College Hoops Thursday: Your Commentary

    
January 13th, 2011
If Minnesota (12-4, 1-3) is to entertain any thoughts of being a top five team in the Big Ten Thursday night is a game they must have. Visiting "The Barn" is #8 Purdue (15-1, 4-0), a team that's performed much better than some expected in the preseason when forward Robbie Hummel went down with a torn ACL. The two biggest reasons why Matt Painter's team is ranked in the Top 10 are seniors JaJuan Johnson (19.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg) and E'Twaun Moore (18.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg), two players who have played at an All-Big Ten level for much of the season to date. But Johnson's going to need help from his teammates against the Golden Gopher front line, which can go four or five players deep every night. The contributor in the news has been Trevor Mbakwe (13.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg), who was arrested a couple days ago for violating a restraining order. But he will play (will not start) and given the circumstances that surround the violation of the order it makes sense that the explosive power forward be allowed to play.

In addition to Mbakwe head coach Tubby Smith has three other forwards to call on regularly in Ralph Sampson III (10.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Rodney Williams (6.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and Colton Iverson (6.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg). This depth allows Minnesota to navigate foul trouble a bit easier than most teams, and they're a large part of the reason why the Gophers average 14 offensive rebounds per game. Purdue's no slouch on the boards themselves with a rebounding margin or plus-5.4, but outside of Travis Carroll they really don't have a lot of dependable size on which to call should Johnson need reinforcements. Patrick Bade and Sandi Marcius have both seen their playing time drop upon entering Big Ten play but both should be ready to go mentally in case Coach Painter feels the need to put them on the floor. Minnesota has an offensive rebounding percentage of 39.4%, meaning that all five Boilers on the floor need to box out Thursday night.

Offensively for Purdue Johnson and Moore are the known factors, but the play of Ryne Smith lately has been a welcome boost. Smith's reached double figures in each of the last four games, most recently scoring 20 in Purdue's win over Penn State and following that up with 18 against Iowa. In those four games the freshman has knocked down 18 of 27 shots from beyond the arc, and with teams tending to collapse on Johnson when he gets the ball inside this is a dimension the Boilers need in order to reach their full potential. Point guard Lewis Jackson has the responsibility to getting guys the shots they need in the positions that they're best suited for, and he's done a good job of that with 19 assists in four Big Ten games. But he's also turned the ball over four times in two of those contests, and dealing with a guard as solid defensively as Al Nolen (2.5 spg) is could be a challenge for the junior.

Nolen, who missed five games due to injury, has steadily improved his production since returning, averaging 12.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists in the last two games. But he and Blake Hoffarber will need to take care of things on the perimeter as the Gophers look to make up for the departure of Devoe Joseph. Austin Hollins plays just over 14 minutes per game but he's not a guy they're going to look to for a lot of scoring, meaning that the two seniors will have to get it done in order for Minnesota to win. Purdue's been the more efficient team on both ends of the floor, something that teams have to rely on when they hit the road. If the Boilers can hold their own on the glass while also knocking down some perimeter shots to alleviate the pressure on Johnson to score inside they've got a good shot at leaving Minneapolis with a win.

Also of importance on Thursday night is the debut of Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, and expect a charged atmosphere as Oregon hosts USC. The Trojans have steadily improved since gaining the services of Jio Fontan, who's made it easier for everyone else of the floor to get quality shots. The matchup between Nikola Vucevic (USC) and Joevan Catron (Oregon) will be an interesting one to watch, but the Ducks will need good nights from E.J. Singler and Jay-R Strowbridge if they're to pick up the win. Virginia Tech heads south to take on North Carolina in another of those "second best team in the ACC" elimination games that will eventually determine who ends up with an NCAA Tournament bid. UNC, who isn't deep inside themselves, may actually enjoy the edge given the many injuries the Hokies have dealt with but Virginia Tech does have Jeff Allen. If the senior shows up ready to go he's a tough matchup, and on the perimeter preseason ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Delaney can light it up. Some other games to keep an eye on late are Washington State visiting Cal, Loyola Marymount at Portland and Utah State visiting a Boise State team that's been pretty solid for much of the season.

Top 25
7:00 PM (8) Purdue at (25) Minnesota (ESPN)
10:00 PM (18) Washington at Stanford

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM North Dakota State at IUPUI
7:00 PM Buffalo at Miami (OH)
7:00 PM Rhode Island at Richmond (CBS College)
7:00 PM Providence at West Virginia (ESPN2)
7:00 PM USC Upstate at Jacksonville
7:00 PM Winthrop at Coastal Carolina
7:00 PM UNC Greensboro at Appalachian State
7:00 PM Old Dominion at Drexel (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Liberty at High Point (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Mount St. Mary's at Long Island
7:00 PM East Tennessee State at North Florida
7:00 PM Bryant University at Quinnipiac
7:00 PM Virginia Military at Radford
7:00 PM Fairleigh Dickinson at Robert Morris
7:00 PM Central Connecticut State at Sacred Heart
7:00 PM Wagner at St. Francis (NY)
7:00 PM Monmouth at St. Francis (PA)
7:00 PM Chattanooga at Citadel
7:00 PM Elon at Western Carolina
7:30 PM Presbyterian at Charleston Southern
8:00 PM Illinois-Chicago at Milwaukee
8:00 PM Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas-Little Rock
8:00 PM UMKC at Centenary
8:00 PM San Jose State at Louisiana Tech
8:00 PM Florida Atlantic at Middle Tennessee
8:00 PM Western Kentucky at Troy
8:00 PM South Dakota State at Western Illinois
8:00 PM Loyola (IL) at Green Bay
8:05 PM Southern Utah at Oral Roberts (ESPN3)
8:05 PM Louisiana-Lafayette at Arkansas State
8:30 PM UCLA at Oregon State
8:30 PM Florida International at North Texas
8:30 PM Georgia State at James Madison
8:30 PM Lipscomb at Belmont (ESPN3)
8:30 PM Houston Baptist at Chicago State
8:45 PM Murray State at Jacksonville State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Mississippi State at Mississippi (ESPN2)
9:00 PM Virginia Tech at North Carolina (ESPN)
9:00 PM Hawaii at New Mexico State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Eastern Kentucky at Eastern Illinois
9:00 PM Pepperdine at Gonzaga
9:00 PM Morehead State at Southeast Missouri State
9:00 PM Tennessee-Martin at Tennessee Tech
9:00 PM Seattle at Utah Valley
9:05 PM Portland State at Montana State
9:05 PM Eastern Washington at Montana
9:05 PM Sacramento State at Weber State
9:30 PM Minot State at North Dakota
9:35 PM Idaho State at Northern Colorado
10:00 PM Cal State Fullerton at Cal Poly
10:00 PM Santa Clara at San Diego
10:00 PM UC Irvine at UC Santa Barbara
10:05 PM UC Riverside at Cal State Northridge
10:30 PM Washington State at California
10:30 PM Utah State at Boise State
10:30 PM USC at Oregon
10:30 PM San Francisco at Saint Mary's
11:00 PM Loyola Marymount at Portland (ESPN2)

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