Penn State-Purdue: An Uneasy Feeling for the Boilermakers

Jeff StineCorrespondent IFebruary 11, 2009

The Nittany Lions of Penn State travel to Purdue tonight (6:30 ET on the Big Ten Network) to face a Purdue team struggling to finds its way without star forward Robbie Hummel. 

There are a number of factors that would make a Purdue fan confident the Boilermakers can come away with a win, including:

  • Purdue is playing in the friendly confines of Mackey Arena, where they are 11-2 on the season, losing only to Duke and Illinoios in December.
  • Purdue has been instilled as a 10.5 point favorite by Vegas, which would obviously lead one to assume the majority of the betting public likes Purdue.
  • Jujuan Johnson is not the player he was in the first meeting, a 67-64 loss in Happy Valley, when he scored just 7 points and collected 2 rebounds.  Johnson averaged 23.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two games last week and is making a case for All Big Ten First Team honors.
  • Chris Kramer will be available to assist with defending Talor Battle and Stanley Pringle.  Kramer was unavailable for the first meeting due to a severely sprained ankle.
  • If there is one team in the Big Ten whose offense is struggling more than the Boilermakers, it's Penn State.  The Nittany Lions have scored 51 and 44 points in their last two games (both losses) and the backcourt of Talor Battle and Stanley Pringle have combined to make only 14 of 54 shots (25.9%) in the two losses and 2 of 22 from three point range (9.0%)

Looking at the above, you might think me crazy to presume anything other than a Boilermaker win tonight.  Alas, that's only half the story.

First and foremost, Robbie Hummel is unlikely to play and his loss is no more evident for Purdue than in the won loss column.  In Purdue's last nine games, they are 6-0 when Hummel plays and 0-3 when he doesn't. 

Adding to the angst is the fact that Purdue is really struggling to find senior leadership as seniors Marcus Green and Nemanja Calasan were a combined 5-18 and scored just 10 points in the two losses last week.  More painfully, they combined for just seven rebounds in 62 minutes of play against the Buckeyes and Illini. 

Throw in shooting slumps by E'Twaun Moore and Keaton Grant (10-29 from the field and 6-23 from three in the two losses) and it's easy to see why the Boilermakers are struggling to score without Hummel.  Even with Johnson and freshman sparkplug Lewis Jackson playing their best basketball of the season, the Boilermakers just don't look fluid on the offensive end. 

Even more disconcerting is the fact that the trademark defense that Purdue is known for was porous against the Buckeyes and Illini.  Purdue entered the Ohio State game allowing a nation-best 36.0 percent from the field, but were carved up by OSU and Illinois to the tune of 52.3 percent—very uncharacteristic for this Boilermaker squad.

The above adds up to one very uneasy feeling about this one for the Boilermakers, but I'll add one more dagger that should make Purdue fans shudder.  Penn State is primarily known as a three legged stool with Battle, Pringle and Cornley combining to average 47 of their 68.5 points per game. 

The nice thing about three-legged stools is if you take away one leg (i.e. Kramer shuts down Pringle), the stool struggles to stay upright.  But for some reason, a fourth leg by the name of Danny Morrissey enjoys playing in Mackey Arena, as evidenced by his shooting 14-20 (an incredible 70 percent) from three-point range and has averaged 15.6 points for his career on Keady Court.

As a Purdue fan, I hope I'm wrong.  But I just can't get this feeling out of my stomach.