Riding a three game winning steak and on the heels of their best game of the season, Northwestern will take on Purdue Sunday evening in a clash of two teams who stand evenly matched in both talent and the Big Ten standings. It is a game which undoubtedly holds significance for the postseason fate of each squad.
When the teams met in Evanston a couple weeks back Purdue came away with a 58-56 win that looked at the time to essentially be the death kneel to Northwestern’s season. Somehow, though, Bill Carmody managed to hold his team together and they’re now on the verge of essentially making a full recovery from that near death experience.
In order to make that recovery at Purdue, Northwestern needs to handle Purdue’s pressure defense far better than they did in Evanston. Purdue, for the most part, has played some of the best defense in the Big Ten this year. They’re consistently aggressive in pressuring the ball and they tend to make life tough for teams that like to toss the ball around the perimeter. On the face of it one can see how this is a tough matchup for Northwestern, however, the truth is that the Princeton Offense is geared towards beating pressure defense. It just seems that sometimes NU forgets this. Hopefully, having seen Purdue recently will give NU some confidence this time around. Key players are Dave Sobolewksi and Reggie Hearn. Both have played great of late, but both seemed a little shocked at the intensity Purdue brought to the game when the teams met the first time. Hopefully, their success over the past few games gives Dave and Reggie some more confidence to stay aggressive and not back down from Purdue when the Boilermaker defense gets tight. In fact, I’d love to see NU consistently spread the floor to create driving lanes for Sobo, Hearn, John Shurna, and Drew Crawford. Once that happens, outside shots should open up. It would also be nice if Luka Mirkovic could play and take advantage of the small Purdue team, but both Luka and JerShon Cobb ought to have their pictures on Milk Cartons because they’ve been missing for a long time.
Purdue is going to try to win with their defense and by, as they did last time, getting just enough offense. D.J. Byrd is coming off a career game vs Ohio State and Ryne Smith and Robbie Hummel have already shown NU their ability to hit big shots. The biggest offensive key for Purdue, though, will probably be how well guard Lewis Jackson does at breaking down Northwestern’s zone defense. NU was far more intense than they usually are defensively on Thursday vs Iowa and if they bring that same intensity to Purdue then Jackson is going to really have to step up for Purdue to win.
This should be another very close game in the Big Ten. Of course, it seems about 90% of the games in the Big Ten go down to the wire so maybe that shouldn’t be a shock. Purdue’s advantage is they’re at home and they’ve had some extra rest. NU’s advantage is they’re the hot team right now with a three game winning steak compared to Purdue’s two game losing streak. Purdue did play two good teams in Ohio State and Indiana to get those losses, but in both cases the usually solid Purdue defense struggled. If those struggles continue Northwestern has a chance to do some damage with their small spread court offense. I predict: Northwestern, 73 Purdue, 69