This weekend's matchup Penn State and No. 3 Purdue represents a reunion for Nittany Lions head coach Micah Shrewsberry.
Shrewsberry, who served on Matt Painter's staff as associate head coach the past two seasons and as an assistant in the early 2010s, will face his old team for the first time at 12 p.m. Saturday at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Nittany Lions (7-5, 2-2 Big Ten) can make it three wins from three by beating the Boilermakers (12-2, 1-2 Big Ten). Penn State started its Big Ten campaign with two losses to No. 13 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State, but have responded to win back-to-back games after the COVID-19 pause. The most recent came on Wednesday in a tough-earned road 74-70 win at Northwestern.
Purdue on the other hand is in need of a bounce-back performance after a disappointing home loss to No. 23 Wisconsin on Monday. That's now two losses in Big Ten play in their first three games for the Boilermakers. A bit of a surprise when you consider the fact Purdue started this season as the conference title favorite.
|G Jaheam Cornwall - 6'0 - Sr.||G Isaiah Thompson - 6'1 - Sr.|
|G Jalen Pickett - 6'4 - Sr.||G Sasha Stefanovic - 6'5 - Sr.|
|F Seth Lundy - 6'6 - Jr.||G Jaden Ivey - 6'4 - So.|
|F Greg Lee - 6'9 - Sr.||F Mason Gillis - 6'6 - So.|
|F John Harrar - 6'9 - Sr.||F Trevion Williams - 6'10 - Sr.|
Purdue has dominated this series since Penn State's joining of the Big Ten, holding a 41-13 advantage. However, 10 of those 13 Penn State wins have come at home.
The Boilermakers swept last season's two meetings, earning a 73-52 win at the BJC and an 80-72 win in Mackey Arena.
Purdue got off to a really hot start to this season, winning their first eight games, including wins over then-No. 18 North Carolina, then-No. 5 Villanova, Florida State and Iowa. The Boilermakers even earned the first AP Poll No. 1-ranking in program history after the win over the Hawkeyes.
They lost their very next game on the road to Rutgers, and haven't quite looked like the early-season juggernaut since. Outside of two comfortable wins over Butler and Incarnate Word, Purdue has had to survive an upset bid from NC State, gave up 90 points to Nicholls State, and dropped that home matchup with the Badgers.
Defensive problems have been at the forefront of the Boilermakers' problems, now sitting 67th in the KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency ratings and 9th in the Big Ten in scoring defense. Wisconsin forward Johnny Davis also put up 37 points in Wisconsin's win at Mackey.
The good news for Painter and company is that Purdue has a few All-Big Ten caliber players to lean on. It starts with guard Jaden Ivey, who comes in averaging 16.9 points (7th in the Big Ten), 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Ivey is almost surely a lottery pick in next summer's NBA Draft, current sitting as the No. 4 prospect in ESPN's Draftcast rankings. Ivey excels at playing downhill and attacking the basket. He has also expanded his shooting range. After hovering around 20 percent from 3-point land last season, that number has jumped to 44.8 percent this season.
Trevion Williams and Zach Edey are probably college basketball's second-best big man duo after Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren and Drew Timme. Williams' scoring output is down from a season ago (13.3 ppg compared to 15.5 ppg last year), but he still remains a key cog to what the Boilermakers want to do. He sits third in the Big Ten in rebounding. The key to defending Williams is that you can't let him seal you deep in the paint. If he catches the ball close to the basket, he's probably going to score and there will be little you can do about it, using his 6'10, 255-pound frame exceptionally well.
Edey might be the most-improved player in the Big Ten, even after a pretty decent 2020-21. He's now the team's second-leading scorer (15.6 ppg) and second behind Williams in rebounding (7.5 rpg). Like Williams, if Edey catches the ball near the hoop, he's likely going to score. At 7'4, 295, there aren't many players as skilled as Edey at that size.
Senior guard Sasha Stefanovic remains a 3-point threat and averages a team-high 3.9 assists per game.
keys to the game
- Protect the paint as best as you can. As mentioned above, Edey and Williams are more than a handful in the post. The Boilermakers have a distinct size advantage when one or both of them are on the floor, not to mention 6'10 freshman Caleb Furst, who started this season really brightly and is working his way back from COVID-19. John Harrar, Greg Lee and Jalanni White are going to have to old their own down low in order for Penn State to pull off the upset. Make Edey and Williams work for their baskets.
- Keep running the show through Jalen Pickett. It's not all that hot of a take to say Jalen Pickett might be Penn State's best player. Shrewsberry described Pickett as someone who "plays at his own pace" at all times. The Nittany Lions will need him to run the show. Pickett has reached double-digit scoring in the past five games and currently leads Penn State in assists (4.2 per game). Jaden Ivey is incredible, but the other Boilermakers guards can be had defensively.
- Control the glass. These are two excellent rebounding teams. Purdue is the best rebounding team in the Big Ten and own the nation's No. 3 rebounding margin. Penn State is third in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding and Harrar is second in the conference in rebounding average (10.5 per game). He and the other Nittany Lions will need their best rebounding performance of the season.
Who would have thought that at this point in the season Purdue would be searching for some answers and Penn State was riding a nice wave of momentum? Expect the Boilermakers to come out angry and motivated after that loss to Wisconsin. Nobody likes losing to Brad Davison, let alone at home. The Nittany Lions will likely need to withstand a hot start from Purdue. Micah Shrewsberry knows how Purdue likes to operate more than any other opposing coach in the country and if he can find a way to hurt Purdue, Penn State has a chance to hang around. I'm picking Purdue, but it's not going to be the lopsided blow out we all probably thought it would be when the schedule came out.
Prediction: Purdue 77, Penn State 65