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Northwestern vs. Purdue preview with Hammer & Rails

Travis Miller takes our questions.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern goes for its seventh straight Big Ten win when it hits the court at Mackey Arena. But it won’t be easy, especially without Scottie Lindsey. Travis Miller of Purdue’s SB Nation site, Hammer and Rails, took some time to answer our questions. Make sure to check out our Q&A over there, too.

Inside NU: Caleb Swanigan has been fantastic this year. What has he improved on since last season, and what, if anything, has been able to slow him down even a little bit?

Travis Miller: Swanigan has an insane work ethic. He needed to get more lean and he did. He has added a more consistent three-point game to his arsenal and he is a rebounding maniac. He is just fun to watch because he plays with a completely insane drive. He views any rebound as a 9-on-1 battle against him and works to get them even over teammates. He has been an automatic double-double in every game.

The two concerns I have were laid bare at the end of the Nebraska game. First, turnovers are an issue. He regularly gets the ball knocked away when he puts it on the floor in the post. He turned it over on two straight possessions against the double-team and it cost Purdue the game. Second, we have gone to him as the default “He’s the best guy on the team” at the end of every close game in Big Ten play. Against Ohio State he was fouled with the game tied and he hit the game-winning free throw. Against Minnesota he converted and sent the game to overtime. Against Both Iowa and Nebraska he wasn’t able to get a shot off though and turned the ball over. It felt like he was trying to force a little too much and, at the same time, the other four guys didn’t do much to help out.

INU: The Boilermakers have five guys averaging double figures, which is really impressive. Has that been a product of better ball movement, simply more skilled offensive players or what?

TM: A little bit of both. Purdue is one of the best teams in America when it comes to assists and when it is playing well almost every field goal is set up by the right pass. Swanigan is really good at passing out of the post (he had a 14-14-6 against Nebraska) and even Haas has gotten better with that. They are finding the open shooter and knocking down big threes.

It also comes from having better shooters. P.J. Thompson seems to hit at least one huge three a game. Carsen Edwards has been excellent as a freshman. When it comes to Ryan Cline and Dakota Mathias I have the hashtag of #NeverLeaveTheWhiteGuyOpen.

INU: Who is the X factor for this team? The Boilermakers need him to play well to win and will struggle if he struggles.

TM: Vince Edwards. He was not good at Nebraska and his back has been acting up. He has been up and down all season, but as one of the few guys that can create his own shot when he is on, Purdue is ridiculously hard to beat. Vince can shoot from inside, rebound, and drive to the basket. He is one of Purdue’s most versatile players and when he is off like at Nebraska, Purdue struggles.

INU: Isaac Haas has averaged just 14 minutes per game the past three games. What's up with that?

TM: Our SID said that early against Nebraska he was speared in the back and he cause it to flare up. Against Michigan State Swanigan was so good he didn’t get a lot of playing time. I know some fans have been asking for him to play more and I tend to agree. He too has had issues with turnovers. Also, Big Ten officials tend to not call a lot committed against him because he is so big (see the above mentioned spear). Even with his turnover issues and propensity to miss some easy shots (often while getting hacked) He is still a 7’2 monster that hits 5 out of every 8 shots he throws up. When he does get to the line he is shooting 72% from there. He should be out there 20-25 minutes a night.

INU: Recently the team kicked guard Basil Smotherman off the team. Will that affect the team on or off the court much? Who will fill his minutes, albeit limited ones, with him gone?

TM: I really don’t know. He had two “DNP – Coaches Decision” games in the last four and had played limited minutes in the other two. He was basically the emergency forward if two of the Haas-Swanigan-Vince Edwards troika got in foul trouble. For the most part, that has not happened… yet.

After he was removed from the team I wrote about who would get his minutes. It comes down to three guys. First, we ideally get back Jacquil Taylor. He is a promising forward that had a double-double against Rutgers and looked decent as a redshirt freshman in limited minutes last year. He has been out all season with a foot injury and there are strong indications he may not play at all. He has been injury prone (redshirted as a freshman due to a lingering injury that cost him in high school), but he has showed enough to be an interesting addition if healthy. Second, there is walk-on Grady Eifert. He could be a guy used in case of an emergency and he hasn’t looked awful in totally limited action. Third is Matt Haarms. Haarms was supposed to still be at a prep school in Kansas, but s snafu with a club team he played on in Spain accidentally started his eligibility clock this past fall. As a result, he enrolled at Purdue in January, is officially on the roster, and is technically redshirting this semester. It is highly unlikely he plays, but he is an option.

INU: What worries you most about this matchup against Northwestern?

TM: McIntosh. Purdue gets sliced up by dynamic guards and if he can run the high screen and roll he will have a huge game. Scottie Lindsey could also go off, while the Nebraska game was especially maddening because we held Tai Webster in check, but let a couple virtual unknowns go crazy.

INU: Prediction time: Who leaves with a win Wednesday night and why?

TM: I like Purdue because we’re at home. We defend home court well. Minnesota played their best game of the season by far in their win in West Lafayette and still needed overtime. Villanova is one of the best teams in America and had to sweat out two final possession threes. Also, Purdue has bounced back well after losses so far. Purdue got a tough win at Ohio State after losing to Minnesota and blasted Illinois after losing at Iowa. I feel good being at home, but I certainly respect the hell out of Northwestern. I do not expect it to be easy in any way.