This is the big one.

Minnesota v. No. 3 Purdue at Williams Arena Wednesday night.

Purdue hopes to lock up a Big Ten title and a No. 1 seed, as it pursues its dream of playing in the Final Four in nearby Indianapolis.
 
The Gophers got a shot of confidence during an impressive pair of wins at Williams Arena last week. They topped nationally ranked Wisconsin and Indiana in two of their best all-around performances this season.
 
But can they win?
 
Why the Gophers will win
 
Everything went wrong in the first matchup
 
The Gophers led Purdue 24-20 before a collapse in the second half. They missed 13 of their final 16 shots. Al Nolen went 1-for-10. The team's top scorers, Blake Hoffarber and Lawrence Westbrook, scored a total of 12 points. 
 
Plus, Ralph Sampson III didn't play that game due to an ankle injury. 
 
The Gophers, who played one of their worst games at Purdue, haven't looked that bad at Williams Arena all season.
 
They're a different team at home. I think they'll feed off the home crowd and avoid the kind of funk that hurt them at Purdue.
 
Hoffarber

Hoffarber is the Big Ten's top three-point shooter (48.7 percent in conference play). But he's even better at Williams Arena. The junior shooting guard is shooting 54 percent from beyond the arc in home conference games this season.
 
The zone
 
I don't know if the Gophers will rely on a big lineup and its accompanying zone against Purdue. The Boilermakers' motion offense might eventually find ways to expose it. But I think it's a great option for the Gophers. It gives them variety on defense.
 
And a zone with Colton Iverson and Sampson should make things tougher for JaJuan Johnson inside. And Johnson is the guy the Gophers have to limit.
 
Sampson
 
He played well against Indiana and Wisconsin. His 21 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in those games helped the Gophers on both ends of the floor. Having him for the first time this season against Purdue increases Minnesota's chances of pulling off an upset.
 
The Stakes
 
The Gophers know this might be it. A signature win against the Boilermakers should put them on the bubble. They played with a sense of urgency last week. If they can combine that attitude with execution, something they lacked in the first game, they'll have a shot.
 
Why the Gophers will lose
 
They're facing a very good team at the wrong time
 
The Gophers beat Ohio State and Wisconsin at home. Quality victories. But Purdue is a different kind of opponent.
 
They're playing extremely well and they have a chemistry that the Buckeyes and Badgers didn't have when they played the Gophers at Williams Arena.
 
They're the best team in the league for a reason. They've played some tight games. But they've found ways to win in nine straight games.
 
They haven't been able to win close games
 
The Gophers have suffered eight losses by single digits. The good news is that they've only lost twice at Williams Arena this season. And both games were close.
 
I expect the Purdue game to be close, too. But the Gophers haven't proven that they can win in those situations.
 
They pulled ahead early against Wisconsin and Indiana. Then, they played good defense down the stretch to hold them off.
 
I don't think the Boilermakers will allow the Gophers to pull away. So how will the Gophers respond when they're in the middle of another close game against a very good Boilermakers team?
 
It's a bad matchup
 
The Gophers haven't beaten Purdue under Tubby Smith. The Boilermakers have a very talented trio that gives them threats from every area on the floor. They're good defenders. Just a tough matchup for Minnesota. And they continue to get better.
 
Prediction: Purdue 77, Minnesota 75
 

 

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