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November 9, 2012
Purdue's getting tested right out of the gate this season, with Bucknell visiting Mackey Arena for both teams' 2012-13 opener tonight at 7 p.m.
The game, part of the 2K Sports Classic that'll take the Boilermakers to New York City next week, pits Purdue against one of the highest-regarded mid-majors in all of college basketball this season, a senior-laden team with an All-America-caliber big man, Mike Muscala. Last season, the Bison won 25 games and claimed the regular season Patriot League title. In the NIT, they beat Arizona.
Bucknell was upset in the Patriot League tournament by Lehigh, which used its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to upset Duke.
And virtually everyone returns from that Bison team, making Bucknell a projected NCAA Tournament participant this season.
That's a tall order for a Purdue team breaking in the most youth it's had in several years. The Boilermakers will have as many as five contributors playing their first official game this weekend.
"It'll be good to play a good team right away," freshman center A.J. Hammons said, "to see where our team stands and how much heart you have to play through (adversity)."
Coach Matt Painter is curious to see how his new-look team will fare.
"You'd rather your guys have some experience defending how they play more than anything else," Painter said. "This is one of those deals where you sign up for a tournament three or four years in advance and you don't know who your opponents are going to be. This one was a little bit out of our control. With a young team, you'd rather get your feet wet a little bit and play a couple teams without that kind of experience.
"This is going to be more than a test. This is a team that was polished at the end of last year and was a possession away from being in the NCAA Tournament and probably doing the same kinds of things Lehigh did."
That's the hope this season for the Bison, hopes that lie largely on the shoulders of Muscala, who averaged 17 points and nine rebounds last season.
"He's more than an NBA prospect," Painter said of the 6-foot-11 center, "but I think he's going to be an NBA player."
Muscala's ability to play inside and outside will be a test for a Purdue team that's equipped with far more size than in the past, but much of it untested. Purdue's three centers - Hammons, Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll - are all around-the-basket types who might be hard-pressed to defend on the perimeter against opposing 5 men with skill.
"That's definitely going to be the No. 1 challenge, chasing him around out there," Marcius said. "It's not something we're used to as much, but we've had three days of practice doing the same things. Hopefully by now we'd know their plays in our sleep."
Muscala's not Bucknell's only weapon, though.
Guards Cameron Ayres and Bryson Johnson shot 46.8 and 40.6 percent from three-point range, respectively, last season for a team that shot 39 percent overall. For a young Boilermaker team that struggled with its rotations on shooters at points in exhibitions, that could spell trouble.
"We don't have time to play around with anything," Purdue junior Terone Johnson said. "This is a team that could challenge anybody in the Big Ten or any team anywhere. It's definitely a different start."
G: Ronnie Johnson
G: Terone Johnson
F: D.J. Byrd
F: Donnie Hale
C: Sandi Marcius
C: Mike Muscala (6-11, 239, Sr.)
F: Joe Willman (6-7, 209, Sr.)
G: Cameron Ayres (6-5, 205, Jr.)
G: Bryson Johnson (6-2, 198, Sr.)
G: Ryan Hill (6-3, 191, Jr.)
About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics (2011-12)
About Bucknell: Roster | Schedule | Statistics (2011-12)
Game time: 7:05 p.m.
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
TV: Big Ten Network Digital
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."
Five things to think about
1. Terone Johnson was excellent in Purdue's two exhibition games, leading the Boilermakers in scoring in both and looking good doing it, showing a much-improved jump shot, exponentially improved foul shooting and distinct confidence. Does it carry over to games that count? There's no reason to think not.
2. Can Purdue control the boards? With its size now, it should.
3. Are the freshmen ready? They've gotten more prep work than any group of rookies ever before at Purdue, because of the Italy trip and new NCAA allowances toward coaching contact in the summer. But with that in mind, adrenaline can be a funny thing.
4. Were Purdue's 19 turnovers against Newberry an anomaly or a sign of some terrible struggles to come for a program not accustomed to giving the ball away very much?
5. Can Purdue get established on the interior offensively? The Boilermakers made it a priority to get the ball inside during the exhibition season, particularly to Hammons.
"They're making an effort to involve me, but I have to build their trust for them to throw it in there," Hammons said. "I have to do a better job getting position, catching the ball with two hands, staying low and going up strong."
GoldandBlack.com Prediction: Buckle up, folks. This could be an adventure. It's experience vs. inexperience and a very difficult matchup for a Boilermaker team undoubtedly still learning how to defend.
We'll give Purdue the benefit of the doubt, but with extreme reservation.
The Boilermakers have a chance to be a very good team this season. Whether it's right away, we'll see.
Purdue 72, Bucknell 69
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