Purdue’s Dakota Mathias getting defensive (and offensive) with his play

Western Kentucky guard Darius Thompson (15) is defended by Purdue guard Dakota Mathias (31) during a recent game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in Paradise Island, Bahamas. (Tim Aylen/Bahamas Visual Services Photo via AP)
Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter directs his team during the second half of a game against Indiana last season in West Lafayette. (By The Associated Press)
Purdue senior guard Dakota Mathias speaks with the media at Mackey Arena Monday. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

Scan the Louisville men’s basketball statistics and you’ll notice that the Cardinals are a deep team, having played nine different players an average of double figure minutes.

What those numbers won’t tell you, however, is that perhaps as many as seven of those players, including even possibly 6-foot-11 freshman forward Malik Williams, will be well acquainted with Purdue guard Dakota Mathias by late Tuesday evening.

The Boilermakers (5-2) will host the Cardinals (4-0) Tuesday at 8 p.m. (ESPN) as part of the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge at Mackey Arena.

If you scan the Purdue statistics, you’ll quickly deduce that Mathias is a very valuable contributor, as he is doing just about everything well statistically so far this season. However, what a box score won’t directly tell you is that Mathias will play a key role in limiting the Louisville offense by his determination – and knowledge – on the defensive end of the court.

“It is just a lot of concentration and pride,” Mathias said of playing good defense. “That is really all it is.”

That isn’t necessarily true. It does take a lot of “concentration and pride,” but that diligence can’t begin at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Mathias’ impact on whether the Boilermakers are successful Tuesday is already underway, as he learns the nuances of the Cardinal players and offense.

“He is a very detailed oriented person,” veteran Purdue coach Matt Painter said of Mathias. “It bodes well if you are smart and can stay in good defensive position.”

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In Mathias’ latest outing, he helped force Arizona guard Allonzo Trier into a rare and horrible offensive performance.

Trier entered the game averaging almost 28 points per game and connecting on nearly 60 percent of his shots, yet against the irritating Mathias, he made just 3 of his 10 shots and finished with eight points. It was the first time in 15 games that Trier had not scored in double figures.

“(Mathias) does a good job of understanding the tendencies of his opponent,” Painter said. “He understands what he can and can’t do.”

Which isn’t much.

Mathias has the size (6-foot-4) and strength (200 pounds) and enough athleticism (but more intellect than anything) to be able to do just about anything at the defensive end of the floor. That is why of the nine Louisville players that will see the predominant amount of time Tuesday, Mathias could be guarding any one of seven of them on any given possession, ranging from a 6-foot-2 guard to a 6-foot-11 stretch four (Williams).

“I’ll probably be switching onto a couple of different guys,” Mathias said of the Boilers’ defensive gameplan. “They have a lot of good wing scorers. They are long and athletic and can get to the rim.”

Mathias isn’t “long and athletic” himself, so Painter said that he relies on his head as much as moving his feet to contain opposing scorers.

“He tries to do his best not to put himself in a tough spot,” Painter said.

Mathias said that he took pride in his defense as a high school player, but that focus elevated over the past two seasons as he was asked to do more and more at that end of the court for Purdue. That process took work on Mathias’ part, as Painter explained he didn’t arrive in West Lafayette as a natural defender.

“You go through time and you work on your body, you work physically on things,” Painter said, “but his has been more of an understanding the mental approach and studying film.”

Mathias averaged less than 20 minutes per game in each of his first two seasons, but he nearly doubled his playing time last season, which helped him immensely, according to the coach.

“A lot of time,” Painter said, “you see improvement through play. It is really hard to play initially, as a player, because you just don’t understand everything that is going on. It is hard to make those strides if you don’t get those minutes.”

As solid as Mathias is defensively, he’s been even better offensively this season.

He is currently averaging over 14 points per game and shooting an amazing 57 percent overall and 59 percent from 3-point range.

Take away a strange 1 of 8 shooting performance recently against Western Kentucky and Mathias would be shooting over 65 percent from the floor.

This is all in addition to him also grabbing nearly five rebounds per game, making 10 steals, and dishing out a team-best 27 assists, while turning the ball over just five times.

Mathias has evolved into a very good two-way player for the Boilermakers, both of which will be on display Tuesday. But take notice of the ball screen defense, the talking, and the jumping to the ball, all of the actions that won’t appear in the postgame box score, but may ultimately lead to a second straight impressive Purdue win over a nationally-relevant program following the rout of Arizona.

“A lot of what I do is in my preparation,” Mathias said. “It is who are you guarding? How do they get the ball? When do they get the ball?”

“If you just concentrate and take pride in not letting that guy score, knocking them out of their actions, it can go a long way.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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