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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 02, 2018 10:00 pm

Pregame: No. 8 Purdue (26-5) vs. Rutgers (15-18)

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

It's difficult to predict a game like this. Rutgers has played with so much purpose in the Big Ten Tournament and you could see the team's confidence growing each possession in the second half last night against Indiana. The Scarlet Knights will likely need to play a nearly perfect game in order to hang with the Boilermakers, but they did that for about 28 minutes last night (the first 12 were about as far from perfect as possible, as Indiana raced out to a 24-8 lead) and I'm sure there's plenty of belief they can do it for a full 40 minutes tonight.

In addition, Rutgers knows that Purdue is vulnerable. The Boilermakers barely squeaked by the Scarlet Knights on Feb. 3, winning 78-76 in a game that Purdue was outrebounded 37-25. Rutgers has been tremendous on the glass in two games in the Big Ten Tournament and it could really give the Boilermakers problems if it brings that same intensity tonight. 

All of that said, however, the Boilermakers should win this game. They're by far the better team and even if Rutgers turns in an A+ performance, Purdue will probably still win if it remains poised and holds its own on the boards. Corey Sanders will be priority No. 1 for the Boilers on defense. He's scored 51 points in the first two games of the tournament, including 28 last night against Indiana. Dakota Mathias will be in charge of shutting him down and if he can hold the junior guard in check, Rutgers has few other places to turn on offense. I'm inclined to think the Scarlet Knights won't shoot 58 percent again as they did against Indiana (that seems like a safe bet for a team that ranked dead last in the Big Ten in shooting at 40.4 percent this season) and Purdue will make everything difficult for the Rutgers offense. This could turn into a slow, ugly game, but the Boilers are just as comfortable playing that style as Rutgers is.

What I'm watching for: Isaac Haas in the post. There is no one on Rutgers' roster that can dream of guarding the senior Purdue big man down low. That's why it's so odd that Haas was such a non-factor in the February matchup with the Scarlet Knights. He had just seven points on five shots and only grabbed four rebounds. Purdue will likely look to get him touches in the post early and if he can establish himself there, it will open up room for Carsen Edwards and Mathias to operate. Rutgers' defense has been excellent in the tournament, but it hasn't faced anyone as big or as skilled as Haas down low.

Prediction: Purdue 65, Rutgers 56