Purdue is experiencing a reversal of fortune from last year when they were an eleven seed in the B1G Tournament. As the fourth seeded team in the conference, they're going to play their first game of the Big Ten Tournament today against a scrappy Penn State squad that has won two straight tourney games in dramatic fashion. The Nittany Lions have nothing to lose and the Boilermakers are trying to play themselves into a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Despite prevailing over Nebraska and Iowa, PSU has struggled in the paint over the last two games; even though they set a B1G tournament record for blocks against the Cornhuskers, they look vulnerable in the lane on both sides of the floor. That bodes well for AJ Hammons and company. Purdue should be able to score in the paint relatively easily because PSU hasn't faced a team with the same size and skill of Purdue. Hammons had 21 points in these two teams' first matchup, and it seems like all signs point to him having another big game.
That said, Ross Travis just had a great game against a big Iowa front line, and if there's anything we've learned from PSU thus far in the B1G tournament, it's that they can find a way to win. The fact that they have won three games in a row including a road game over Minnesota and a Big Ten Tournament game against Iowa is extremely impressive for a team that is considered a stretch to make the NIT at this point. Despite a plethora of close losses this season, they have remained resilient and will look to continue that against Purdue on Friday.
Matchup To Watch
Look for everyone in the Boilermaker backcourt to cover DJ Newbill at some point: he torched Purdue for 37 points earlier this season and has been the catalyst for PSU's two wins in the B1G Tournament. Iowa laid out a blueprint for shutting down the Penn State offense yesterday: double Newbill and hope that PSU can't create offense without the threat of him shooting. Of course, it didn't work out too well for Hawkeyes because they couldn't contain Newbill in the second half. Purdue is going to have to find a way to keep Newbill uncomfortable for as long as they can, then withstand the flurry of points the B1G's leading scorer is almost inevitably going to get.
On paper, Purdue should roll to an easy victory today by pounding the rock down low and keying in on PSU's one great player, but the Nittany Lions have had secondary players step up in a big way the past two days and these teams' only matchup this year went to overtime, with Purdue coming out on top. Purdue is the objectively better team and is well rested, but Penn State has that inscrutable thing we call momentum on their side, which seems to matter more in March than any other time of the year. At the very least, this game should be fun.