No. 1 Purdue stormed through the early part of its nonconference schedule without a setback.
Now, the Boilermakers will bring an unblemished record into their Big Ten conference opener.
Purdue (7-0) will tip off conference play when it visits Northwestern (5-1) on Friday night in Evanston, Ill. The Boilermakers are coming off a 99-67 win over Texas Southern and already have knocked off three ranked teams in Gonzaga (then-No. 11), Tennessee (No. 7) and Marquette (No. 4).
The Big Ten schedule is known for physical, grueling play. That fits Purdue just fine.
Last season, Purdue went 15-5 in Big Ten play to win the conference regular-season crown. The Boilermakers followed that up by winning the Big Ten tournament, knocking off Penn State 67-65 in the title game at the United Center in Chicago.
A new season has brought similar results so far for coach Matt Painter’s team. Purdue captured the Maui Invitational, which featured five teams ranked in the top 11 at the time.
Big man Zach Edey has been a huge part of Purdue’s early success this season. The 7-foot-4 standout from Toronto is averaging 21.9 points and 10.7 rebounds, and he is shooting 61.3 percent from the field.
“He’s a horse. He’s a moose down there,” Painter said. “He doesn’t have (issues) that a lot of young people have that get recruited heavily. He doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have a sense of entitlement. He’s going to play, and he wants to earn what he gets.”
Braden Smith is next on the Boilermakers’ scoring list with 13.0 points per game. Lance Jones is third with 10.3 points and Fletcher Loyer rounds out the top four with 9.9 points per game.
As a team, Purdue is shooting 49.5 percent overall and 42.8 percent from 3-point range.
If any team is undeterred by Purdue’s top star and deep roster, it might be Northwestern. The Wildcats stunned the college basketball world a season ago when they held on for a 64-58 upset win against the Boilermakers on Feb. 12.
Purdue was ranked No. 1 then, as it is now.
“I think we saw last year — everybody saw — how fun this could be,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said.
The Wildcats’ only loss this season has come against Mississippi State, a 66-57 decision on Nov. 19. They have beaten Binghamton, Dayton, Western Michigan, Rhode Island and Northern Illinois.
Boo Buie leads Northwestern with 18.5 points per game. Brooks Barnhizer is averaging 15.3 points to go along with a team-high 8.2 rebounds, and Ryan Langborg is scoring 10.8 points per contest.
Barnhizer said he and his teammates, most of whom already know what it is like to take down a top-ranked opponent, have big goals for the program.
“A lot of people look at our school and our program and think that we’ve only had one or two good seasons, but we’re trying to solidify things,” Barnhizer said. “Everybody on this team is really trying to make people realize that Northwestern is a good basketball program year in and year out now.”
–Field Level Media
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