Preview: Purdue vs Nebraska - Boilers Face Early Must Win

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue is another Big Ten team facing an early season must win today as they host the Cornhuskers.

By the Numbers:

Purdue Team Nebraska
10-5 (0-2) Record 8-7 (0-3)
NR Ranking NR
120 RPI 83
96 BPI 85
90 KenPom 88
82 Sagarin 92

January 12, 2014

12:00 PM EST - BTN

Skinny:

The Boilermakers are hoping to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season, but after losing two winnable games to open up conference play, the Boilermakers face what is essentially a must win today versus Nebraska. Purdue's non-conference resume won't help (or hurt) the team, so the Boilers will need to pick up wins in conference play if it wants to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. The Cornhuskers will be one of the weakest teams remaining on the schedule so a win here is an absolute must for the Boilers. On the other hand Nebraska is looking to pick up their first conference win in four tries. Nebraska almost upset Michigan, just missing a tip in at the buzzer against the Wolverines. Nebraska has struggled on the road and Purdue is usually tough at home, so expect Nebraska to face a difficult challenge in West Lafayette.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Purdue Pos. Nebraska
Ronnie Johnson G Ray Gallegos
Terone Johnson G Tai Webster
Rapheal Davis G Terran Petteway
Basil Smotherman F Shavon Shields
A.J. Hammons C Walter Pitchford

Players to Watch:

A.J. Hammons: A.J. Hammons started off Big Ten play with a monstrous performance against Ohio State but was inexplicably underused and ignored in the loss against Minnesota. With Purdue's guards hit or miss so far this season, Purdue will need to establish an inside game if they want to be successful. This is especially true against Nebraska, who will field a starting lineup with one player taller than 6'7 (Walter Pitchford measures in at 6'10). Purdue will have the size advantage, so look for Purdue to work Hammons back into the mix.

Terone Johnson: In last Sunday's performance Terone had a solid day from beyond the arc, making four of his seven three pointers. However, he struggled inside where he shot one of eight from two. Purdue's guards have made up for their inability to shoot the ball efficiently by increasing the quantity of shots they take and the quality has suffered, with Terone (as well as Ronnie and Bryson) taking some ugly shots. Purdue's offense will benefit if Terone can either improve his shot selection or find a way to hit on more of his shots. The offense tends to perform better when Terone can score so if he can get it going it'll mean good things for Purdue.

Terran Petteway: Nebraska is a lowly 244th in points per game so far this season and has struggled offensively. While Nebraska doesn't have much firepower on the offensive side of things, Terran Petteway is a legitimate threat as he is currently averaging 17.2 points per game and has scored in double digits in all but one game. If Nebraska wants to win games in the Big Ten it will likely come down to how well Petteway plays as the rest of the team hasn't shown much on offense. If Purdue can shut down Petteway or at least slow him down, it'll be very difficult for Nebraska to keep pace with Purdue. Look for Tim Miles to keep Petteway heavily involved today.

Walter Pitchford: At 6'10 Pitchford will be Nebraska's starting five today versus the Boilermakers and will have his hands full with A.J. Hammons. Pitchford isn't a major offensive weapon, only scoring in double digits two of the last five games for Nebraska, but he's the only big that sees considerably playing time for the Cornhuskers and will need to hold his own on the defensive side of things. With Nebraska's next tallest player in the rotation coming in at 6'8, Pitchford will need to have a solid day and avoid foul trouble or else Nebraska will be in serious trouble down low versus a Purdue team with quite a bit of size in it's frontcourt.

Staff Comments:

Purdue Perspective: It's only January but Purdue is facing a must win here versus Nebraska. If Purdue can't pick up the win today...well it'll take a miraculous turn of events for the Boilermakers to get to anything better than the NIT. Purdue will have a major advantage here as they host Nebraska, a team that has struggled quite a bit when going on the road. Mix the home field advantage with the distinct size advantage and fielding a considerably more balanced roster and there's little reason why Purdue should lose here. Of course the team's inconsistency means Nebraska could hang around and try to pick up the upset, but after a week of grueling practices look for Purdue to play some inspired basketball. After doing next to nothing last week against Minnesota, look for Painter to make sure his bigs (Hammons and Jay Simpson) are considerably more involved in the offense. It also wouldn't be a surprise if Purdue mixes up the rotations a bit today, as the team found quite a bit of success once Bryson Scott, Kendall Stephens and Sterling Carter started seeing more playing time last weekend.

Nebraska Perspective: The Cornhuskers are trying but so far they've had little to show for it as they currently sit at 8-7 and 0-3 in the Big Ten. Earlier in the week Nebraska keep pace with Michigan and came a missed tip-in away from pulling off the upset. It's starting to feel like this years Nebraska squad is essentially the Penn State of last season, with the team trying hard every time they take the court but struggling to overcome significant talent discrepancies with the other teams in the league. Terran Petteway is an absolute stud and has been impressive so far this season, but past Petteway the talent drops off immensely. Miles is a good coach and there are some pieces here, but the team is still too raw and struggles heavily on the road, making this game look like an inevitable loss. Nebraska will get better and they're not a guaranteed win for any team in the conference, but until the rest of Nebraska's rotation can catch up with Petteway...well it's going to be tough to win games. Factor in the team being undersized and it's an uphill battle for Nebraska. When it comes to the Purdue game today, look for Nebraska to try to keep the ball out of Hammons hands and force Purdue's guards to beat them. With Purdue having poor shot selection and inconsistent guard play, making the Johnson brothers beat you could pay dividends if Purdue struggles from outside.

Prediction:

The Boilermakers are always a tough out at home and they're facing a Nebraska team that isn't very good on the road. Purdue has the size and experience advantage as well and realizes that this is a must win game (and if they didn't, Painter definitely drilled it into their heads this week). Nebraska is a young team at the bottom of the conference, so while they're going to be pests looking to play the spoiler, Purdue should have it's way inside and should be capable of slowing down Nebraska enough to take care of business. After a relatively disappointing performance last time out, look for Hammons to have a performance more reminiscent of his Ohio State game. Also, expect the Boilers to actually have a solid defensive outing today as they overcome a sporadic shooting performance from their guards and pick up their first conference win in a slow paced slugfest.

Purdue 65 Nebraska 53

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