Purdue (7-3; 2-1) No. 14 Rutgers (6-1; 2-1)
How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes
Where: The RAC in Piscataway, New Jersey
Tip-off: Tuesday, December 29 at 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: FS1 - Lisa Byington & Stephen Bardo
KenPom Rankings: Rutgers is 18th, which is one spot worse since a 12 point loss to Ohio State; Purdue is 32nd, which one spot better since a 3 point win over Maryland.
Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 110.0 (32nd) Defense 90.0 (15th); Purdue - Offense 110.0 (33rd) Defense 92.3 (36th)
KenPom Prediction: Rutgers 72 Purdue 68; Rutgers is given a 64% chance to win.
Vegas Line: Rutgers -4
Series History: Purdue leads the all-time series 12-3, but Rutgers won both meetings last season. The Scarlet Knights beat the Boilermakers 70-63 at the RAC on January 28, followed by a 71-68 overtime victory at Mackey Arena on March 7 in the regular season finale.
Purdue SB Nation Site: Hammer & Rails
Purdue - 6’10” Trevion Williams (13.4 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 49.2% FG); 6’4” Eric Hunter Jr. (12.6 points, 3.5 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals); 6’5” Sasha Stefanovic (11.3 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 50.9% 3-pt FG); 6’5” Brandon Newman (10.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.0 steal, 44.2% 3-pt FG); 7’4” Zach Edey (9.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 63.2% FG); 6’4” Jaden Ivey (6.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists); 6’6” Mason Gillis (6.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 54.8% FG, 40.9% 3-pt FG); 6’1” Isaiah Thompson (5.1 points, 1.8 assists, 1.7 rebounds); 6’9” Aaron Wheeler (4.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists)
Rutgers - 6’6” junior Ron Harper Jr. (23.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 56.4% FG, 50% 3-pt FG); 6’2” senior Jacob Young (15.9 points, 5.6 assists, 2.4 steals, 2.3 rebounds, 48.8% FG, 41.2% 3-pt FG); 6’4” junior Montez Mathis (14.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals); 6’10” redshirt junior Myles Johnson (7.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, 1.3 assists, 62.2% FG); 6’4” Geo Baker (7.3 points, 2.5 assists, 2.0 rebounds); 6’6” sophomore Paul Mulcahy (6.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists); 6’11” Cliff Omoruyi (5.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.0 block, 72.2% FG); 6’7” Mawot Mag (3.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 50.0% FG)
Cliff Omoruyi (knee sprain) is doubtful for this game but there is hope he players will be back in the near future. Mawot Mag (ankle sprain) is closer to returning and is questionable for tomorrow. Rutgers would be left with a core rotation of six players against Purdue if they don’t play. Mamadou Doucoure saw extended action in the loss to Ohio State in their absence and should be expected to play more again versus Purdue. Jacob Young left the loss to the Buckeyes late in the second half after a hard fall but he said in recent days that he was fine and is expected to play. Pikiell clarified on Monday that he has a hip bruise and has been limited in practice. For more detail on all the injuries, read what Jerry Carino reported on late Monday here.
Head coach Matt Painter always assembles a tough team to play and this season is no different. They are led by a trio of juniors in big man Trevion Williams and guards Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic. They are complimented by four first year players highlighted by redshirt freshman Brandon Newman and 7’4” freshman big man Zach Edey. Purdue plays a nine man rotation and while they aren’t as explosive offensively as they were a couple of seasons ago, only averaging 72.5 points per game, they are still shooting 38.7% from three-point range, which is 34th in the country out of 357 teams.
The Boilermakers are 7-3 with wins over Ohio State (KenPom no. 16), Maryland (KenPom no. 48) and Notre Dame (KenPom no. 88), as well as losses to Iowa (KenPom no. 5), Clemson (KenPom no. 20) and Miami (KenPom no. 67).
Purdue is balanced, as they are 33rd in offensive efficiency and 36th in defensive efficiency. They are strong on the glass as they are 55th in offensive rebounding rate of 33.2% and 20th in holding opponents to just an 21.3% offensive rebounding rate. However, they are only 203rd in offensive turnover rate at 20.4% and just 246th in defensive turnover rate at 17.6%. Opponents are shooting 52.0% from two-point range against them, ranking just 221st.
Through three Big Ten games (2-1), Purdue is 11th in offensive efficiency and 5th in defensive efficiency. They are playing the slowest tempo in conference play 65.7.
Keys To Victory
Battle of the Big Men
Two of the best centers in the conference go head to head in Trevion Williams and Myles Johnson. Both team’s fate will be significantly tied to who wins this head to head matchup.
Williams has the 7th best offensive rebounding rate and 30th best defensive rebounding rate in college basketball. However, what makes him unique is his passing ability, which is highlighted by having the 186th best assist rate in the country. Purdue is dangerous behind the arc and Williams finds open shooters by kicking it out from the post. He is also a good rim defender and has the 294th best block rate nationally.
