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Northwestern vs. Purdue preview: Lineup changes and analysis

Chris Collins will have to re-assess his lineup choices and how he divides minutes.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

In light of the announcement that Scottie Lindsey will miss the Purdue contest, Northwestern’s coaching staff will have to make some important decisions regarding its lineups and how it divides minutes. Lindsey is a huge loss on both ends of the court, and with wings Aaron Falzon and Rapolas Ivanauskas already out, the Wildcats are somewhat thin at the position without him.

Here is how Collins could deploy his players against Purdue.

Option 1

Bryant McIntosh, Isiah Brown, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Dererk Pardon

This is the lineup that has played the most when Lindsey is not in the game, accounting for 4.1 percent of the team’s minutes this year. Northwestern has two lead ball-handlers in this situation, which is optimal against teams that like to press or play aggressive man-to-man defense in the halfcourt. McIntosh, Brown and Law can create their own shot when necessary, and Lumpkin and Pardon have both proved to be good post defenders.

The issue with this lineup, especially against Purdue, is size. The Boilermakers aren’t just big inside with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, but also outside with Ryan Cline (6-foot-6) and Dakota Mathias (6-foot-4). The Boilermakers have great length on the outside as well as the inside. Vic Law can matchup reasonably well with 6-foot-8 forward Vincent Edwards, but at the two guard spots, the Wildcats will lose significant length without Lindsey.

Option 2

Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Gavin Skelly, Dererk Pardon

Especially against a really big team like Purdue, Northwestern needs as much size as possible on the floor. McIntosh and Law are fine defenders. The issue here is that while Skelly provides more size, it’s hard to see who he matches up with. Is it Swanigan, who has 30 pounds on him? Is it Edwards, who can hit from the perimeter at over 43 percent for the year? It doesn’t seem like Purdue is a team that Skelly is well-suited for. We shall see.

Option 3

Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Gavin Skelly, Barret Benson

This could be a popular lineup for Collins to go to at the first substitution rotation if he starts out with Rotation 1. With Lindsey out, McIntosh is going to have to play nearly 40 minutes; that’s the simple nature of it. Jordan Ash will get more time, and Isiah Brown will see his minutes hiked up, too, but it’ll be McIntosh who gets the wide majority of the run. Benson could play a crucial role in this game because he’s big (6-foot-10) and has shown major improvement since he first became a part of the rotation when Pardon went out. It’s doubtful that Collins goes with two centers — Pardon and Benson — at the same time, but it’s not completely out of the question.

Option 4

Bryant McIntosh, Isiah Brown, Vic Law, Sanjay Lumpkin, Barret Benson

If Collins goes this route,it’s likely that McIntosh, Law and Lumpkin all go 35-plus minutes and Skelly sees relatively few minutes. This is probably Northwestern’s second-best overall lineup behind Option 1, but it’s still very undersized in the backcourt, and even in the front court, too. Purdue is gigantic. But Benson is a couple inches taller and five pounds heavier than Pardon. There was going to be a ton of pressure on the Northwestern backcourt to score and defend at a high level, because Purdue has a major advantage inside. That pressure becomes even harder to deal with considering the team’s top scorer and starting shooting guard is out.

So what can we expect?

I think Collins will go with Option 1 to start the game, and we will see a decent amount of Option 4. Options 2 and 3 are tertiary. Collins has talked at length about playing Benson more and more because of other teams’ length inside, and there aren’t many teams longer than the Boilermakers in the frontcourt. Additionally, don’t be surprised to see Jordan Ash for a few minutes here or there, similar to last year’s role when he would get a few minutes per half every once in a while simply to relieve McIntosh or Tre Demps. A lot rests on the health of Nathan Taphorn, too. The sharpshooting wing was in a walking boot Tuesday, and whether that’s precautionary or a sign that he will miss time is to be determined.

Other notes:

  • Dererk Pardon fouled out in six minutes last year against the Boilermakers. Granted, he was a year less experienced, but it shows how physical Purdue is and how intent the hosts are when it comes to getting paint touches.
  • If there’s ever been a time for Bryant McIntosh to start shooting the ball consistently well, it’s now. The Boilermakers have trouble guarding dynamic ball-handlers, and McIntosh can be just that when he’s at his best. But he’ll have to shoot among the trees down low if he can get into the paint. He found moderate success last year in West Lafayette in a 71-61 loss, shooting 5 of 11 for 14 points and giving out four assists. He’ll have to be even more assertive, and better, for Northwestern to win sans its best offensive player.
  • Here is the media availability from Tuesday afternoon: