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March 8, 2013

Game 31: Minnesota

Purdue hasn't seen Minnesota since the beginning of last Big Ten season, Jan. 8 of 2012 to be exact.

When the Boilermakers finally meet the Gophers again at noon Saturday in Mackey Arena on senior day, they'll see an athletic, physical Minnesota team locked in the throes of an up-and-down season, one that saw it go from beating No. 1 Indiana at home to losing on the road at Nebraska in the span of about 10 days recently.

After starting the season 15-1, including wins in its first three Big Ten games, Minnesota visits Purdue with an 8-9 league record, still looking to cement its place in the NCAA Tournament, if the IU win alone didn't do the trick.

Purdue has played some of its best basketball of the season lately, between its win at ranked Wisconsin and its narrow loss to top-10 Michigan.

Minnesota will present plenty of challenges, though, with its dominant, Trevor Mbakwe-led rebounding frontcourt, one Purdue may have to take on without crucial big man Sandi Marcius, who hurt his ankle against the Wolverines.

"Somebody's going to have to step up if he doesn't play," guard Terone Johnson said. "They're really good inside and get most of their points on the interior. We have a couple guys who are able to step up. It's just a matter of them doing it and bringing the same energy he has the last two games.

"They're just a really physical team. The way they're rebounding the ball this year, it's kind of ridiculous. We have to worry about rebounding that ball and not letting their posts get good position and not let them get out in transition."

Coach Matt Painter echoed some same sentiments.

"But that's easier said than done," he said, "and they have a dynamic that is very dangerous in the fact that they have guys who are really struggling from the perimeter shooting the basketball, but yet a couple of those guys can make them. For us, we have to do a good job making sure they don't get easy ones and get shots in rhythm to try to keep them in that funk."

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

G: Andre Hollins (6-1, 200, So.)
G: Austin Hollins (6-4, 185, Jr.)
F: Andre Ingram (6-7, 213, Sr.)
F: Trevor Mbakwe (6-8, 245, Sr.)
F: Rodney Williams (6-7, 205, Sr.)

Minnesota is tops in the Big Ten in rebounding margin - by a mile - as it averages a cushion of eight-and-a-half boards per game, a full rebound more than second-place Indiana. The Gophers grab an average of 15.2 offensive rebounds. Purdue (13.7) is second in the Big Ten in that column. ... Mbakwe, a sixth-year senior, paces the conference in rebounding per game at 8.7. ... The Gophers are the Big Ten's top shot-blocking team - again, by a mile - averaging 5.8 per game, a full block more than second-place Iowa. ... Minnesota averages nearly eight steals per game, second in the league to only Michigan State. ... In his past four games, Austin Hollins is 0-for-14 from three-point range. For the season prior, he shot 34.4 percent from long-range. The 10.4-per-game scorer has totaled just 17 in those four games. ... Mbakwe has grabbed double-digit rebounds in half of Minnesota's 30 games. ... Leading scorer Andre Hollins (13.4 points) has started 28 games but has come off the bench lately. He could return to the first five against Purdue. ... Hollins and Hollins are both from Tennessee, but not related. Just a random coincidence two players by the same name from the same state found their way to Minnesota. ... guard Julian Welch has reportedly been ill and missed practice, but is expected to play.

About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics

About Minnesota: 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. If Marcius can't play, that's a major loss for Purdue, which has clearly fed off the big man's spirit during its recent up-tick. Considering the physicality the Boilermakers will need to play with around the basket against the Big Ten's top rebounding team, the matchup only compounds matters.

2. Can Terone Johnson keep it up? After what he's done the past two games, especially against Michigan, Minnesota will be very wary of No. 0. He's totaled 48 points the past two games.

Minnesota's shot-blocking prowess and Rodney Williams' other-worldly athleticism won't allow things to be easy.

3. Best way to not get a shot blocked is to shoot it over everyone, and the last time Purdue played Minnesota, it was buoyed by a 10-of-15 three-point shooting game in Minneapolis, 5-of-6 from Byrd alone.

A repeat performance is a lot to ask, but some potency from distance would be helpful against the Gophers.

GoldandBlack.com Prediction: Minnesota will challenge Purdue where Purdue would be most vulnerable without Marcius. And, make no mistake, Purdue will miss Marcius (if he can't play) for all the intangibles he's brought to the floor lately. But the Boilermakers are playing well, the best they have all season. The Boilermakers have to break through in one of these big home games sooner or later don't they?

Purdue 72, Minnesota 68

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