Matt Painter’s Boilermakers aren’t new to high major scrimmages to start the season.
Whether they’ve been public or secret, Painter has long leaned on an early test against programs along the likes of Providence, West Virginia, or Cincinatti last year. This year’s game against Arkansas will be a little different though. Instead of a game held in private without audience or media, it will be a game played in front of a sold out crowd in hostile territory.
Purdue will travel to Arkansas to take on Arkansas while raising money for the United Way.While Purdue is taking the game seriously, Matt Painter did have some levity afforded to the exhibition nature of the contest.
When asked if this would be a real game, he responded with humor, “This is a real game. Like this is on television.”
Some secret scrimmages involve both coaches having the ability to stop the game to teach their players. This won’t be that.
Instead, Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks will try to take down Zach Edey and the #3 Boilermakers.And while this game offers more in learning about his team than counting towards its record, Purdue’s players are ready for the opportunity and their goal is a simple one.
“We’re playing to win, for sure,” starting point guard and sophomore, Braden Smith, said before Purdue’s day before practice outside of Purdue’s newly renovated locker room. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in any game or instance where I haven’t tried to win. Whether that’s in there on the ping pong table or on the practice field, I like to win.”
For senior Ethan Morton, this early road test will be a great early indication of where his team is at. He wants to see Purdue come out with energy from the jump.
“I think just effort. I think we just have to go in there and play super hard,” Morton said of what Purdue needed to do.
For Painter, he will use the Arkansas game to gauge a roster that’s one of the deepest in the country. While there’s plenty to gain from a loss or a win, Painter wants to see his Boilers come out on top. Something he expounded on in Painter fashion.
“Yeah. Sure,” he said about wanting to win. “What else is there?”
Transfer versus returning
Regardless of the result, Purdue’s rotation might make a little more sense after the exhibition. Matt Painter has settled on a starting lineup for Arkansas at least.
Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer will continue to man the back court for Painter after starting almost every game last season as true freshmen. Lance Jones will slide in as a third guard. Jones is a transfer from Southern Illinois and offers Purdue a boost in perimeter defense and speed on the floor. Trey Kaufman-Renn will take over the starting four role, something that’s been hinted at most off season with Painter wanting to add more scoring to his starting lineup next to Zach Edey who will round out the starting five. Starting the returning National Player of the Year, Painter joked, was a last minute decision. Edey’s return to Purdue is one of the nation’s biggest story lines coming into the season and is the main reason Purdue enters as the #3 team in the nation with real National Title aspirations.
While Purdue would be the betting favorite, Arkansas has March aspirations of its own coming into the season with a #14 ranking on the season. While Eric Musselman’s squad is one of the more experienced of his tenure, they fail to match up with Purdue’s continuity from last season. Musselman said he expects his team to be behind Purdue at this point in the season with preparation.
A large part of that reason for that is Zach Edey, who returns as the dominating force in the country, but also a supporting class that’s remained mostly the same. Arkansas on the other hand is relying a lot of fill-in from its transfers up and down the roster.
Arkansas won’t be shy at trying to combat Edey with aggressiveness at both ends of the floor. Arkansas says they will run, run, run at Purdue and try to engage Edey in as many pick and rolls as possible.
While Purdue’s roster returns almost fully intact this season, the newness of Arkansas’s roster could work in its favor in terms of prep work. Matt Painter said this wouldn’t be like a normal game when it comes to getting his team prepared to play. There’s simply not any tape on this Arkansas tape in full.
“It’s probably a lot easier for them since we have so many people returning,” Painter said ahead of the game with Arkansas.
Arkansas’s offense which was outside the top-100 last year, will lean heavily on Louisville transfer El Ellis who averaged over 17 points a game last year. He won’t be alone in new additions that fill out Musselman’s back court. Tramon Mark transferred from Houston and Khalif Battle made his way from Temple as two double-digit scorers at their last stops.
Arkansas has the edge on potential first round talent on the team, but Edey presents the clear best player on the floor at all times for Purdue this year.
In a setting where fouling out isn’t in play, it will be interesting to see if Arkansas’s length and collection of bodies can make life difficult for Purdue’s #1 option.
For Arkansas, three transfers will be vying for playing time on the wing in Jeremiah Davenport (Cincinnati), Chandler Lawson (Memphis), and Denijay Harris (Southern Miss). None of them averaged more than 9.1 points last season.
The wing will be a particular interest for Purdue who appears to have a log jam at the position with returning senior Ethan Morton, true freshman Myles Colvin, redshirt freshman Camden Heide, and redshirt sophomore Brian Waddell all vying for the starting role and minutes. According to assistant coach PJ Thompson, the summer has seen each player take strides and the favorite to earn the most minutes changes by the week.
Exhibition games at Mackey?
Even though both teams will be keeping score, the exhibition and charity nature of the game to raise money for Tornado victims and families in the Arkansas area will allow both teams to consider themselves winners after the game.
Both teams will have gone through a real test.Games like this probably won’t be a one off for Purdue either.
Matt Painter would love to see Purdue continue to play top-tier programs in exhibitions and hopes to be able to host one at Mackey Arena in the future.
“Hopefully we can host one. I think that would be great because I think we could sell out. It sounds like they’re gonna sell out,” Matt Painter said on Friday where it was announced later that day that Arkansas did sell out the game.