Preview: WVU - Purdue

Purdue comes in to West Virginia game with a 9-3 record, but like the Mountaineers are still looking for a win over a quality foe to boost its overall profile.

SCOUTING THE BOILERMAKERS

Purdue's best wins have come over Eastern Michigan (RPI 67) and Rider (125), so their wins haven't been exactly huge to date. The same, of course, can be said about WVU, which is what makes this game so big for both teams. Purdue swept its non-conference games at home, but needs this win to boost its ranking before embarking on its Big Ten schedule.

Somehow, this is the Boilers' first true road game of the season, although it has played four non-conference games away from home. It is 1-3 in those contests.

The Boilermakers have fashioned their nine wins with a very deep rotation. Head coach Matt Painter has played ten different players extensively this year, with minutes distributed from a low of 13.8 to a high of 27.9 minutes per contest. All have filled different roles at times, which has made them difficult to get a bead on in terms of scouting reports and tendencies. Eight of those players have started at least five games this year, giving Painter a number of different alignments and match-ups to choose from.

Terone and Ronnie Johnson have started the most games this year, with elder brother Terone (G, Sr., 6-4) getting the nod in all 12 while Ronnie (G., So., 6-0) occupying the court at the opening tip for 11. Both can score and pass the ball, with Terone tossing in 13.5 points per game and dishing 2.1 assists, while Ronnie contributes 10.5 and 3.8. Bryson Scott (G, Fr., 6.1) has recently moved into the starting lineup on the strength of 10.3 points per game.

There's plenty of depth off the bench, as oft-starting Kendall Stephens (G, Fr., 6-6) Sterling Carter (G, Sr., 6-0) and Rapheal Davis (G, So., 6-5) combine for nearly 49 minutes per outing. Stephens is the most consistent scorer with 7.2 points per game. The one weakness that most of the perimeter players share is a less than stellar shooting percentage. Outside of Terone Johnson (47.6% from the field) no other guard is better than 42%. Terone and Stephens are the snipers to watch for from the perimeter, while Carter (28.9%) might be the guy to drop off if he goes on the firing range from long distance.

Purdue gets as much scoring and rebounding punch from its front court off the bench as it does from the starting lineup, which poses problems for opponents' backups. Basil Smotherman (F, Fr., 6-5) and Jay Simpson (F, Fr., 6-10) each chip in six points per game, and combine for eight boards per outing, but neither play as many minutes as backups A.J. Hammons (C, So., 7-0) or Errick Peck (F, Sr., 6-6). The two seniors combine for nearly 14 points and 12 rebounds per game, while the towering Hammons is also a shot rejector, tallying 3.7 blocks per game. If egos don't get in the way, what with freshmen playing in front of seniors, Purdue has the chance to wear foes down and win games by attrition.

OUTLOOK

This game is a battle of positioning between very similar teams.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sun 12/22
1:00 PM E

WVU Coliseum
Morgantown, W. Va.
Records
WVU 7-4, 0-0
PU 9-3, 0-0
Series
Purdue 6-1
TV
ESPNU
Sirius/XM: 91/91
RPI
WVU - 87
PU - 131
As noted at the top, both need a win over a foe whose RPI is expected to be good by year's end. Neither has a win over a good team this year, and both have a loss that will likely turn out to be a bad one by the time the season winds down. Which one is really a contender for post season play, and which one might be struggling to top the .500 mark by year's end?

With so many similar characteristics, this game might come down to defense. Purdue has scored at will against WVU in the series, topping the 75-point mark in six of the seven meetings between the two schools. It's averaging almost 79 per game this year, but a better measure is its points per possession number, which is a very solid 1.11. (WVU is even better at 1.18 -- see chart at end of this preview for the season comparison.)

In order to get the win, WVU must play solid defense across the board. It probably can't cheat off too many of Purdue's players, especially if their outside shooting is on target, but by the same token the Boilers aren't likely to have a player or two dominate on the offensive end. If West Virginia can avoid blown assignments and execute its defensive strategy, it has a good chance of getting a win.

Need one more thing to watch? As has often been the case this year, it's rebounding. Purdue is #20 in the nation on the offensive board, where it grabs 14.3 per contest. WVU can't give up that many and hope to win against a team that can covert well off those second chances, so it will have to rebound well at every position.

In fact, that statement can be extended to "play well at every position". Given the number of players Purdue can shuffle in and out of the game, West Virginia's bench is going to be just as important as the starting lineup. Mountaineer backups are going to have to defend, rebound and run offense just as efficiently as the starters in order to offset the waves of Boilermaker subs.

FAST BREAKS

Ten of the top 11 players in Purdue's rotation hail from either Indiana or Illinois. The sole "outsider" is backup guard Sterling Carter. By contrast, WVU's roster hails from eight different states, one foreign country and a U.S. Territory.

* * *

WVU penetration and inside shooting will be seriously challenged by Hammons, who owns 41 blocked shots on the season. He's not the only player capable of changing attempts, though, as the team has acocunted for 76 rejections on the season - a mark that's food for 19th in the country.

The Mountaineers can't slack off from driving the ball, but penetrators have to make good shoot/pass decisions in order to avoid giving up the ball via blocked shots.

* * *

Like WVU, Purdue is dominated by newcomers and is a couple of scholarship players short of the full complement of 13. Of the 11 Boilers on scholarship, only two have been on the roster for more than one year, and only one is a major contributor this season.

* * *

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