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February 2, 2013

Game 22: Northwestern

In a season full of firsts for Purdue's young players, Saturday's noon game at Northwestern will be another, and a daunting one at that.

The Wildcats will be like no opponent this Boilermaker team has seen to date, with their closely choreographed offense and multiple defenses.

"This is a game where we have to be smart on offense and defense," Purdue point guard Ronnie Johnson said.

As if that's not always the case.

But in this one, it's especially true.

When Northwestern has the ball, its Princeton-style offense will test Purdue's discipline and adherence to its scouting report, a patient, hypnotic style of offense that requires the Boilermakers to sometimes go against their typical aggressive man-to-man principles to make sure their back-line bases are covered.

"The biggest thing is to be able to change up our defense a little bit. There are some concepts we normally use in certain games that go out the window in this one," senior D.J. Byrd said. "They're really good at working the ball through the high post and running back cuts and flare screens, a little different than any other team in the Big Ten. For our young guys, it's important they just pay attention and hopefully we can defend them the way we want."

And on offense, it'll be all about recognition.

Purdue will head to Northwestern not knowing what to expect from the Wildcats on defense, an unsettling feeling given the Boilermakers' issues this season on offense.

"They make you change how you defend, and that adjustment in a short period of time is going to be difficult," Coach Matt Painter said. "Hopefully playing against William & Mary will help us, because we had to defend them and they run that same style of Princeton offense. But what's probably giving us the most trouble is their changing defenses.

"Being able to go against their 1-3-1, or their switching man-to-man, or their matchup (zone), or their man-to-man - (Coach Bill Carmody) did more man-to-man last year and has done it about half the time this year - you have to be prepared. There are times he might not play a particular defense for two weeks, then he'll play it the whole game the next game. He keeps you on your toes. You have to be prepared for everything and not give any one thing too much time."

One thing is clear: Purdue will want to get the ball to big man A.J. Hammons after he scored 30 in the Boilermakers' one-sided loss to Indiana Wednesday night.

Northwestern (12-10, 3-6 in the Big Ten), playing this season short-handed, has been up and down. Its lost three of its last four, most recently a blowout loss at No. 1 Michigan, following a one-sided loss at Nebraska. But prior, it handled ranked Minnesota 55-48 in Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Wildcats are just 1-3 at home in conference play. In home games against high-major opponents or Butler, Northwestern is just 1-6 at home.

Projected Lineups
G: Terone Johnson
G: Ronnie Johnson
F: D.J. Byrd
F: Rapheal Davis
C: A.J. Hammons

G: Dave Sobolewski (6-1, 190, So.)
G: Reggie Hearn (6-4, 210, Sr.)
F: Tre Demps (6-2, 200, R-Fr.)
F: Jared Swopshire (6-8, 210, Sr.)
C: Alex Olah (7-0, 275, Fr.)

Northwestern's playing this season without its top player, Drew Crawford, who was shut down after 10 games due to a shoulder injury. He'll seek a medical redshirt. Crawford had 23 points and eight rebounds against Purdue in Evanston last year.… Hearn, a former walk-on from Fort Wayne Snider, leads Northwestern in scoring at 13.7 points. … Collectively, Northwestern is shooting only 41.4 percent, better only than Penn State in the Big Ten, but also only about a half percentage point worse than Purdue. … Sobolewski averages 11.2 points and four-and-a-half assists and shoots 41 percent from three-point range at point guard. … Olah has started every game as a freshman and has a chance to be very good. The Serbian from Trader's Point Christian near Indianapolis averages six points and four rebounds, but at 7-foot, 275, he's a lot to deal with. … Northwestern is the worst rebounding team in the Big Ten by a significant margin, being outrebounded on average by 4.2.

About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

About Northwestern: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

Broadcast Info
Game time: 12 p.m.
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."

Things to think about

1. The single biggest factor in this game will be Purdue's ability to understand what's going on and act accordingly. As is pretty much always the case, it's the more talented team, but Northwestern has a funny way or evening the playing field against more talented Purdue teams.

This game is more of a mental challenge for Purdue than a physical one. Decision-making will be critical.

Given Purdue's history this season, it will be an adventure.

2. Can Purdue get Hammons established on offense? Northwestern will try to throw the Boilermakers curveballs on defense, but no matter what it runs, its aim will be to keep the ball away from Hammons and make Purdue beat it by shooting jumpers or driving the ball into a crowd.

3. What impact does Hammons have on defense?

Northwestern's a team that plays below the rim on offense and gets to the basket with intricate passing. When Purdue has had a legitimate shot-blocker, it has given it a distinct advantage.

The trick, of course, is keeping Hammons in the game and allowing him to function around the basket.

Northwestern always seems to have a big man step out and hit threes against Purdue. Center Alex Olah is 3-for-10 this season. How does Purdue defend him up top? The last thing the Boilermakers want is to have Hammons dangling around the top of the arc on D.

4. Rebounding. On paper, Purdue should be able to rebound effectively. Northwestern can't match Hammons physically; doesn't have as much height, length or athleticism; and will probably be having to rebound out of a zone much of the game.

Indiana embarrassed Purdue in large part with its offensive rebounding.

Suffice to say, a message has been sent the past day or two.

4. Just the obvious: Where is Purdue's collective head right now after what transpired Wednesday night?

Here's guessing quite a bit of soul-searching has taken place both among Purdue's coaches and players following a loss of historic proportion.

GoldandBlack.com Prediction: Northwestern's probably the Big Ten's most cerebral team, always making it a tough out, even to Purdue teams far more talented and far more experienced than this one. The single most important factor for the Boilermakers will be their ability to play smart and follow their scouting report. Those things have not been Purdue's strengths this season.

So why are we picking Purdue? Solely because of Northwestern's inability to beat high-major-caliber teams at home this season.

Purdue 63, Northwestern 59

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