The tension between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Purdue Boilermakers will present some unique challenges for each team as they attempt to win their inaugural game of the Phil Knight – 85 Classic. They’ll probably be looking forward to playing Gonzaga in the second round on Friday night, but first they need to make sure they focus on a few of those interesting encounters.
1 | Braden Smith vs. West Virginia Pressure Defense
It was expected that Braden Smith would be able to fill that point guard role for Purdue this season as he really is the only true point guard Purdue has on their roster. However, few expected Smith to be able to control games in a way he has already shown. In the second half against Marquette, Smith was arguably the best player on the floor and was able to lead Purdue to a late game surge and victory with a single handball. The experience he will have against WVU is probably a whole different level of pressure.
West Virginia is one of the few teams in the country that plays the ultimate pressure defense all game long, and Purdue have proven that over the past few seasons. The key will be whether Purdue behind Smith can counter that pressure by getting some easy buckets into the transition and forcing WVU to ease the pressure. They did that against Marquette and that was the difference in the second half. Smith needs to keep his turnovers to a minimum and not have a pick 6 like he did against Marquette early on.
2 | Purdue against the 3-point line
Purdue’s struggles behind the arc need to resolve if Purdue will start beating some of the better teams on their schedule. Edey is all but well-known in college basketball this season and he’ll be getting his points and rebounds no matter who Purdue plays against, but if Purdue is going to build his resume and look for as good a seed as possible, they’re coming in March. The three-point shooting must be more consistent.
Purdue has the ability to be a team that shoots more than 40% as a team, with guys like Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer, Brandon Newman and David Jenkins Jr. making most of those shots from deep. When Purdue as a team are good at shooting from deep or simply have multiple guys who are able to hit consistently, it forces WVU to leave Edey alone at the post and essentially beaten into defeat by the big man to become.
3 | Erik Stevenson vs Ethan Morton
It’s no secret that Purdue’s top full-back is Ethan Morton and that Erik Stevenson is WVU’s top player. The 5th year senior is in his 4th other program having previously been to Wichita State, Washington and South Carolina where he has had good results at every stop. What Stevenson hasn’t consistently done well on his previous stops is shoot the ball well from behind the arc, but in his four games with the Mountaineers he shoots 53.3% (8 of 15).
Ethan Morton is the likely Boilermaker to pull Stevenson’s order out of the opening tip and he will look to use his size to cause problems for Stevenson as he attempts to roam freely off screen, forcing him to to shoot at him. That leaves Fletcher Loyer with the larger wing to defend in Emmitt Matthews, but Brandon Newman or Brian Waddell could be asked to fill that role if necessary.