Penn State returns to the Bryce Jordan Center to face Purdue at 8:00 PM on Thursday night after dropping its first two Big Ten contests on the road against Michigan and Northwestern.
At 12-3 and 2-0 in conference play, the Boilermakers are still solid despite the departures of JaJuan Johnson E'twaun Moore to the NBA. Robbie Hummel, returning from an ACL injury that forced him to miss all of 2010-2011, leads Purdue in scoring with 16.5 points per game, and Ryne Smith is close behind, averaging 10.7 points per game.
Penn State, meanwhile, has dropped to within a game of .500 for the first time since being 1-0 to start the season. If a postseason berth is in the cards for this team, it's going to have to start winning some Big Ten games soon.
Below are some things to look for in the game.
When Penn State has the ball ...
-The Lions have shot an ugly 60 percent (21-for-35) from the free throw line in the past two games. It's certainly not the only reason they lost by double-digits both times, but poor foul shooting is still one of the most frustrating deficiencies a team can have, and this one has it, big time. Knocking off Purdue will require better focus.
-Penn State is shooting just over 29 percent (10-for-34) from 3-point territory in the last two games. It might be time to stop launching so many deep ones and start looking for more higher percentage shots.
-All three of Purdue's losses have come in games played in the 60s. If Penn State can keep the game at that pace and not let the Boilers get off a bunch of shots, that figure suggests the Lions will have a chance to stay in the game as underdogs.
When Purdue has the ball ...
-In last season's game at the BJC, Smith went off for 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting from perimeter. Needless to say, if Penn State has any hopes of winning, that can't happen again. Smith is a 46.3 percent shooter from beyond the arc, so stopping him won't be easy, but 46.3 percent is a lot better than 100 percent, right?
-Purdue also crushed Penn State 43-28 on the boards last season in Happy Valley, a big reason it was able to cruise to an 83-68 win. The Lions are close to two rebounds better than the Boilers entering this game, though, so a better effort on the boards will be important in keeping Penn State in the game.
Purdue has played down to the competition a lot this season, squeaking out with wins in games it should have won comfortably. Penn State is good enough to force the Boilers into a close game, but then, you could have said that about Northwestern, a team that beat the Lions by 12 on Sunday, too. Whether it happens in this one will depend upon whether Penn State puts a focused and disciplined effort forth, hitting free throws, grabbing rebounds and taking care of the basketball. From what we've seen from Penn State so far this season, though, its hard to see that happening. Pick: Purdue, 76-61