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Minnesota Basketball: Previewing Purdue

Gophers look to get back on track after narrow loss to Michigan State

NCAA Basketball: Cleveland State at Purdue
Minnesota has a tall task ahead of them on road at Purdue.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers missed a huge opportunity to take down a weakened Michigan State team in their conference opener at home last week; a loss that still stings. Holding a double digit lead for most of the game, Minnesota slowly gave back the game before forcing overtime and coming up just short. In the scope of the entire season, the loss isn’t debilitating, but it represents the first missed opportunity for a team desperately needing to establish relevancy, while proving it can overcome beatable teams at home.

The task gets much taller, literally, as the Gophers head out out to West Lafayette to play only their second true road game against 15th-ranked Purdue. The Boilermakers feature a 1-2 punch of sophomore phenom Caleb Swanigan, who is leading the team in scoring, along with 7-2 center Isaac Haas, who is looking like a game changer in his junior season.

Minnesota went up against a sizeable Florida State team in their only other true road game and were dominated by the Seminoles front court. Purdue presents similar challenges and, unless the Gophers can find a way to score effectively inside, will have their hands full in an unfriendly gym.

Essentials:

Who are the Gophers playing?

Purdue Boilermakers (12-2, 1-0)

What time are they playing?

3:30 p.m. CT

Where are they playing?

Mackey Arena

Can I watch the game on TV?

Yes, BTN (Cory Provus and Bob Wenzel).

Can I listen to the game on the radio?

Yes. ESPN 1500.

Tell me more about the opponent.

Purdue is fresh off a massive throttling of the Iowa in their conference opener, beating the Hawkeyes 89-67. The key to that win, and what is looking like a defining weapon for the Boilers this year, is a good backcourt. Pairing three scorers with what is one of the best frontcourts in the nation now gives Purdue it’s most complete team since the JaJuan Thomas/E’Twuan Moore days. That’s a scary prospect.

Now, teams can no longer focus their entire defense on stopping Swanigan and Haas, and gambling that the guards won’t execute. Indeed, that’s what Iowa did and freshman Carsen Edwards (19 points), junior Dakota Mathias (17 points) and Vince Edwards (15 points) made short work of them. With five players averaging in double figures, there’s no shortage of weapons for Purdue.

Swanigan is a whole other nightmare. He’s notched a double-double in every game this year except three and has two 20-rebound games in his last three. A National Player of the Year candidate, Swanigan is a matchup problem for most teams, as he can dominate the paint while still being effective from deep. However, if any team is equipped to deal with such a player it’s the Gophers, who have shown considerable length on defense and have consistently forced teams out of their comfort zones.

Keys to the Game

The Gophers definitely have their work cut out for them. Purdue is dangerous on both sides of the ball, sporting the ninth-best defense according to KenPom and the 18th best offense.

  1. Don’t forget about the backcourt— Swanigan and Haas are going to get their licks in, but it’s the backcourt that is doing damage this year to teams. If the Gophers can contain the Edwards and Mathias they can keep the game within striking distance. Guys like Mason, McBrayer and Coffey need to be stout.
  2. Rack up some fouls — The Gophers have been great at getting to the line and getting their opponents in foul trouble. One way into the Boilermaker armor is getting some of their starters in early foul trouble. Swanigan has been prone to fouling, and forcing Matt Painter to dip into his bench could give the Gophers an opportunity.

Predictions

KenPom doesn’t like the Gophers in this one, giving Purdue a 78-66 win. After falling to Michigan State I think Minnesota still has a lot to prove. I’m taking the Boilers by 9.