far as you know.
On to your preview.
1. Mediocre team that desperately needs a win at home vs. a final four contender - what usually happens? Well, I detailed in the last post how UCONN beat WVU Monday night in a very similar position to what the Gophers are in. Checking back to last year, I found nine similar situations, where a team on the bubble is visited by a top 10 team: Maryland vs. #3 North Carolina, Cincinnati vs. #7 Louisville, Georgetown vs. #6 Louisville, Maryland vs. #7 Duke, UAB vs. #4 Memphis, VA Tech vs. #7 Duke, Maryland vs. #10 Wake Forest, Va Tech vs. #2 North Carolina, and West Virginia vs. #6 Louisville. The bubble team's record in those games: 1-9. Gulp. But hey, thanks to UCONN Bubble teams are undefeated in this type of game this year, so it's practically a lock for your precious Gophers.
2. How good is the big three of Purdue? Really, really good and getting better. E'Twaun Moore might be emerging as the real go-to guy on this team and he absolutely took over the game against Michigan State. JaJuan Johnson has added a 19-foot pull-up jumper to his already Hakim Warrick like game, and Robbie Hummel is steady as they come (except for his shooting slump the last three games which hopefully will continue). The three combine to score 65% of Purdue's points and grab 52% of the team's rebounds, and Hummel and Johnson are two of the most offensively efficient players in the country according to Ken Pom, and Moore has a higher effective field goal percentage than either of them. Oh, and Lewis Jackson is back and has seemingly solved his turnover issues from last year. Yeah, this all sounds real good.
3. What's been working for the Gophers the last two games? Offensive flow, keeping the ball moving in the half court, and the high/low. Against the Badgers they shot 48% while turning it over just 11 times and against the Hoosiers it was 56% and again just 11 turnovers, this time against 23 assists. That ball movement and just overall efficient offense is leading to a lot of open shots, as evidenced by the team's 14-29 three point shooting in the last two. Of course, Purdue is a better defensive team (6th in def. efficiency) than Wisconsin (20th) or Indiana (153rd), and I can't envision how the high/low would possibly work against the Boilers and their size, but moving the ball and finding open shots is going to be a huge key - as it is in pretty much every game of basketball since Naismith and his peach basket.
Defensively this new 3-2 zone has been very effective. Indiana and Wisconsin combined to shoot just 33% from three and 30% from two, and according to Myron Medcalf of the Star Tribune the two teams combined to score just 22 points in the paint. That's all well and good, and there's not doubt a properly executed zone with good athletes - which the Gophers have - can be a devastating defensive weapon, but Purdue ain't Wisconsin or Indiana. The Badgers are more reliant on the three for offense than Craig Hodges and Indiana flat out sucks. The Boilers don't rely on the three, and Moore, Johnson, and Hummel all attack the paint. We'll see just how good that zone is, and we'll see it in a hurry.
4. Who needs to step up? Honestly, everyone. This game isn't remotely close on talent, so it's going to take effort, smart-play, hustle, and some luck if the team is going to pull this one out. Hummel has shot just 8-26 in the last three so if he keeps that up it would be huge, but I'm not that worried about the defense, it's the scoring points part that concerns me. Westbrook is going to have to avoid the temptation to revert back to "the man", and in such a high-profile game you better believe he's going to be tempted. That's probably the #1 key to the game, how Westbrook plays within the offense. I mean, Devoe is going to have to play one of his best games of his career, Sampson is going to have to continue his evolution towards Big Man of the Century and check Johnson, Hoff is going to have to find open shots, and there will probably have to be a surprise hero here somewhere, but the Westbrook thing trumps all. If he's in "showcase my talent" mode, nothing else is going to matter.
5. Well, what do we think? I may be amped up for the game and even feeling a bit optimistic, but I am a realist at heart. Checking kenpom.com, they give the Gophers a 45% of winning this game and predict a one-point Purdue win. That's probably not too generous towards Minnesota. I think if the Gophers and Boilers play this game ten times, Purdue wins seven times - let's just hope this is one of the other three.
Purdue 66, Minnesota 62
As far as other bubble-related news goes, two huge developments last night. The first was Florida notching a huge win by beating Tennessee, and beating them by double-digits. This is everything the Gators needed, and gives them not only another win, but a big-time signature victory. They helped themselves out immensely.
Second, and even more impactful to the bubble, Northern Iowa lost to Evansville in a shocker. Not only was UNI a heavy favorite, but Evansville had lost 17 of its last 18 games and ranked #275 in the RPI going into last night's game. Prior to this all UNI would have had to do was win their last two MVC games against bottom feeders and it would have locked up a bid regardless of what happened in the conference tournament. Now? This is so huge UNI pretty much needs to get to conference final or it's going to be a very nerve-wracking Selection Sunday. What a huge whiff.
Elsewhere, Louisville didn't get a big win it was looking for against Georgetown but are still probably ok, while Illinois, Old Dominion, and Seton Hall all got wins they needed for one reason or another. Northeastern had slim, slim, slim at-large hopes, and those are now officially bye-bye with their loss at home against Hofstra.
WEDNESDAY'S BUBBLE GAMES OF NOTE:
South Florida @ Villanova - The Bulls have a couple of really good wins (beat Pitt and Georgetown earlier), but because the rest of the profile is pretty weak they could really use another.
San Diego State @ BYU - SDSU is probably about as much of a middle of the bubble team as there is. They could really use a high-profile win and this chance to beat the Cougars is as good as it gets.
Pitt @ Notre Dame - The Irish are as good as dead, any single-loss probably kills their chances and with Harangody still injured it will probably happen sooner rather than later.
Dayton @ Temple - The Flyers at-large chances are spiraling down, down, down, and they're probably fifth in the A-10 pecking order at this point. Stealing one from the Owls would help right the ship.
UTEP @ Southern Miss - The Miners lead C-USA, but are on pretty thin ice due to a weak non-conference profile. They can't afford a loss here.
Virginia Tech @ Boston College - If the Hokies lose here, they're done.
Florida State @ North Carolina - Florida State's profile is good but not great - they can't afford to lose to the craptastic Heels.
UAB @ Central Florida - I think UAB is nearing lock status for a bid, but they still have to win games like this one.
DePaul @ Cincinnati - A loss here ends the Bearcats chances.
Saint Joe's @ Charlotte - The 49ers are another team that can't afford a loss.
Marquette @ St Johns - I personally think the committee is going to reward Marquette for playing so many good teams tight even though they lost them all (Marquette has six losses against RPI top 50 teams by single-digits), but winning a game like this is still a must for the Eagles.
Xavier @ St. Louis - X is already in, but the Billikens are making a late push. Something like, say, a win over the Musketeers would be an immense help.
Auburn @ Ole Miss - Lunardi says the Rebels are out. I'm not necessarily agreeing with that, but they definitely have to win out to have a prayer.
Memphis @ Houston - Memphis probably needs to win at least three of its last four and make a run in the CUSA tournament to have a chance.
Wichita State @ Bradley - Any loss short of in the MVC Tournament final ends the Shockers' hopes.
Alabama @ Mississippi State - Varnado and company have an empty profile when it comes to big time victories, so their only chance is win a lot of games.
TCU @ UNLV - The only way UNLV doesn't get in is by losing games like this one.
Sheesh, busy night. Hopefully the Gophers win and all these other teams lose.