Purdue preps for 'Nova with opener vs. McNeese

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For No. 15 Purdue, not only is the Friday game against McNeese State the regular-season opener (7 p.m. ET, ESPN3), it also is the Boilermakers' dress rehearsal for a Monday night matchup with the reigning national champions, No. 4 Villanova.

Purdue, which finished 26-9, 12-6 in the Big Ten Conference last season, is 10-1 in season openers for 12th-year head coach Matt Painter and appears to be on a good path to be ready for title-winning Wildcats.

The Boilermakers were 4-0 during an August exhibition tour of Spain, then defeated Southern Indiana in a Nov. 1 exhibition game in Mackey Arena and scrimmaged West Virginia last Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.

Purdue will face a McNeese State team that returns its top three scorers from a 9-20 team that is picked to finish ninth in the Southland Conference. Painter likes the fact the Cowboys feature full-court pressure defense — an element that bothered the Boilermakers last season.

In two 2015-16 losses to Iowa and in a double-overtime NCAA Tournament defeat to a Arkansas-Little Rock, full-court pressure cost Purdue victories.

Spike Albrecht, a fifth-year graduate transfer guard from Michigan, and freshman guard Carsen Edwards are eager to play their first regular-season games as Boilermakers.

Albrecht likes the way Purdue is leading up to playing Villanova.

“A huge part, too, with our West Virginia scrimmage this past Sunday, is seeing teams that are a good caliber,” Albrecht said. “McNeese State is a good team that is going to put defensive pressure on us, which should prepare us and get us ready for Villanova.

“But right now, we're just focusing on McNeese State.”

Carsen Edwards — no relation to Purdue's leading returning scorer, junior forward Vince Edwards — is glad the Wildcats are not the opponent in the season opener. Vince Edwards averaged 11.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season.

“I'm absolutely glad we have a game before playing Villanova, but still, playing them the second game of the season is very early,” Carsen Edwards said. “Having McNeese State first is a good experience, just to kind of get your feet wet.

“We played in Spain in August, we had an exhibition game and then scrimmaged West Virginia before McNeese State, so that's the best way to prepare for Villanova.”

McNeese State coach Dave Simmons, 136-172 in his 11th season with the Cowboys, has guards Jamaya Burr (15.4 points a game last season), Jarren Greenwood (10.8) and James Harvey (10.7), who combined for 136 made 3-pointers last season.

However, the Cowboys ranked last in the Southland Conference in field goal percentage (.411) and in rebounding defense.

“We're a very talented group,” Simmons said. “We have length. I think our guard play will be very good, and even though we'll be young, we've got guys that really shoot the basketball. That's going to be our strength.

“The style of play, with the people we have, we want to be as high-octane, up-tempo as we can. We want to start that from the defensive end with full-court pressure.”