Johnson is coming off his worst performance in which he was severely limited due to foul trouble that resulted in his exit with 8 minutes left in the loss to Ohio State. With Cliff Omoruyi out with an injury, the Buckeyes exploited this fact despite having a smaller lineup by attacking Johnson in the post. While there were many complaints by Rutgers fans about the discrepancy in frontcourt fouls called for most of the game, the fact is RU didn’t attack OSU through the post and that was part of the issue.
The concern is Purdue will attack the post like OSU did in order to get the Rutgers bigs in foul trouble. The greater issue in this game is RU has to be careful with help defense or doubling the bigs, as Williams can exploit that with his passing and find open shooters. Rutgers has to have a better plan for being so limited up front but part of that needs to be attacking Purdue in the post as well. We might see Harper Jr. look to play a bit more inside with his back to the basket, even though it’s not his strength. Rutgers has to have some kind of post presence and not just rely on dribble penetration.
Johnson can match up with Williams though and currently has the following national ranks: offensive rating (493rd), offensive rebounding rate (67th), defensive rebounding rate (32nd), block rate (24th). Feed him in the post at times and try and do the same thing to Williams that Purdue will try against Johnson.
The backups will be factors as well. Purdue’s Zach Edey is 7-foot-plus and has been productive as a freshman, while Mamadou Doucoure will likely see extended minutes once again if Omoruyi is out. Duke didn’t look good against Ohio State, as he was step slow, flat footed and unable to be aggressive without fouling.
This is an advantage for Purdue, but I’d counter with starting Doucoure over Johnson. I’m convinced a significant reason that head coach Steve Pikiell was starting Omoruyi over Johnson was to protect him from foul trouble. In the first game of the season with Johnson starting and no Omoruyi, that protection was gone and it was a major problem. Doucoure is likely what he is at this point, but he can offer value in protecting Johnson in the early going and getting him deeper into the game. Perhaps Dean Reiber and Luke Nathan will get a run as well.
Run, Rutgers, Run
In regard to the battle of the big men, if this becomes a halfcourt game then Purdue will have a significant advantage. That’s why the play of Jacob Young becomes so important once again. He is the best creator on offense on the team and his ability to speed up the game is a major asset for Rutgers. I don’t think Purdue has anyone who can contain him the whole game if he is playing well and RU needs to exploit this advantage. Rutgers is more athletic and attacking from the perimeter is something they do well. The Scarlet Knights need to bring it defensively and if they can take advantage of turnover prone Purdue, that should lead to plenty of fast break scoring opportunities.
Jumping off from the last key, Purdue doesn’t take care of the basketball well and they don’t turn opponents over, which is a bad combination. Rutgers has been much improved in offensive turnover rate (41st nationally), but they haven’t been effective in forcing turnovers (239 nationally). Overall, Rutgers hasn’t been nearly as consistent defensively as they were last season and this game would be a great time to change that. The short rotation may limit how much Rutgers shows fullcourt of three-quarters court pressure, but I think Young, Mathis and Baker need to do so at times. Taking Purdue out of their comfort zone is important and making them work for everything on the offensive end could wear them down.
It was easy to complain about the officiating in the Ohio State game because it was more painful to admit that Rutgers was not the tougher team on the court that night. Purdue is always a hard nosed team and they won’t be fazed coming to an empty RAC. They force you to fight through screens and this will be a physical battle. This is a huge game for Rutgers and while I think they are the better team, they could easily lose. The winner of this game moves to 3-1 in conference play and it should be a dogfight. Coming off a hard loss to Ohio State and a days long break for Christmas, Rutgers has plenty to prove and hopefully can play with poise but an edge as well.
O Captain! My Captain!
It’s fair to be concerned about Geo Baker and how healthy his ankle really is. Since returning from a three game absence due to the injury, he has lacked explosiveness and hasn’t been nearly as aggressive when he is at his best. His growth as a player last season was directly related to his ability to attack the rim, which has been lacking since his return.
As tremendous as Ron Harper Jr. has been this season, Baker is the unquestioned leader and has proven to have the ability to morph into superhuman form, willing Rutgers to improbably wins in the past. Rutgers is a potential top ten team with Baker, Harper Jr. and Young in peak form. However, Baker hasn’t played like himself and with depth already being an issue, the longer he struggles, the more susceptible Rutgers is to losing games they need to win to make a serious run this season. On paper, this feels like a game Baker steps up and is a major factor, but whether he can be right now remains to be seen. Hopefully, the few days off due to the holiday will bring a renewed hop back to his step.
Appropriate Music Selection
For the eighth game of the season, I selected Trouble by Cage the Elephant.
Lyrics include, “Got so much to lose. Got so much to prove. God, don’t let me lose my mind.”
Another lyric is “Will it come to pass, or will I pass the test?”
This game concerns me. Purdue is a tough team and Rutgers is short handed. Maybe there is no such thing as a must win game in late December, but with a three game stretch against ranked foes up next in Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State, there is no way Rutgers wants to have two consecutive losses heading into Saturday’s game against the Hawkeyes.
Great teams respond to adversity and Pikiell has talked repeatedly about overcoming obstacles. Rutgers has to dig deep and keep their heads if foul trouble or anything else occurs. Find a way to win regardless of style points. This is a game Rutgers needs do to that and show they are a top five team in the Big Ten while avoiding trouble in the process.