In one of the biggest nonconference games on the college basketball schedule this season, the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats will take on the third-ranked Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday in Indianapolis. The matchup pits two of the best and tallest teams in the country against one another and could have significant NCAA Tournament seeding implications down the line.
Contrast of Styles and Tempo
Arizona, led by 2022 National Coach of the Year Tommy Lloyd, wants to push the tempo, score in transition, and spread the floor on offense. The Wildcats are excellent at generating steals and blocks and turning them into quick scoring chances going the other way. Purdue, coached by the veteran Matt Painter in his 18th season, employs a more deliberate pace focused on executing their sets in the halfcourt and dominating the interior through feeding center Zach Edey down low.
The clash of contrasting styles will be fascinating to watch unfold. Arizona would prefer to get out and run, while Purdue wants to play a slower, more physical game and pound it inside to their giant 7’4″ center in Edey, a matchup nightmare at 285 pounds who is almost averaging a 20-point, 13-rebound double-double on his own this year. Whoever can exert their preferred tempo for longer stretches will gain a major edge on Saturday.
Battle of Giant Big Men in Edey vs Tubelis
While Purdue has the monster in the middle with Edey, Arizona counters with its own formidable frontcourt duo of Azuolas Tubelis and Oumar Ballo. Tubelis stands 6’11”, 260 pounds while Ballo is a 7’0”, 260-pound force of his own who leads the nation in field goal percentage at nearly 80%. They will work in tandem trying to combat Edey and keep him away from the rim. If Edey gets comfortable deep post position throughout the game, that could spell trouble for the Wildcats. But if Arizona’s big men and perimeter players aggressively double team Edey and force Purdue’s supporting cast to beat them from the outside, the Wildcats should fare well enough defensively to give their top-ranked offense a chance to thrive on the other end.
Point Guard Duel Critical
The game will also feature an electric point guard matchup between Arizona’s Kerr Kriisa and Purdue’s Braden Smith. Kriisa, a 6’3” Estonian floor general, triggers the nation’s most efficient offense with his flashy passing, three-point shooting, and aggressive drives to the rim. But Smith is no slouch either as a dangerous scorer and distributor who can get hot from the outside. Both Kriisa and Smith also happen to be exceptional perimeter defenders who will likely match up against each other. Winning this critical head-to-head battle at the point guard position while avoiding foul trouble could determine which talented backcourt guides their team to victory on Saturday.
Rankings History Favors Arizona
While Purdue under Matt Painter has been a remarkably consistent winner, earning a No. 1 or 2 seed in four of the past six NCAA Tournaments, Arizona has simply owned the higher ground against elite competition throughout its decorated history. Per research into the history of AP No. 1 vs. Top 5 major-conference clashes, the Wildcats are 16-8 overall when ranked No. 1 against Top 5 teams since 1988. By contrast, Purdue is just 1-5 against AP No. 1 teams when ranked in the Top 5.
So although Purdue has more continuity and experience together as a core group, Arizona’s “big game” pedigree and wealth of key contributors back from last year’s 33-win Elite Eight run suggest they could have the edge when the lights shine brightest on Saturday.
Game Outcome Could Swing National Title Odds
This matchup is being billed by some analysts as potentially the game of the year in college basketball given all the strengths and star power that will collide. Arizona is currently favored by 2.5 points largely due to their homecourt proximity advantage playing just outside their alumni base in Indiana. However, the game is expected to be very competitive throughout.
The winner will gain an early signature victory that could pay dividends in March with their NCAA Tournament path. The loser won’t be doomed by any stretch in the season’s second month, but will face more pressure to earn a couple other key nonconference wins.
Beyond bragging rights though, by handing the other team its first loss Arizona or Purdue would see a notable bump in their chances of cutting down the nets on April 3rd according to oddsmakers. As per BetMGM, Arizona has +800 odds to win the National Championship, making them co-third choices with Houston. Purdue sits at +1000 along with fellow Big Ten contender Indiana.
So while it’s extremely early, Saturday’s result could shift the futures odds and national title perception substantially toward the victor as the team to beat this year.
Elite Prospects on Display for 2023 NBA Draft
Plenty of elite pro prospects will also be auditioning their games on the national stage during Saturday’s showdown. As many as six potential first-round 2023 NBA Draft picks could hear their names called in June.
Arizona boasts three big-time talents in sophomores Kriisa, Tubelis, and Ballo. Kriisa and Tubelis in particular appear firmly on the draft radar already if they choose to go one-and-done. Purdue has its fearsome threesome of upperclassmen stars Jaden Ivey, Ethan Morton, and Mason Gillis also competing to boost their professional stock.
When considering the presence of lottery-level talents these programs have produced before like Deandre Ayton and Lauri Markannen (Arizona), Carsen Edwards and Caleb Swanigan (Purdue) recently, there is little doubt NBA scouts will have their eyes glued to this game rife with prospects who could impact playoff races within just a couple years at the next level.
The team that shines brightest on the grandest individual showcase of December could see their NBA-bound players decide to strike while the iron is hot and capitalize on the exposure during their draft years.
Conclusion: Instant Classic Potential
At the end of the day, college basketball fans simply couldn’t ask for much better than seeing the established gold standard program of Arizona pitted against one of the sport’s hottest rising powers in Purdue on neutral hardwood with immense bragging rights at stake.
The atmosphere on Saturday is expected to be absolutely electric. Just under 17,000 rabid followers of the Wildcats and Boilermakers will pack Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis hoping to roar their side to a season-launching victory.
Given the strengths, stars, styles, and stakes we’ll witness, this clash has all the makings of an instant classic primed for the highlight reels. The basketball world with wait with bated breath to see if stifling defense, a breakneck pace, clutch shot-making heroics, or utter interior domination wins the day when these heavyweights battle for early season hoops supremacy.
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