Preview: Minnesota vs Purdue - Boilers Face Stern Road Test

USA TODAY Sports

Purdue looks to pick up their first conference win on the road against the Gophers.

By the Numbers:

Purdue Team Minnesota
10-4 (0-1) Record 11-3 (0-1)
NR Ranking NR
109 RPI 53
93 BPI 36
89 KenPom 38
83 Sagarin 42

January 5, 2014

2:30 PM EST - BTN

Skinny:

While Sunday afternoons matchup between Purdue and Minnesota is only the second conference game of the season for both teams, it's already a pivotal and key game for both sides. Both squads lost their openers in games that were expected losses, playing Ohio State and Michigan tough but failing to pick up the win. The Minnesota loss had to sting a bit more as they were facing a down Michigan team that is currently trying to figure out how to deal without Mitch McGary. The Purdue loss wasn't exactly clean either, as the Boilermakers lost a close game that could have played out differently if they were capable of capitalizing inside.

For Purdue this would be a nice win to add as Minnesota is likely a middle of the pack Big Ten team that could find itself in the same bubble spot as Purdue. Purdue will likely need nine or ten conference wins to go dancing and will benefit from facing Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota eight times. Worst case scenario, Purdue needs to win at least 6 of these games (if not 7) and winning the first would be solid for the team, especially as it'd be a difficult road win. If the Boilers can win here they'll face a favorable stretch the next four games, facing Nebraska, Illinois, Penn State and Northwestern. Win Sunday and the Boilers could start off conference play at an impressive 5-1 mark.

As for the Gophers, Minnesota will need to win games like these if they want to get back to the NCAA Tournament in Pitino's first season. A win here is absolutely critical as the schedule will do no favors for Minnesota. While they'll face off against Penn State on Wednesday, Minnesota follows with an unfavorable stretch featuring Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. If Minnesota can't win here there's a solid chance they could start off conference play with a 1-6 record and that could be a hole too deep to climb out of. Also, Minnesota has a considerably more likely chance of knocking off Purdue at home then when they face them in West Lafayette a month later.

Projected Starting Lineup:

Purdue Pos. Minnesota
Ronnie Johnson G Austin Hollins
Terone Johnson G DeAndre Mathieu
Rapheal Davis G Andre Hollins
Basil Smotherman F Oto Osenieks
A.J. Hammons C Elliott Eliason

Players to Watch:

A.J. Hammons: Hammons was relegated to bench duty recently thanks to some issues with fouling. However, the seven footer seems to have corrected the issue enough that Painter is willing to start him once again. Earlier in the week versus Ohio State Hammons had a monstrous day, putting up 18 points, 16 rebounds, 5 blocks and 4 assists. If Hammons can match that stat line, or at least come close, it'll put Purdue in position for the win here. Hammons ability to clean up on the glass and block shots on defense has already helped Purdue win games this year, if his offensive game picks up then opposing teams will be in a world of hurt.

Ronnie and Terone Johnson: It seems like the Johnson brothers are becoming more and more interchangeable out on the court for Purdue. It's no surprise they are brothers, as both their skill set and weaknesses are more or less carbon copies of each other. Taking that into consideration, it's hard to pin point which one should be a player to keep an eye on because both are just as likely to have the exact same performance. Either way, both Johnsons will likely control the ball throughout most of the game and their ability to successfully convert offensively will more or less determine how well Purdue's offense performs. If the Johnson boys are hot, expect plenty of points. If not? Well then hopefully the defense steps up.

Andre and Austin Hollins: Purdue has the Johnsons, Minnesota has Andre and Austin Hollins. Like Ronnie and Terone, the offense here runs through the duo and if they have an off day then it's usually a long day for the team. The Gophers upset bid against Michigan came up just short as the team fell by three points, with both Andre and Austin being a key reason as to why. While Minnesota held Michigan to 63 points, the Hollins duo were 4 of 19 from the field and only hit on 1 of their 11 three point attempts. If they can't get it together it'll be very hard for Minnesota to pick up the win.

Elliot Eliason: Eliason is coming off of a solid double double against Michigan and will once again need a solid day if the Gophers want to pick up the win here. While Eliason's production down low has helped Minnesota, Eliason's biggest task will be going up against Hammons. Hammons ability to clean up on the glass and score inside will be areas Eliason needs to limit. Purdue isn't the best shooting team and Hammons ability to pickup offensive rebounds helps the team overcome a so-so shooting percentage. If Eliason can win the battle down low Purdue will have to rely more on their outside game, a considerably weaker element of the offense.

Staff Comments:

Purdue Perspective: The Boilermakers missed the NCAA Tournament and the goal for this season was to correct last year's mistakes and get back to the tourney. So far Purdue hasn't always looked pretty and has failed to pickup several nice wins, but they're still in position to get back to the dance. The Boilers benefit from a relatively soft conference schedule and will hope to pick up their first conference win of the season. If they can pick up this game it'll go a long way as Purdue's next four games are all winnable, with their matchup against Illinois being the most difficult. Winning a road game versus the Gophers would go a long way for Purdue, showing they're capable of winning tough games versus well matched opponents. A loss here would likely create some questions about if Purdue is going to go dancing in March and put quite a bit of pressure over their next four games.

Minnesota Perspective: Like Purdue, Minnesota is another middle of the pack Big Ten team looking to find their way to the NCAA Tournament. In their conference opener they hosted a Michigan team without star Mitch McGary and looked set for the upset but fell just a bit short. If Minnesota wants to go to the NCAA Tournament then that can't happen, as the team was in position for a nice win and couldn't piece it together. If Minnesota wants to compete against teams with a pulse they're going to need better days from Andre and Austin Hollins, who would love to forget about their 4 of 19 performance earlier in the week. Considering how difficult Minnesota's opening schedule is this year, losing here means Minnesota will likely only have one winnable game over the next five. It feels weird to say it so early into the season but this game has more or less morphed into a must win for the Gophers if they want to get to the NCAA Tournament, especially with both of their first two games being at home. If they can't pick up the win today it'll probably be a sign that Minnesota is more likely bound for the NIT.

Prediction:

Neither of these teams shoots the ball well, coming in at 9th and 10th in 2PT% in the conference, as well as 7th and 8th in 3PT%. Both of these teams have capable playmakers but consistency has been an issue and dry spells have a tendency to rear their ugly head at the worst times for both squads. Last time these teams faced off Minnesota was the favorite and got straight up whipped by the Boilermakers. It should be relatively closer this time, with Purdue's ability to pick up the win most likely dependent on their ability to shoot from outside and if Hammons can keep his production up and avoid foul trouble. Minnesota will look for strong days from both of the Hollins and hope that Eliason can at least slow down Hammons.

When all is said and done expect a streaky game that goes back and forth. Personally, I think Purdue is the better team and in better position to win here. However, it is very, very hard to win on the road in this conference. While that has me leaning towards Minnesota (even my gut says pick Minnesota), I still think Purdue is good enough to pick up the win. Naturally, Purdue tends to win games when people don't think they will (and lose games they should pick up), so I'm going to go with Purdue here.

Purdue 71 Minnesota 63

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