Purdue at Clemson
Purdue (3-0) is undefeated through three games but the Boilermakers have not left Mackey Arena, nor have they entertained any decent competition in their home. Included in the three wins was a narrow 66-62 win over Lipscomb, while the other two were blowouts over Bethune-Cookman and Loyola (IL). Playing the Clemson Tigers in Littlejohn Coliseum will be a whole different beast for Purdue.
The Boilermakers enjoyed a solid 2006-2007 campaign, going 22-12 overall and 9-7 in the Big 10. They made the NCAA Tournament, took out Arizona in the first round, then made their exit at the hands of eventual NCAA Championship Florida, but not before battling admirably.
Coach Matt Painter, in his fourth season as head coach, has a tough task ahead of him if he wants to take his team back to the second round of the Big Dance. Last year’s squad was led by two seniors, Carl Landry and David Teague, and while those two are now gone, enthusiasm in West Lafayette, Indiana is still elevated due to one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Combo guard E’Twaun Moore, wing-man Scott Martin, 6-10 center JaJuan Johnson, and 6-8 forward Robbie Hummel highlight Painter’s acclaimed group of freshman. Martin, Moore, and Johnson are already Purdue’s top three scorers through three games and Hummel leads the team in rebounds. The Boilermakers already had sophomores Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant in the backcourt, so they are really loaded with depth at the guard position. Marcus Green should also play a key role for coach Painter. When it’s all said and done, this one of the deepest–and youngest—teams in the Big 10.
Purdue definitely has the talent to go into Clemson and come away with a big victory for the Big 10. The question is how will the youngsters deal with such a hostile environment in what will be their first road game of the season. At the very least, the Boilermakers should be fun to watch both in this contest and throughout the remainder of the year.
Clemson (5-0) is perfect so far and the Tigers have played much better competition than that of their Big 10 counterparts. The Tigers visited Mississippi State in the second game of the season and pulled out an 84-82 victory. They’ve also defended Littlejohn Coliseum in emphatic fashion, blowing out Furman by 45, beating a strong Old Dominion team by 13, cruising past Presbyterian by 17, and finally crushing Gardner-Webb (which, of course, upset Kentucky earlier this year) by 29 points.
The Tigers are trying to rebound from a year in which they started out 17-0 and 3-0 in the ACC before slipping to 21-10 (7-9 ACC) record prior to the NIT. That’s right; they didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament despite such an incredible start. Clemson did, however, make it to Madison Square Garden before losing to fellow bubble team West Virginia in the NIT Championship.
Coach Oliver Purnell, in his fifth season as head coach of the Tigers, has no plans on participating in the same post-season tournament this time around. No, if the Tigers don’t make the NCAA Tournament this season it would be a stunning disappointment. Clemson returns four starters, including James Mays, who briefly entertained NBA thoughts this summer. Guards Cliff Hammonds and K.C. Rivers, who was one of the best sixth men in the nation last year, are back and make up a formidable backcourt. Mays, who is out for this game with a hip injury, and Kevin Booker team up down low to form what should be a top ACC frontcourt. Freshmen Jerai Grant, Terrence Oglesby, and North Carolina’s 2007 Mr. Basketball Demontez Stitt provide instant depth. Oglesby is already averaging 14.6 points and 9.6 rebounds through five games.
Clemson has the total package—inside game, outside game, offense, defense, coaching, youth, and experience. All of that (even without Mays) should be too much for a talented Purdue team, but the Boilermakers absolutely will not go down without a fight. Expect this one to be a hard-fought battle the entire way, but in the end Clemson’s experience and especially its home-court advantage will get the best of Purdue and the Tigers will pull away late.
The pick: Clemson by 7.