Opponent: North Carolina State (Raleigh, NC)
Date / Time: Tuesday, December 2nd - 9 PM Eastern
Location: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Indiana
Purdue absolutely blasted their first three opponents, with a 20 point victory over IUPUI being the closest affair. After an atrocious first half versus Kansas State the Boilers responded, almost coming back in the second half. They followed that up with a dominating performance against Missouri, followed by an impressive overtime win against Brigham Young. Now Purdue will return to Mackey and try to get a quality win on their resume as they take on an undefeated North Carolina State team.
Getting to know North Carolina State
Sidney Lowe failed to reach the NCAA Tournament in all five of his seasons in Raleigh, eventually being replaced by Mark Gottfried in 2011. So far Gottfried has gotten the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament in all three seasons and his team is off to a solid 6-0 start. Of course part of that has to deal with a schedule relatively lax in opposition. The Wolfpack have faced stern tests the last few games from South Florida, Richmond and Boise State, and will now go on the road for their first (and only) true road game until January (they have a trip to New York before the Holidays).
One of the biggest questions for the Wolfpack was how they would handle the departure of T.J. Warren, who scored almost as many points per game last year as the next three leading scorers (24.9 ppg versus a combined 27.4 ppg for Turner, Barber and Lee). Offensively so far while their points per game is up, their shooting percentages have dropped considerably with the Wolfpack's 43.6% field goal percentage good for 166th in the nation. Facing suspect competition has allowed North Carolina State to get by without shooting at an efficient clip, but the trip to Mackey will be the first major test this season for the team.
While the team isn't as good without Warren, the emergence of Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey has been key to the six game winning streak to start the season. Lacey, who leads the team in scoring, has reached double figures in every game besides a blowout versus Jacksonville and his 61 points the last three games have helped the Wolfpack remain perfect.
What to Watch For
There's several key storylines to keep an eye on and thanks to the limited number of games, especially for North Carolina State thanks to their strength of schedule, there's a lot of questions as to how tonight's game will pan out. Some of the areas that should be worth keeping an eye on:
- Can Purdue continue to build from their strong finish at the Maui Invitational
- How will the Wolfpack handle their first test, as well as their first game away from home?
- How will the Wolfpack's lack of size, with the tallest projected starter measuring in at 6'9", come into play?
- Can Purdue continue to impress on offense and will North Carolina State improve from the field?
There's quite a bit that could happen tonight and it's hard to get a solid read on State as they've played an easier schedule so far. While the Boilermakers started off with a trio of cupcakes, facing Kansas State and BYU in Maui at least offered some solid competition and showed Purdue could be quite a bit better than expected. Consistency was a major issue for the Boilers last year, though, so they'll need to keep playing at the same level if they want to snag their sixth win in a row in the Challenge. This also could be the best chance for a resume defining non-conference win, with the Wolfpack likely a strong opponent than Notre Dame and Vanderbilt.
There's been a few issues Purdue has faced recently and they were key areas heading into the season. One of them was Hammons and fouls, another was who would take over the offense and if they could develop a presence from outside. Well it's early in the season but the emergence of backup center Isaac Haas has helped neutralized Hammons lack of minutes, while Vince Edwards and Kendall Stephens have helped anchor a surprisingly effective offense through the first six games.
The reality is if Purdue can maintain a consistent level of play for 40 minutes they should be capable enough to win here. The team was relatively sloppy at times last week and will need to eliminate turnovers while cleaning up on the offensive glass, but an undersized Wolfpack squad should put Purdue in position to win the rebounding battle. As long as Purdue plays smart basketball they should have enough of an edge, especially with the home crowd, to hold off North Carolina State and give them their first loss.
If the Wolfpack want to pick up the upset (their five point dogs), it'll need another big day from guard Trevor Lacey and the team will have to improve their shooting from the floor. In their last game the Wolfpack were 42.6% from the floor while only hitting 66.7% of their free throws, numbers that would make it hard for a road win here. They'll also need to find a way to win the battle down low as their bigs will be giving up several inches to A.J. Hammons and Haas.
All in all I think Purdue will be riding the momentum wave and start off strong, putting themselves into great position for a win before pulling off the gas and letting the Wolfpack sneak back into the game. The way Purdue has been playing, especially with the game taking place at Mackey, puts Purdue in position for a sixth straight Big Ten / ACC Challenge victory.
Purdue 72 North Carolina State 68