Wednesday night, the Northwestern Wildcats took the court at Mackey Arena in rare air for their program: ranked in the top 25 of the national polls. Do yourself a favor, however, and make no hasty judgment about this team based on this game, for a few reasons.
The Purdue Boilermakers have the potential to be an elite level team when they’re playing well, and that was the case on Wednesday night. The Northwestern Wildcats were also without their top scorer Scottie Lindsey, as well as missing Nathan Taphorn. Those two absences clearly showed on the court throughout the game.
With that being said, this game was out of hand fairly early on and the Boilermakers cruised to a win in this top 25 match-up. What are some things that were learned or reinforced for both teams? Here they are:
What We Learned:
1. Caleb Swanigan continues to make things look easy.
While on his way to a school record with his 19th double-double of the season, Caleb Swanigan dominated the Northwestern front line while foul trouble piled up for the Wildcats. He finished the game with 24 points and 16 rebounds in a very efficient effort, finishing 7-11 from the floor.
It was his fifth consecutive double-double and with his 16 rebounds, he moved into 9th on the school’s all-time single season rebounding list with 293 rebounds. With 8 regular season games remaining and his current average of 12.7 rebounds per game, he’s on pace to shatter Joe Barry Carroll’s single season record of 352. He’s on pace for 395 rebounds and could easily extend his double-double record to 24 or 25 in the regular season.
2. Vincent Edwards might be Purdue’s most important player.
Yes, I know, I just sat here and praised Caleb Swanigan endlessly. And it’s all deserved, no question. However, there’s a reason for this statement. You know what you’re going to get out of Swanigan, he’s essentially a double-double on the stat sheet before the opening tip. Vincent Edwards, however, is a different story.
When Vincent Edwards plays the way that he did against Northwestern on Wednesday night, this Purdue team is an entirely different animal. Purdue has lost five games this season, and in those five losses, Edwards is a combined 12-38. That’s a 31.5% field goal percentage. In their 18 wins, he is a combined 82-154. That’s a 53.2% field goal percentage.
Not only is his field goal percentage drastically higher, it’s something you can just see on the floor. When he’s aggressively looking for his shot, Purdue becomes much more difficult to defend.
3. Purdue continues to respond after losses.
Purdue has responded to all five of their losses this season with wins in the following game, by a combined margin of 87 points. Certainly the team and the fans were very displeased with the road loss against Nebraska, but there was no hangover in this game.
Lessons were learned and for much of this game, Purdue handled the double teams in the post much better than they did against the Cornhuskers. The shots continued to fall off of more good ball movement from the Boilers, who finished with 17 assists on their 24 field goals. Half of their made shots were from beyond the three point line, as they went 12-23 from beyond the arc.
This game is not at all indicative of Northwestern not being worthy of a top 25 ranking. Going on the road to an incredibly hostile environment at Mackey Arena without your leading scorer and without a valuable front-court depth piece truly is setting you up to struggle.
It certainly would have been a different game had Lindsey and Taphorn been available for Northwestern. However, the way that Purdue played on Wednesday, especially in the first half, it’s tough to believe there would have been an upset even with both of them available.
Purdue will travel to Maryland on Saturday and Northwestern with host Illinois next Tuesday.