GOLDANDBLACK.COM PREVIEW: #5 PURDUE at MINNESOTA
Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018 • Noon ET | Williams Arena (Minneapolis, Minn.) | TV: ESPN2 | Radio: Purdue Radio Network
In-game updates: Twitter.com/@GoldandBlackcom
ABOUT THIS GAME
• Minnesota wasn't quite living up to lofty preseason expectations before circumstance hit recently, and hit hard. The Golden Gophers have lost center Reggie Lynch, maybe the most impactful defensive player in the league, to indefinite suspension in the wake of multiple sexual-assault allegations. He's appealing university punishment, but it seems most likely his Gopher career is over, and he certainly won't be playing Saturday.
Compounding matters, key scorer and budding standout Amir Coffey is sidelined, possibly long-term, with a shoulder injury.
Prior to the season, too, Minnesota lost forward Eric Curry to a season-ending injury. He was going to be an important player for them.
Minnesota's current reality: A terribly thin team all across the depth chart, with limited backups logging big minutes in the frontcourt and young players occupying veteran-type roles in the backcourt.
Since the Lynch news broke, Minnesota lost a close game at home to Indiana and most recently got blown out at Northwestern, trailing by 24 before halftime and losing by 23.
The good news for Minnesota is that it does still have preseason All-Big Ten selections Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason.
Murphy has played at a Player-of-the-Year sort of level this season, but is coming off a foul-plagued outing at Northwestern, his first game this season in which he didn't record a double-double.
Mason's playing at a similar level to his first-team all-league sort of season last year, but has much less help around him now than he banked on.
• Purdue's won its last 12, and is now 5-0 in the Big Ten, 2-0 on the road in conference play - 3-0 overall on the road -with wins over two top-half-of-the-conference sorts of teams in Maryland and Michigan.
Its run has largely been fueled by defense.
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#5 PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (16-2, 5-0 B1G)
C - Isaac Haas (7-2, 290, Sr.)
Without Reggie Lynch, Minnesota's really in a tough spot at the 5, and Purdue will obviously look to exploit it by getting Haas involved early and often, to pile up fouls and play off the interior presence. That's true of every game, but especially this one, you'd think. Don't be surprised if Minnesota deviates some from its man-to-man D and works in some zone, or presses to try to disrupt Purdue's ability to comfortably set up in the half court.
F - Vincent Edwards (6-8, 225, Sr.)
Last time he played at the Barn: 24 points, 8-of-15 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists. If Purdue gets the best of the matchup at the 4 between Edwards and Player-of-the-Year candidate Jordan Murphy, it's probably going to win.
G - Carsen Edwards (6-1, 200, So.)
Coming off an outstanding game at Michigan at both ends of the floor, the sophomore's now averaging 17.3 points in true road games. How balanced is Purdue? Edwards is its leading scorer for the season, but fourth-leading scorer in Big Ten play.
G- P.J. Thompson (5-10, 185, Sr.)
Defensively, Thompson's going to be responsible for guarding Nate Mason, who enjoyed a special shooting game in Mackey Arena last season. Purdue will have to be better against him this season — and that's no one player's job — but also, you have to figure he's not going to make every shot he takes this time around. Don't be surprised if Minnesota presses Purdue, too, which would put an onus on its guards to handle it, and the Boilermakers must keep Minnesota out of transition.
G - Dakota Mathias (6-4, 200, Sr.)
Coming off a fine game at Michigan, Mathias is now shooting 51-and-a-half percent and almost 44-percent from three away from Mackey Arena this season. Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy will be handsfull for Purdue, but if Mathias can take away Dupree McBrayer or whoever he draws, he can help make the Gophers one-dimensional.
G —Ryan Cline (6-5, 190, Jr.)
After a stretch of great shooting, Cline's 0-for his past two games. Probably just the ebbs and flows of a college basketball season.
G — Nojel Eastern (6-6, 220, Fr.)
Eastern's helped Purdue win its past two games, has been a force on the glass relative to his position and could factor into Purdue's efforts to stop Mason.
F — Grady Eifert (6-6, 220, Jr.)
This might be an Eifert-friendly matchup for Purdue, having a high-motor 4 man to throw at Jordan Murphy on the glass.
