Well, this certainly wasn’t the match-up that Purdue was likely anticipating when they saw the final bracket.
Rutgers definitely was not supposed to be playing in this game, but it’s called March Madness for a reason, and we’ve had an early dosage of the inexplicable upsets that have led to the name.
The Purdue Boilermakers and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have faced off twice already this year, with each game resulting in a Purdue win. However, they were two very different games from Mackey Arena to The RAC.
In their first meeting on January 3rd, Purdue rolled past Rutgers to an 82-51 victory at Mackey Arena. Purdue had five players in double figures, made ten threes and out-rebounded Rutgers 45-27. Corey Sanders only scored 8 points on 4-14 shooting in that meeting.
In the February 3rd contest, it was a bit of a different story. Purdue did edge out Rutgers for the win, 78-76, but they simply escaped with a win from a game they certainly could have lost. Corey Sanders finished with 31 points on 13-27 shooting, Purdue shot 7-21 from three and Rutgers won the rebounding battle 37-25.
Heading into the most important meeting between the two teams so far, let’s take a look at some of the keys to the game.
1. Carsen Edwards looks to stay hot.
Carsen Edwards and Corey Sanders have a lot of similarities on the offensive end. They are two of the most dangerous one-on-one scorers in the conference, and they both play with a dangerous level of freedom offensively. Edwards has been unbelievable in the last three contests for the Purdue Boilermakers, finishing with 27 against Penn State, 40 against Illinois and 18 against Minnesota.
Rutgers is a stout defensive team, and Edwards can provide the major boost of creating his own shot when everything else breaks down for the team. If he can continue to create and make his own shots when things break down, as well as scoring within the flow of the offense, Rutgers will have a hard time slowing the Boilermakers down.
2. Can Corey Sanders do the same?
Quite simply, Rutgers would have not even sniffed the quarterfinals if it weren’t for Corey Sanders. Questions about his efficiency and his shot selection will certainly always be around, but for the last two games, he has been phenomenal. He absolutely put Rutgers on his back against Indiana in the second half and would not let them lose every time it looked like the Hoosiers were going to retake control of the game.
Sanders scored 28 on 12-20 against the Hoosiers, and Rutgers will need him to be the same Corey Sanders he was when these two teams met in February to have a chance.
3. Who wins the rebounding battle?
For all of the superb gifts that this Purdue team has in terms of size and interior skill, they are simply a bad rebounding team. In the first meeting, they were able to hold a massive rebounding advantage. On the road, Rutgers flipped the script and out-rebounded the Boilermakers by a healthy margin.
Rutgers exposed Minnesota on the glass en route to their first upset win with a 49-28 rebounding advantage. While Indiana did outrebound the Scarlet Knights on Thursday 31-29, it seemed like Rutgers hauled down the key rebounds and came up with the loose balls in the key moments of the game. With the unquestionable talent gap between these two teams Friday night, Rutgers will have to dominate the 50-50 balls and show far more heart and hustle.