Minnesota is the wrong team for the Purdue Boilermakers to play in the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota has a significant size advantage, they have a huge chip on their shoulder and they are playing with more passion than any time in their season.
Against Northwestern, Purdue went with a small lineup in the absence of their 6’8" forward Robbie Hummel. Coach Matt Painter paired four guards with First Team All-Big Ten center, 6’10" JaJuan Johnson. Purdue held its own against Northwestern and out rebounded the Wildcats 30-29.
If Coach Painter wants to go “big” his only option is to insert 6’8" freshman Patrick Bade. Bade is the only player on the Purdue bench over 6’6". The lack of size may be the difference against the Gophers.
Minnesota has two solid post players in 6’11" Ralph Sampson III and 6’10" Colton Iverson. While Sampson and Iverson don’t yet have the quickness of Johnson, the Gopher players aren’t going to be afraid to put a body on Johnson as they both outweigh Johnson by more than 20 pounds.
While the Gophers don’t have a smaller bruising power forward to pair with Sampson and Iverson, Minnesota can play several athletic three forwards taller than 6’6" who are active and aggressive in attacking the glass. Gopher forwards Damian Johnson, Paul Carter, and Rodney Williams may have an opportunity for a big rebounding game as Johnson will be preoccupied with Sampson, Iverson or both.
Coach Smith had to like what he saw last night when he went with a big line-up against the Spartans. Minnesota was able to develop a solid lead against the Spartans playing Sampson, Iverson, Johnson, and guards Devoe Joseph and Blake Hoffarber. If Smith uses the same lineup against Purdue, the Boilermakers could be in trouble.
If Sampson, Iverson and Johnson are on the floor together against Purdue, the Gophers should be able to get good shots in the low post with their considerable size advantage. Purdue can only counter with Johnson and Bade leaving one member of the Gophers front line with an opportunity to do some damage.
If Purdue attempts to bring a guard down to double team they do so at their own peril. Hoffarber is the best three point shooter in the Big Ten shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc. Joseph is no slouch from downtown as he connects on 39 percent of his shots from three point land.
Minnesota neutralized the Spartans with their big lineup mixing up a zone defense with aggressive man to man defense. Coach Smith will likely employ the same strategy against Purdue to force them to shoot from downtown.
Purdue is not a very good shooting team from the perimeter with the exception of guard E’Twaun Moore. Moore is a legitimate talent and showcased his skills with a great game against Northwestern scoring 28 points.
If Moore gets off to a quick start, Minnesota may use a box and one on Moore. Lawrence Westbrook will likely get the assignment to shut Moore down.
Westbrook and Minnesota have done a nice job in the Big Ten Tournament in shutting down Talor Battle and Kalin Lucas. Battle shot 30 percent and Lucas shot 35 percent. Moore is likely going to need to shoot higher than 40 percent if Purdue is going to put up enough points to beat Minnesota.
Minnesota in the first two games of the Big Ten Tournament has played with more passion and emotion than almost any time this season. Most Gopher fans had to be concerned last night when the Spartans pushed the game into overtime and especially when they scored the first basket in overtime.
Earlier in the season, the Spartans would have put away the Gophers. However, the Gophers didn’t roll over. Joseph barked at his teammates to create space for him and then calmly knocked down to three point daggers to give Minnesota a lead they would never relinquish. Minnesota has a swagger that they haven’t had since they knocked off Butler in November.
Of course, Purdue is not concerned with the Gophers. Purdue is a veteran team with experience. Big Ten Coach of the Year Matt Painter knows he has two all Big Ten performers in Moore and Johnson. Coach Painter also knows that he also has two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Kramer.
Who will win? Experience would say Purdue, but the Gophers are playing like a team on a mission; a mission to get to the NCAA tournament. Don’t count Minnesota out.