No. 13 Penn State at Purdue Preview: The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

By Eric Gibson on February 11, 2020 at 10:48 am
Matt Painter
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue Boilermakers
14-10 (7-6 Big Ten)
Roster / Schedule
6:30 p.m. ET - Tuesday, February 11
Mackey Arena
West Lafayette, IN
Watch Info: BTN/BTN2Go
KenPom Rank: 14
Vegas Line: Purdue -5.0

People are eager to push this narrative every year, but it's especially true this season. College basketball has been out of its mind. A record number of No. 1-ranked teams have lost as parity rules supreme. But perhaps no game better signifies this wacky season in the Big Ten than tonight's matchup in Mackey Arena.

Purdue has dominated the conference the past three years behind Carsen Edwards and company. Matt Painter's program has made three consecutive Sweet-16s, while going 45-11 in the Big Ten over that span. They only dropped two league games in Mackey arena over those three full seasons. 

But this year is clearly different. The calendar says February 11th and it's Penn State, not Purdue, that enters the ring with a very real possibility of winning the Big Ten title. It will be the team in blue that holds the No. 13 AP ranking and an 18-5 record. And it will be Lamar Stevens who's the most talented player on the floor.

The Boilermakers have taken a step back this season as Edwards departed for the NBA. They're a really difficult team to figure out, but unfortunately Penn State is not catching them at the right time. While their season was on the brink just over a week ago, a furious rally from eight down against Northwestern has revived their NCAA Tournament hopes. They have since destroyed Iowa and won a rivalry game in Assembly Hall against Indiana over the weekend. 

Projected Starters
Penn State   Purdue
Jamari Wheeler - 6'1" - Jr. 1 Eric Hunter - 6'4" - So.
Myles Dread - 6'4" - So. 2 Sasha Stefanovic - 6'4" - So.
Seth Lundy - 6'6" - Fr. 3 Nojel Eastern - 6'7" - Jr.
Lamar Stevens - 6'8" - Sr. 4 Evan Boudreaux - 6'8" - Sr.
John Harrar - 6'9" - Jr. 5 Trevion Williams - 6'9" - So.

Eight different Boilers have started for Matt Painter this year, so their starting lineup remains fluid. This has been their most common version in the past few games, but I don't foresee Boudreaux spending a lot of time guarding Lamar Stevens. For Penn State, the status of Myreon Jones remains uncertain after he was held out due to illness against Minnesota. 

Scouting Report

This Purdue team has been all over the place. At times they've looked like the unbeatable Boilers of recent memory, beating Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa by an average margin of 28 points! But they're certainly not invincible, because they've lost in Mackey to 14-10 Texas and Illinois by 17 points. 

The primary cause of their inconsistency stems from its offensive struggles. They have not been able to find consistent scoring from anyone in their rotation, although sophomore big man Trevion Williams has begun to emerge in Big Ten play. Only Williams and fellow sophomore Eric Hunter average in double figures at 11.0 and 10.4 points respectively. Sasha Stefanovic is the typical three-point specialist you see on Painter's teams, but there's not a whole lot else to be intimidated by in this rotation.

Sorry, I'm not buying that ridiculous, 104-point explosion against Iowa last week as anything other than an aberration. The Hawkeyes never play good defense, anyway. Purdue will not make 19 threes against PSU this evening. 

Keys to the Game

Penn State played its best defense of the season against Minnesota on Saturday before two future NBA pros decided to assert their premier talent. If the Nittany Lions can bottle up that defensive energy and bring it to Mackey, they'll give themselves a great chance. It will be up to Purdue to prove last week's performances were for real and not a flash in the pan. 

However, the Boilers always play in-your-face, physical defense, and they could make life tough on the Nittany Lions. They'll throw plenty of guys at Lamar Stevens, and it will be up to the Lions' secondary shooters to take advantage and space the floor. If Myreon Jones sits out again, that will be much harder for the Lions. 

Penn State's three keys to this game are as follows: 

  1. Stay within 10 points from the three-point line. The Boilers average almost 10 made threes per game at home. If they make four or more threes than the Lions, that could be the lone difference on the scoreboard.
  2. Win the turnover battle. Purdue actually forces a higher rate of turnovers from its opponents in conference play than Penn State does. If Myreon Jones is out, Jamari Wheeler and Curtis Jones have to do a great job taking care of the basketball and not give Purdue easy points. 
  3. Take care of the defensive glass. The Boilers will be another significant challenge for the Lions in this department, but Chambers' team have done a much better job rebounding during this six-game win streak. 

Prediction

For most of this season, I really liked how this Penn State team could matchup against Purdue. This is the only regular season game between the two, but I thought it was possible for Penn State to potentially steal one here. However, I did not expect the Lions to come in on a six-game win streak while the Boilers would be fighting to stay on the right side of the bubble. The winning streak's going to end at some point and this seems like a good bet, especially if Myreon Jones doesn't play. Purdue 68 Penn State 64

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