Minnesota (6-14; 0-8 in the Big Ten) vs. No. 21 Purdue (17-14; 5-3) at Williams Arena.
Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 8 p.m. CT
TV: Big Ten Network
The spread: Minnesota +14.5
Jordan Murphy’s foul trouble has been a big problem in Big Ten play. Click.
Previewing Purdue and Minnesota. Click.
A taste of practice and a preview into transfer Reggie Lynch’s impact. Click.
Murphy will get his most physical, challenging matchup yet in Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan. Click.
Minnesota will participate in a hockey-basketball double-header in New York in 2018. Click.
Big or small? Last time out, against Illinois, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino for the first time started his small lineup with Joey King and Jordan Murphy in the frontcourt. Afterward, he said he liked that lineup a lot. But on Tuesday, he sounded hesitant to throw out the same combination against Purdue. That’s because the Boilermakers, the biggest team in the Big Ten, boast three huge centers – 7-foot AJ Hammons, 7-2 Isaac Haas and 6-9, 260-pound Caleb Swanigan, who is playing at power forward. “It’s a little bit more difficult to play that small lineup just because of how big [the Boilermakers] are,” Pitino said noting that he plans to play both traditional centers Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou at least some. “I think our small lineup is hard to guard, but it may not be the best when it comes to rebounding and defense. So you’ve kind of got to pick and choose what you want to do. That’s something we’re thinking about. We’ve looked at all different types of lineups, we’ll do it again tonight. You give up one thing to gain another, but that’s something you have to kind of decide.” The concern about size makes sense, certainly. But the concern about effectiveness should trump that. Although Konate and Diedhiou look the part, neither have proven capable of battling on the boards or really impacting defensively, much less score on a consistent basis. If Minnesota had a true center, that would be the clear choice. But since the Gophers don’t, they’ve got to play their best personnel, help on post defense in a big way and hope the mismatches play out in their favor at least a couple of times.
Keep the pace. After getting killed by a combined 50 points in two games against Northwestern and Nebraska, the Gophers have suffered close losses to Indiana, Michigan and Illinois in the last three, with Saturday’s 76-71 defeat going to overtime. On the whole, Gophers basketball looks to be trending upward, however slowly and from however deep a pit. But now, Minnesota gets its biggest challenge of the year and its only ranked opponent since facing a Michigan State that was ranked No. 1 at the time but had the big asterisk of being without game-changer Denzel Valentine. The Gophers have also had the luck of facing Michigan without Caris LeVert and Illinois without recently returned center Mike Thorne. Can Minnesota keep up its slow build when faced with a rugged, dominant team like Purdue? If the timid-driving Gophers with no catch-and-post-up center have struggles squeezing inside the paint – likely – they’ll have to shoot with similar fervor as they did against Illinois while somehow being more efficient. Minnesota, a hot-and-cold shooting team if there ever was one, knocked down 11 three-pointers in that game, but took 36 threes (a new school record to do it). Senior Joey King led that charge making five but taking 14, another individual school record.
Recalling old habits. One other key to a big upset on Wednesday? Turning over Purdue with the same intensity as a year ago, when disrupting defense and steals became the Gophers’ trademark. Purdue is a bit predisposed to miscues as its major focus is to work through the post. But an extra level of sloppiness has contributed in a meaningful way to Purdue’s handful of defeats. The Boilermakers, who rank 10th in the Big Ten in turnover percentage, have lost the ball 16 or more times in three of their four losses, and picked up 14 turnovers in the other. Of course, the Gophers are not the turnover generator they were a year ago – when they ranked 7th nationally in opponents’ turnover percentage – but they have forced 13 or more in four of their last five games.
3 – Freshmen lead the Big Ten in rebounding, with Swanigan (8.9 a game) coming in first and Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy tied with Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ (8.2 a game).
MY PREDICTION: Minnesota’s shooting goes cold once again and the Gophers are overpowered in the paint.
Purdue 79, Minnesota 61