Preview: Purdue vs Penn State - Boilers Going for Three In A Row

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Boilers look to add another win to their winning streak.

By the Numbers:

Purdue Team Penn State
12-5 (2-2) Record 9-9 (0-5)
NR Ranking NR
85 RPI 126
84 BPI 81
84 KenPom 108
67 Sagarin 101

January 18, 2014

7:00 PM EST - ESPNU

Skinny:

After failing to pick up several quality wins earlier in the season, Purdue finally added a nice win this week when they picked off Illinois on the road. Now Purdue has started a two game win streak and will look to make it three today when they host Penn State. With Northwestern up next for Purdue, the Boilermakers should ultimately be 14-5 (4-2) when they host Wisconsin on the 25th. After a sluggish start and some issues with foul trouble, Purdue big A.J. Hammons seems to be piecing it together and playing up to his potential. Hammons should once again have a major size advantage, with the tallest projected starter for Penn State measuring in at 6'9.

As for Penn State, the Nittany Lions will look to stay above .500 and win their first conference game in six tries. Penn State hasn't won a road game since November 16th and has lost three of their conference games by at least 13 points. They did play Indiana and Minnesota close, but both of these games came at home where they play considerably better. There's more than enough talent in the backcourt but until the rest of the lineup catches up it's going to be a rough season for Penn State.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Purdue Pos. Penn State
Ronnie Johnson G D.J Newbill
Terone Johnson G Tim Frazier
Rapheal Davis G/F Ross Travis
Basil Smotherman F Brandon Taylor
A.J. Hammons C/F Donovan Jack

Players to Watch:

A.J. Hammons: Hammons always seems to make this list for Purdue and it's usually for a good reason. Hammons has recently turned it up a notch and has played very well for Purdue, especially on Wednesday when the big absolutely dominated Nnanna Egwu. Now Hammons will likely draw Donovan Jack, a 6'9 forward that will give up quite a bit of size to the seven foot Hammons. Penn State's poor frontcourt will have it's hands full today and there's no reason for Hammons not to play a huge role for the Boilermakers on offense.

Jay Simpson: Like Hammons, Simpson has also came on strong the last few games. And just like Hammons, Simpson will benefit as he faces a weak frontcourt today. It'll be interesting to see if Painter simply uses Simpson to spell Hammons or if he'll go big, as Simpson is fully capable of playing the four. A lineup with both Simpson and Hammons on the court would likely be unstoppable for Penn State and could be heavily utilized if Purdue struggles from outside like they did early on versus Illinois.

Tim Frazier: One of the best guards in the Big Ten, Frazier has made a full recovery from last years season-ending injury. Frazier has showcased both the ability to score and distribute and if Penn State wants to have any chance to win today it'll likely need a huge day from Frazier, as well as fellow guard D.J. Newbill. If Frazier and Newbill are pedestrian, Penn State's offense usually falls off a cliff and their chance to win will be eliminated entirely.

Donovan Jack: Sophomore Donovan Jack will have his hands full today, giving up several inches to Purdue center A.J. Hammons. Anyone that watched the Purdue game earlier this week got a pretty good showing of what Hammons can do when there's not a competent center on the court to pick him up, so Jack will need to find a way to get it done down low versus the seven footer. Also, Penn State's frontcourt has been a crucial weakness this season and will need to increase their production on offense. It'll likely be a difficult task today with Hammons patrolling the rim, so if Penn State wants a shot here they'll need to get crafty and try to get Purdue's bigs in foul trouble early.

Staff Comments:

Purdue Perspective: After failing to win two winnable Big Ten games to open the season, Purdue has now won back to back Big Ten games and had their best win of the night on Wednesday. With an emerging frontcourt and a solid set of weapons in the backcourt (if they can produce more consistently), it's starting to become apparent Purdue has enough talent here to get to the NCAA Tournament. The biggest issue with the team is they're so up and down but with this game taking place at Mackey, Purdue should be fine here. Winning this game won't impress anyone, but if they can also add a win versus Northwestern it will inch the Boilermakers closer to a NCAA bid. With games against Wisconsin and Michigan to wrap up the month, Purdue could put themselves in good position if they win their next two games and pick up an upset. Also, it'll be interesting to see how Purdue utilizes their wings going forward. Kendall Stephens is a three point specialist and is firing at a decent percentage, but he shoots way too many from outside. As for Purdue's other wings, Painter has publicly commented on trying to get senior Errick Peck more involved and we've seen enough flashes from freshmen Basil Smotherman to wonder if he'll start to emerge down the stretch.

Penn State Perspective: This really isn't a good matchup for the Nittany Lions. Penn State's backcourt has been solid but they need improved play in their frontcourt if they want to start winning games in the Big Ten. So going on the road and taking on a team with a sizable height advantage kind of puts a damper to that. If Penn State wants to steal a win here it'll once again come down to Frazier and Newbill. The backcourt duo is clearly skilled and very productive, but they can't win conference games by themselves. Penn State is now sitting at .500 and has lost their first five conference outings. A season that started with talks of an outside chance of a NIT birth has quickly faded from memory and now Penn State looks to be back in the same position as last year. At the end of the day they'll try hard and no one will want to travel to face them on the road, but this team will once again be overwhelmed by a superior team.

Prediction:

If this game was in State College I'd give Penn State a chance. Besides playing pretty good at home, Purdue has had a tendency to struggle at the Bryce Jordan Center. But with this game taking place in West Lafayette, it's hard to go against an improving Boilermaker team. Purdue's frontcourt has been playing the best ball they've played in years and they'll now face off against a weak and undersized frontcourt that will unlikely be capable of stopping them. Purdue's outside shooting still is a bit sporadic, but their offensive weapons in the backcourt are starting to emerge enough that they have enough weapons to give Penn State a hard time. The Nittany Lions have Frazier and Newbill, but not much else. Purdue has Hammons, Simpson, Stephens, the Johnson brothers and even Smotherman, Sterling Carter and Bryson Scott. The depth in the backcourt and frontcourt alone should give Purdue the advantage versus a thin Penn State rotation.

Look for Purdue to utilize their bigs down low early and repeat as necessary. With the game taking place at Mackey the Boilermakers should be able to create some momentum and put the game out of a reach early enough. Expect solid days from both Frazier and Newbill, but without anyone else picking up the slack there's no way Penn State wins their first conference game here. Purdue wins going away.

Purdue 76 Penn State 59

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