Purdue Boilermakers @ #16 Alabama Crimson Tide -1.5
Purdue’s “dream season” ended early last year when senior All-American candidate Robbie Hummel went down with his second season-ending injury in as many years. While this season will not be shared with his classmates E’Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson, both of whom graduated and will likely be playing basketball somewhere for a check whenever pro ball resumes, Purdue does present an intriguing mix of young and veteran talent with Hummel granted a fifth season of eligibility and senior point guard Lewis Jackson returning to anchor a relatively unknown squad of Boilermakers who have been patiently waiting their turn.
Alabama narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last season despite finishing first in the SEC West, the first time that has happened since the SEC went to twelve teams nearly 15 years ago. The sting of that omission has been evident in their early season play. The Crimson Tide enters at 4-0 and ranked #16 in the nation. They lack a marquee scorer, but have excellent team athleticism and should provide an interesting defensive challenge to a Purdue team that relies more on ball movement and finding open lanes by moving the defense with multiple passes and off-ball screens. Alabama has a marked quickness advantage; the test will be are they disciplined enough to stifle the patient motion offense of Matt Painter’s Boilermakers.
Purdue was less than impressive in their 67-65 win over an overmatched High Point squad, and a little shaky in their follow-up 91-90 squeaker over a better-than-you-think Iona team. My early take was that the Boilers, despite a healthy Hummel, might struggle to make a return to the Big Dance for the sixth straight season. Then, two days ago they handled a solid Temple squad expected to compete with Xavier for the A10 title, beating the Owls 85-77, and getting 26 from Jackson to go with 20 and 6 from Hummel.
Alabama also enters tomorrow’s Puerto Rico Tipoff Classic championship game a perfect 4-0, fresh off their 70-60 win over Wichita State. However, outside of that (and somewhat including that…) Alabama’s early-season resume is full of wins over teams that were much better the past two seasons than they are now. Oakland featured Keith Benson last season and made a run to the NCAA tourney. Benson is gone, and so was any chance to hang with a good SEC program. Maryland sounds like a respectable win, until you take a look at the depleted roster in College Park that many have picked dead last in the ACC. Tonight’s tussle with Purdue will be the first test for Anthony Grant’s Tide this young season.
Alabama’s calling card is their stingy defense. Against Wichita State, they held the Shockers to under 34% shooting and blocked eight shots. However, Purdue has a more balanced attack with a big man who can shoot and penetrate; essentially play the “point-forward” position, as well as a senior point guard who can score and penetrate, and several spot up shooters and two versatile wings in Barlow and Hart who can force teams to play straight-up on Hummel. They also have a tremendous amount of veteran leadership and poise. That should be enough to handle the frenetic pressure of Alabama.
Alabama has the better athletes, but I think Purdue has a better team of basketball players. I like them to knock off the Tide straight up, but don’t mind getting a couple of points.
FREE PICK: Purdue Boilermakers +1.5