Tomorrow morning, Northwestern basketball faces their toughest test of the young season, as they travel to West Lafayette to take on Purdue. The Boilers just opened Big Ten play with a 23 point blowout win at Michigan, and are looking pretty damn scary right now, even without Robbie Hummel (all those Purdue fans who berated the national media at every opportunity for overlooking the Boilers in their preseason rankings might have been onto something). I haven't seen a point spread yet, but in Mackey Arena with John Shurna's status uncertain, Northwestern will certainly be a double digit underdog.
Still, the 'Cats could pull off the upset if things go right, particularly if Luka Mirkovic can hold his own at center against Purdue's JaJuan Johnson.
Perhaps no player is as critical to his team's success as Johnson is for Purdue, largely because of the lack of talent behind him. Much like Northwestern does not have a competent ball-handler behind Michael Thompson and would be totally screwed if he got hurt, Purdue does not have another Big Ten caliber post player on their roster and would have huge problems on the interior without Johnson in the lineup. Many writers pegged JaJuan as a first-team All-American before the season, and he's lived up to the hype, averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. He's very difficult to stop once he catches the ball in the post, as he has the size and athleticism to shoot mid-range jumpers, fadeaways, and hook shots over all but the tallest of interior defenders. He has even extended his range to the 3-point line this year, attempting 17 (but making just 4).
There aren't many weaknesses in Johnson's game, but he does have a tendency to fall in love with the 15 foot fadeaway jumper instead of attacking the basket. And while he has added a bit of muscle to his frame, he's still skinny by the standards of Big Ten centers, and sometimes lets himself get pushed around by opposing bigs, as this excellent article from Draft Express indicates: