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February 21, 2012Purdue's essentially playing a non-conference conference game tonight when it meets Nebraska for the first time since the Cornhuskers' move into the Big Ten.
At a time of year when league rivals are used to seeing the same faces, Nebraska's visit to Mackey Arena tonight for a 6:30 p.m. tip-off will bring with it anything but familiarity.
"It's weird," point guard Lewis Jackson said. "Going through the years, you get to know guys, you get familiar with programs, but then you get Nebraska and you've seen them play on TV a couple times, but you don't know anybody and you're not familiar with the coaching staff and what they like to do. So we don't truly have a feel for them.
"It's really like an NCAA Tournament game."
Purdue coach Matt Painter said he's known 'Husker coach Doc Sadler since the latter's days coaching at Arkansas-Fort Smith, a junior college whose players Painter was active in recruiting while coaching at Southern Illinois.
Painter has said that he's gone on to use drills in practice that he learned from watching Sadler's practices.
So there's at least some familiarity there.
His players have no such luxury.
"We don't know these guys as well as we might Michigan State or any other team we've played a bunch of times," Robbie Hummel said. "We really have to pay attention to the (scouting report), pay attention to film and prepare our best to play."
With Purdue at 17-10 heading into its final four regular season games, the Boilermakers certainly can't afford to lose a home game to a Cornhusker team fighting Penn State to stay out of last place in the Big Ten.
"It's definitely a must-win," Hummel said.
G: Lewis Jackson (5-9 - Senior)
G: Ryne Smith (6-3 - Senior)
F: D.J. Byrd (6-5 - Junior)
F: Travis Carroll (6-9 - Sophomore)
F: Robbie Hummel (6-9 - Senior)
G: Bo Spencer (6-1 - Senior)
G: Brandon Richardson (6-0 - Senior)
G: Caleb Walker (6-4 - Senior)
G/F: Toney McCray (6-6 - Senior)
G: Brandon Ubel (6-10 Junior)
More on Nebraska: Roster | Schedule | Statistics
Now, Purdue can settle in.
The controversies of the past week have just about run their course.
"Now that this storm is pretty much passed, this media storm and social media storm, I think we're pretty much over it," Ryne Smith said. "It hasn't been discussed that much. We're going to come together as a team, because we know we have to play for each other that much more.
"The silver lining is that when something happens to a team, I think they can come together a little more and hopefully that's what we can do. We know we have one less guy and we have to play for each other that much more."
Without Barlow, it remains to be seen what Purdue will do with its starting lineup, with two seemingly likely options.
Against bigger teams, it could start Travis Carroll at center and Byrd at the 3 position.
Against smaller teams, it could start Hummel and Byrd up front, along with three guards, with Terone Johnson probably being that third guard.
If Purdue starts Hummel, Byrd, Carroll, Jackson and Smith, it will be its 10th different starting five of the season.
In his past five games, Hummel is averaging 10.6 rebounds, coming off a game in which he grabbed a career-best 15 vs. Michigan State.
"I've been lucky in that some balls have bounced my way and I've gotten some rebounds that way," Hummel said. "I know at Illinois, people were hitting balls and they kept coming to me. When that happens, it's easy to rack up some rebounds.
"But it's a combination of things. It's been some luck and probably that my knee's feeling a little better and I can go up and get the ball better."
Three more rebounds will get Hummel to 800 for his career.
Byrd has made at least two threes in each of the past six games he played in.
In Big Ten play, he's shooting exactly 50 percent from long range.
About the Opponent
In its maiden voyage in the Big Ten, Nebraska is just trying to stay out of last place.
It took a step in that direction by drilling a tanking Illinois team in Lincoln during the weekend, but had lost its prior four, including a blowout loss at Penn State, who's right there with the Cornhuskers at the bottom of the standings.
Nebraska will play small, starting 6-10 center Brandon Ubel, but surrounding him with all guard-types.
"They'll put four (guards) out there," Painter said, "and spread you out."
The most important of those guards is guard Bo Spencer, who's averaging a team-best 15.5 points per game. The Baton Rouge, La., native transferred to Nebraska from hometown LSU.
Despite Spencer being one of the top scorers in the Big Ten, Nebraska collectively is the lowest-scoring team in the league, averaging 61.8 points for the season.
This game will be a matchup against the Big Ten's best (Purdue) and worst (Nebraska) turnover margins. Purdue's at plus-4.7; Nebraska is at minus-1.16.
Spencer is one of four senior starters for the Cornhuskers.
Purdue leads the all-time series between these teams 6-2, with the last meeting being a Boilermaker win in Mackey Arena in 1979.
Purdue is 4-0 this season in Wednesday night games.
Tip-off: 6:30 p.m.
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
Satellite: Sirius 92; XM 190
TV: Big Ten Network
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."
GoldandBlack.com Prediction: Purdue 75, Nebraska 62
Now that things have quieted down and Purdue settles into its new form, you should see a determined Boilermaker team come out tonight in a game that's every bit as much a can't-lose game as it is a must-win.
Hummel has been a beast lately and Byrd was on a tear prior to his one-game hiatus. Nebraska doesn't seem to have the size or weaponry to come into Mackey Arena and win.
The Boilermakers have been the Big Ten's Even Steven this season. They've lost to everybody currently sitting ahead of them in the Big Ten standings and beaten just about everybody below them.
Look for the latter to continue. And convincingly.
For the best Purdue team and recruiting coverage out there, click here.
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