WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue finishes off its non-conference schedule this afternoon with a matchup against Nicholls State of the Southland Conference. The third-ranked Boilermakers will play far more important games in the coming weeks, but they are likely happy to simply be on the court this afternoon after six days off and a spate of coronavirus-induced cancellations across college basketball in recent days.
While Northwestern, Penn State, Illinois and Indiana have had their final non-conference games canceled because of virus issues in opponents' programs, the Boilermakers will take the court tonight seemingly at full strength and facing an opponent who, at least as of 24 hours ago, was expecting to be in similarly solid condition. That gives Purdue one final tune-up game before the Big Ten schedule resumes Monday, when No. 24 Wisconsin will visit Mackey Arena. That extra game could be a chance for the Boilermakers to get their post-holiday legs back underneath them as they prepare to compete for their record 25th Big Ten title.
Nicholls State is a significant underdog heading into this contest, but it probably won't be a pushover. The Colonels boast a coterie of quick, playmaking guards, who excel most in the lane rather than shooting from the outside. The best of that bunch is 6-foot-1 Ty Gordon, who is scoring 20.4 points per contest and shooting better than 60% from 2-point range. Purdue will have to do a good job in perimeter defense on Gordon and his backcourt running mates and the Boilermakers will likely send plenty of help defense to prevent those Colonel guards from getting clean looks from within 12 feet. Of course, having 7-foot-4 Zach Edey patrolling the middle doesn't hurt in that area, either. Nicholls puts opposing teams into some difficult situations, however, because it can also shoot some from the outside: the Colonels are hitting 35% from 3-point range on nearly 26 attempts per game. If Purdue overhelps, the visitors will have opportunities to stay in the game with a hot shooting performance.
Nicholls has already thrown a scare into one Big Ten team this season: the aforementioned Badgers. In that game, the Colonels went only 5 for 19 from 3-point range, but shot 58% from inside the arc and outrebounded Wisconsin 36-32, ultimately falling 71-68 at the Kohl Center in Madison. If Purdue comes out flat after a long layoff, it could find itself in a similar battle.
More likely, however, the Boilermakers will win this game relatively comfortably. They have size Nicholls can't match – 6-11 Ryghe Lyons, who plays only 19 minutes per contest, is the Colonels' only player taller than 6-7 – and likely won't lose the rebounding contest as Wisconsin did. If Purdue gets out to a sizable early lead, this will be a terrific opportunity for the Boilermakers to fine-tune their defense as they head into the meat-grinder that is the Big Ten. They'll enter the league schedule as the favorites to win the conference title, but a deflating loss to a low-major opponent before that conference slate returns would sap the momentum Purdue built in wins over Butler and Incarnate Word before the break.