Well here we go. A month's worth of crappy games have gone by with the Gophers managing to avoid a crippling loss, which is something you can't say for most of the rest of the Big Ten, which is good. Despite the horrific schedule the RPI sits at 69, a reasonable enough number that could easily rise into at-large territory with a good Big Ten season. To kick off the conference slate the Gophers get nearly a perfect test in a road trip to a flailing Purdue squad. The Boilers are 8-5 with losses to North Florida (home), Kansas State (neutral), Vandy (road), Notre Dame (neutral), and Gardner Webb (home) with those last three coming in their last three games. They aren't a very good team, which is great because this is exactly the kind of road game an NCAA quality team wins. So if the Gophers win, we will know they're at least decent. If they lose, we already know the NCAA Tournament is out so we can stop stressing. Win-win.
If Purdue is good at one thing it's controlling the paint with their two monsters, 7-0 junior A.J. Hammons and 7-2 freshman Isaac Hayes. They rank first and fourth in scoring for Purdue (Hayes 11.5, Hammons 9.9), second and third in rebounding (Hammons 5.3, Hayes 5.2), and block 3.7 shots per game between the two of them (Hammons 2.9, Hayes 0.8). Purdue ranks 14th in block shot percentage in the country and 27th in offensive rebounding percentage (6-7 freshman Vince Edwards helps out here, he's a beast). The paint can be a scary place against these guys, but they're weak there too. They give up a ton more assists than the average team, don't defend the three well at all, and are 245th in field goal percentage against at the rim despite the two monsters, which suggests to me they're very vulnerable to the drive and kick. Given that the Gophers excel at that part of the game, I like to hear this.
Outside of the two bigs, Purdue has an interesting mix of characters with a lot of depth and balance (only Edwards plays more than 25 minutes per game, and 10 guys play twelve minutes or more). The scariest is guard Kendall Stephens (aka K3ndall St3ph3ns) who is second the team at 10.6ppg but is pretty much either good or bad. He's been brutal lately, hitting 2-14 from 3 in the team's last 3 games, but he's also capable of lighting it up (21 against Kansas State and 3 games this year with 5+ threes made). If the Gophers lose this game I'm pretty sure it'll be his fault. Two other interesting Purdueites are Edwards and 6-5 junior Raphael Davis, simply because they ad an athletic dimension to this team and either could take over the game for a portion long enough to be a difference maker. Edwards (10.4ppg) is extremely inconsistent but when he's good, he's very good with two 25+ points scored games this year, and Davis (9.2ppg) is similar, though he relies almost completely on getting to the rim.
Point guard is an issue for Purdue, which probably isn't a great thing going up against a team who creates so many turnovers though their numbers aren't bad this year, merely average. Their choices are Jon Octeus (7.5ppg, 2.5apg) a 6-4 senior transfer from Colorado State who isn't really a point guard or Bryson Scott (6.2ppg, 1.8apg) a 6-1 sophomore who can't shoot and has played poorly enough to see his playing time reduced so far versus last season despite Purdue losing their two starting guards from last year. If everything goes according to plan, this will end up the key for the Gophers and they'll force in the neighborhood of 18 turnovers.
Also an important part of the plan will be to limit those two big guys I mentioned above. Hayes is a monster of muscle who will put out maximum effort and never stop fighting. Luckily he only plays about 18 minutes per game, but he manages to draw a ton of fouls when he's out there so he could end up doing some damage to the Gophers super deep front court of two players. Hammons remains an enigma, capable of putting up either a 30 point, 20 rebound masterpiece or a 4 point, 2 rebound outing depending on if he's interested in playing or not that day. Hopefully Mo Walker comes out and makes his life miserable, because when that happens he'll go into his happy place and be a total non-factor and that would be nice.
Purdue is a bad team, and the Gophers need to win this game. Like all Big Ten teams, however, they're dangerous and particularly so at home. There are so man wild cards for the Boilers (Hammons effort, Stephens shooting, Edwards, Davis) that if too many of them are on it could be a long day for the Gophers. This is a great test to see if this is a tournament type team or not. I choose to believe that it is.
Minnesota 75, Purdue 65.