C — Matt Haarms (7-3, 250, R-Fr.)
One of college basketball's most productive shot-blockers and a mobile defender at the 5 for his length, Haarms mattered against Michigan guarding up top and will certainly matter again against Minnesota's ball-screen action for Mason.
MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS (13-5, 2-3 B1G)
F- 3 Jordan Murphy (6-6, 250, Jr.)
This year's Caleb Swanigan in the Big Ten, Murphy has been tremendous, Player-of-the-Year good, but in two games without Lynch beside him, he was 5-of-14 with four turnovers against IU and then played just 17 minutes at Northwestern due to fouls. But Purdue should expect Murphy's best, and his game jibes with some vulnerabilities Purdue's shown this season, whether it be on the glass — Murphy is undersized but relentless — or with his specific type on player. Atlantis was a long time ago and seems even longer now, but in the Bahamas, the Boilermakers really struggled with Tennessee's Grant Williams and Western Kentucky's Justin Johnson and Murphy is better than both.
F -42 Michael Hurt (6-7, 220, So.)
The young forward is putting up very modest numbers but does present a bit of a challenge if he can make threes. He's 4-of-11 on the season. He's averaged a little more than 15 minutes this season, but has moved up Minnesota's ranks as attrition has hit.
C - 21 Bakary Konate (6-11, 240, Sr.)
Purdue will obviously want to be wary of the big man on the glass and rolling to the rim in pick-and-roll, but otherwise, he's not much of an offensive threat, historically foul-prone and a player Purdue will target considering he'll be guarding Isaac Haas. The drop-off from Lynch at this position is considerable.
G - 2 Nate Mason (6-2, 190, Sr.)
Mason is tall, fast and combustible, a player who showed Purdue how dangerous he can be when he gets hot shooting threes and spot- and pull-up jumpers last season. He's only a 41-percent shooter overall, but shoots 2 percent higher from three-point range.
His speed in the open floor will be a concern for Purdue and put the usual importance on shot selection and turnovers and all the things that allow opponents into transition, but it'll also require Purdue's bigs to be in the right positions against ball screens. Mason's really good in pick-and-roll, and Mason will get great looks and Minnesota's bigs a bunch of dunks if Purdue's not sound in its defense against it.
G - 1 Dupree McBrayer (6-5, 195, Jr.)
Minnesota needs a third scorer and right now McBrayer is its best bet, but he's shot just 39 percent for the season and will presumably draw Dakota Mathias on defense. He's not a very efficient offensive player this season, barely over nine-tenths of a point per possession when he's been used, but he can make threes and Purdue will have to respect him, obviously.
G- 11 Isaiah Washington (6-1, 190, Fr.)
The freshman has been thrown to the fire and has struggled at the offensive end, badly. He's shooting 32-and-a-half percent, 16 percent from three, but his team needs him out there.
C - 41 Gaston Diedhou (6-10, 245, Sr.)
Minnesota is very thin in the post, meaning more minutes for the reserve center.
F - 20 Davonte Fitzgerald (6-8, 220, Sr.)
The backup forward is a willing long-range shooter who's made a third of his threes this season, but someone who'll stretch Purdue out if he can make a couple.
Gopher star Jordan Murphy can't do it all by himself, but he can do the work of two men on the glass, and Purdue remains susceptible to second chances. The Boilermakers are defending at a very high level right now, but can offset it by allowing too many offensive boards.
Nate Mason's showing in Mackey Arena last season was a special one. He's having a good year again, and can again give Purdue problems if he gets hot. Haarms could matter in containment, Thompson will fare better than last time and Eastern could give him a new look too.
It's another of those sleepy late-morning starts, against a team that could have reason to lose its edge, in front of a crowd that may not be fully invested given all that's gone on. If Purdue can get out to the sort of start it just did at Michigan, it could ultimately guide the game's outcome.
PREDICTION: PURDUE 80, MINNESOTA 68
Twelve — as in our spread here — is a big number for a Big Ten road game, but Minnesota's in a bad place right now, razor-thin and, you wonder, on the verge of crumbling. Its trip to Northwestern was a dumpster fire exacerbated by technical fouls and clear signs of frustration. Even if Minnesota can hang with a team that's won its last dozen, Purdue's shown a knack for winning close games.
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