SCOUTING THE BOILERMAKERS
Like West Virginia, Purdue is hovering around the .500 mark, and has some damaging non-conference losses (Oregon State, Eastern Michigan) that could hurt it come tournament selection time. The Boilers are 3-2 in the rugged Big 10, but don't have a signature victory yet on which to hang their hats.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins has stated his intention to go with a smaller lineup for the remainder of the season, but the remaining big man on the floor will have to contend with seven-foot freshman center A.J. Hammons, who averages 10.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and two blocks per game. He's one of only two freshmen in the Power Six conferences to have a 10/6/2 line this year. Hammons is a consistent player who could have a big outing if West Virginia can't contain him in the lane.
The rest of the starting lineup consists of guards and a swingman, led by 6-2 junior Terone Johnson. He averages 13.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, but hits fewer than 39% of his tries from the field. He's also making just 58.7% from the free throw line, but in spite of those numbers has taken 54 more shots than any other Boilermaker. D.J. Byrd (Sr., 6-5) is hitting more than 44% of his three-point shots in league play, but likewise makes only 38% of his shots overall. He's not just a bomber, however, as he records 1.5 assists per outing and plays a solid floor game on offense.
A pair of freshmen, Ronnie Johnson and Raphael Davis, round out the starting lineup. Johnson, the brother of starter Terone, brings 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest to the mix, and has improved steadly after moving into the starting lineup midway through the current season. Davis contributes 5.0 points and 3.1 rebounds, but averages less than 14 minutes per game. He might be a candidate for more playing time, as he's by far the best shooter n the backcourt, carrying a 49% mark from the field.
Off the bench, Anthony Johnson (So., 6-3, no relation to Terone and Ronnie)) gets the most run, and scores 5.8 points in a bit less than 22 minutes of play. He adds 3.6 rebounds and is still a solid contributor despite ceding his starting job earlier this year. The Boliers also supplement their smallish starting five with more front court players off the bench, and can put a bigger lineup on the court at times. Donnie Hale (Fr., 6-8), , Jacob Lawson (So., 6-8), Jay Simpson (Fr., 6-9) and Travis Carroll (Jr., 6-9) combine for more than 47 minutes per game, and while their numbers don't leap off the stat page, they combine to form a solid support crew for head coach Matt Painter.
Purde doesn't shoot the ball well. Neither does West Virginia. The Boilermakers, though, play a bit better defense than the Mountaineers, holding foes to significantly lower shooting percentages from both the field overall and the three-point line. Will that prove to be the difference in the game?
Making shots is always a factor, but in games where plenty of misses are anticipated, rebounding also has to be considered. Purdue, despite often playing four guards, is plus seven in rebounding margin this year, while WVU is +3.6. One the flip side, though, West Virginia has guards and swingmen that have shown the ability to board at times. They'll get their chance to match Purdue on the glass in a battle of four-guard lineups. Eron Harris and Terry Henderson (if available) will have to grab four or five boards each to keep WVU in that battle.
WVU 8-8, 1-2
PU 9-8, 3-2
WVU - 81
KSU - 117
The key to watch here is West Virginia's boxing out, especially on the perimeter. Guards will have to look to rebound first, and getting that position can affect the ability to get into the clear for outlet passes, which could affect the Mountaineers' transition game. That's a secondary concern, though -- you can't score without the ball, and securing rebounds is a must in this game.
When West Virginia does run, it needs to be a bit more in control. Against Iowa State, the Mountaineers did get the ball upcourt in a hurry, but far too many of those possessions resulted in lost dribbles, bumbled passes and hurried decisions. If WVU can still push the ball, but be under control when it moves into the frontcourt, its conversion percentage on fast break chances should increase significantly.
Finally, it's going to be interesting to see how Huggins shuffles his big men. With less playing time available, will they rotate according to matchups, or will the guy that plays the best defense have the advantage? There are different roles for the different types of bigs WVU has, so keep an eye on the substitution pattern at center. Also, how do those players whose time gets cut accept their new role? Will they still be solid teammates? Many storylines could develop if Huggins follows his plan to play more guards and swings from this point on.
Whether by necessity or design, Purdue scores many of its points in the paint. The Boliermakers average more than 32 points in the lane this year, and have been outscored there in only two games this season.
Part of that close-in scoring prowess comes from offensive rebounding and second chance points, but the Boilers also emphasize driving the ball to the hoop and getting it to Hammons on the block.
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West Virginia has twice carried long oh-fer streaks from three-point range into the second half of games this year, but it was Purdue that recently broke its string of games with at least one three.
On Dec. 1, the Boilers clanked 17 triple tries against Xavier, ending its streak at 659 consecutive games with at least one trey. WVU's current string stands at 439, with its last three-less game coming on Nov. 27, 1999.
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West Virginia faced three of Purdue's top nine career scorers during the recent series with the Boilermakers. E'Twanun Moore (#3), JaJuan Johnson (#7) and Robbie Hummel (#9) were all recent opponents who have now departed West Lafayette. This year, D.J. Byrd (#67) is the top career scorer on the opposing roster.
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Despite a brief six-game history, WVU's ties with Purdue include some of the greatest names in Mountaineer hoops history. Former WVU coach and athletic director Fred Schaus coached Purdue against West Virginia in 1974 and 1975.
Bob Huggins played in both of those contests, scoring 12 points and snaring seven rebounds (but also suferring six turnovers) in the first, while scoring eight points and dishing out three assists in the latter.
Former WVU hoops coach George King also went to Purdue after his West Virginia stint, coaching the Boilers from 1966-72.