Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
The Big Ten standings were shaken up even more on Wednesday night, as Iowa and Northwestern pulled off upsets. Conference leader Michigan State is now in striking distanceby the winner of this game, as #18 Purdue (3-2, 14-4) heads north to take on #20 Minnesota (4-2, 16-2). Purdue has been shaky away from Mackey Arena this year, losing to Penn State and mounting a furious comeback to beat Northwestern. The Barn should be their hardest test yet. The raised floor is not common in college hoops, and the gym itself is an uncommon shape. The Boilermakers will have to overcome and win tonight; if they don’t they become just another three loss team in the Big Ten after very high preseason expectations. The Gophers have proven themselves time and time again, but a win over Purdue would launch them towards Michigan State in the Big Ten standings.
Purdue is led by a trio of sophomores, E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnon. Moore is a lanky guard who has cooled off as of late, shooting poorly in his last few games, including 8% against Wisconsin. Hummel is a versatile power forward whose three point shot has been a steady hand this year for the Boilers. He hits about 41% of his three pointers. JaJuan Johnson is another skinny forward, but he excels on the offensive glass and is one of the Big Ten’s premier shot blockers. Following these three, a talented cast of role players get significant playing time. They are led by defensive stopper and extreme hustle player Chris Kramer. The Big Ten’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year only averages 4.4 point a game, but gets tons of playing time because of his excellent defense and ability to work with his teammates. Shooting an anemic 34% from the field, Keaton Grant is nothing special as a guard. The team’s fourth leading scorer, Grant has not had an unforgettable performance yet this year, and is suffering a drop-off after a phenomenal sophomore season. It’s infuriating for opponents to watch Nemanja Calasan be in the right place at the right time on seemingly every possession. Although Calasan doesn’t score often, he has a very good range on his shot and is a skilled rebounder. Two guards come off the bench and get significant playing time, but their styles are extremely different. Marcus Green stands 6-6, and could almost be considered a forward, as he is relied on for his rebounding much more than his passing. The speedy Lewis Jackson is only 5-9, and one of many fireplug point guards in the Big Ten. As a freshman coming off the bench, he leads the team in assists.
Lawrence Westbrook willed this team to victory over Wisconsin. In the best performance of his career, Westbrook solidified his position as best Gopher, and sent a message to the Big Ten. While Westbrook can be counted on for a lot of scoring, 14.1 points a game, point guard Al Nolen is the do-it-all guy. Nolen is among the Big Ten leaders in assists and steals, proof that his scrappiness is why he is so good. He is right up there with the team leaders in rebounds as well. Damian Johnson has been consistent the whole year, he occasionally has a very good or very bad game, but for the most part he gets around 10 a game, every time he steps on the court. He is up with Nolen as a top Big Ten thief. These guys form the nucleus of the Gopher squad, but the strength of the team lies in its depth. Eleven players get more than 10 minutes a game. There will always be someone stepping up for the Gophers in the case of Westbrook having an off night. Devron Bostick, Jamal Abu-Shamala, Travis Busch and Devoe Joseph can get in, provide some instant offense and rest, and then come out, with almost no yield in performance. Big men Paul Carter, Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III are not dominant rebounders. But Minnesota relies on a team rebounding effort, not just a few guys carrying the load. That’s how they rebound, and that’s how they win.
Minnesota is too tough at home for Purdue to sneak in a road win. The Boilermakers keep it close for 40 minutes though; their sweltering defense does not allow Minnesota to breathe easy.
Winner: Minnesota Margin: 2-5 points
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About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.