CROSSROADS CLASSIC PREVIEW: The good and bad for Purdue this season
This is the third in a series of stories pertaining to Saturday’s Crossroads Classic basketball event in Indianapolis.
Today: Purdue: What has gone right/wrong this season?
Friday: Indiana: What has gone right/wrong this season?
Purdue lost its best player from the 2017 Big Ten championship squad when forward Caleb Swanigan bolted for the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers. However, the Boilermaker program has barely skipped a beat.
The Boilers have won eight of 10 games and played stellar basketball – at both ends of the court – throughout the season, minus maybe a 48-hour stretch in an event in the Bahamas last month.
“In the past couple of weeks,” veteran Purdue coach Matt Painter said earlier this week, “we’ve really made some improvements. We’ve had some real quality wins. All the wins are good.”
Purdue (10-2) will face in-state nemesis Butler (8-2) in Saturday’s Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse at noon (FOX).
The Bulldogs have won five consecutive games over the Boilermakers.
“We know that we have a really tough one,” Painter said of Saturday. “They’ve had our number through the years.”
Notre Dame and Indiana will battle in the second game of the event at 2:30 p.m.
Here is a glance at what has gone right and wrong for Purdue this season.
• No drop off
Swanigan averaged nearly 19 points and 13 rebounds a year ago, but this Purdue team has been balanced and efficient all season.
The 17th-ranked Boilermakers have four players averaging in double figures offensively and have limited its opposition to 38 percent shooting, while forcing 165 turnovers.
Purdue has been really, really good at just about every aspect of play and should contend for a second straight league title in two months.
• Shooting solves everything
The Boilermaker offense has been great for a number of reasons including good shooting, an abundance of free throws, and a lack of turnovers. But the shooting stands out among all of those areas.
Senior center Isaac Haas is playing the best basketball of his career in the absence of Swanigan. The 7-foot-2 beast is connecting on 62.5 percent of his shots, while senior guard Dakota Mathias is making over 52 percent of his shots from the field.
As a team, Purdue is hitting at a 49.8 percent rate.
From the perimeter, Mathias has been astounding (48.5 percent), but classmate P.J. Thompson has been even better (49 percent).
• Being careful
The Boilermakers have done a magnificent job of taking care of the basketball.
Purdue has dished off for 216 assists on 61 percent of its made field goals (for comparison’s sake, Butler has passed on 45 percent of its makes), but that alone isn’t the only impressive statistic by this offense.
The Boilermakers have turned the ball over just 139 times, while junior guard Ryan Cline (28 assists against just eight turnovers), Thompson (24 and 8) and Mathias (55 and 15) have been great.
• Get that outta here!
The Boilermakers weren’t positive as to what type of impact redshirt freshman Matt Haarms would make, but he has been startling so far.
The 7-foot-3 forward has blocked 35 shots, while the Boilermakers have swatted 68 as a team and rank 23rd nationally.
• Mathias is magnificent
Mathias has gradually evolved as a player throughout his career, but this season he is on pace to be one of the best in the nation.
He is shooting and passing well (as noted earlier), but Painter believes his best trait may be at the defensive end of the floor.
“The thing that I didn’t see,” Painter recalled of his evaluation of Mathias in high school, “was his ability to defend. He has become a really good defender and he works really hard at it.”
“I did not see that.”
• Free throws add up
The Boilermakers are dominating their opponents at the free throw line this season.
Purdue has made (215) more free throws than its opposition has even attempted (175).
Isaac Haas is shooting a career-best 81.3 percent from the line this season, which is 10 percent better than he ever has before.
“When you are that good of a low-post scorer,” Painter explained, “and you can make your free throws…”
The most amazing part of that is that Haas is the WORST free throw shooter among the starting five Boilers.
Thompson is hitting at a 94.4 percent rate, while Vince Edwards (90.7), Mathias (81.5) and Carsen Edwards (81.8) are also scorching at the line.
• Leader struggling
This is how good Purdue has been this year; its leading scorer is struggling in some aspects of his play.
Sophomore guard Carsen Edwards is averaging a team-best 17 points per game, but he isn’t efficient as he needs to be.
Edwards is shooting a solid 48 percent overall, but just 32.8 percent from 3-point range.
“We’ve talked about him trying to be more aggressive in terms of driving the ball,” Painter said. “He just needs to continue to be aggressive in attacking, primary break, if you have a 3-on-2 or a 4-on-2; it is different than a set defense.”
Edwards has passed for 28 assists this season, but he has also thrown it away 23 times.
• The other Edwards
Vince Edwards is doing a number of things really well (free throw shooting and rebounding), but, he too, is struggling offensively.
The 6-foot-8 senior is shooting just 43 percent from the floor and 33 percent from long range.
• Bench building
Haarms and Cline have been solid off of the bench for Purdue this season (though Cline struggled early with his shooting), but the only other consistent performers that Painter has turned to have been walk-on forward Grady Eifert and freshman Nojell Eastern, both of whom lack a great deal of experience.
However, Eastern has been coming on of late. The 6-foot-6 forward has played double-figure minutes in three of Purdue’s last four games.
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