PURDUE vs. BUTLER: What 2 watch 4

Butler forward Kelan Martin (30) shoots over Purdue center Isaac Haas (44) in the first half of a game in Indianapolis during the 2015-16 season. (By The Associated Press)

INDIANAPOLIS – On paper, Saturday’s Purdue vs. Butler men’s basketball game to open the annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse shouldn’t be much of a contest, which is why the 17th-ranked Boilermakers are favored by nearly eight points by Vegas.

However, history shows that the Bulldogs shouldn’t be tossed aside, particularly in this event.

Butler and Purdue will play at noon (FOX), which will be followed by Indiana and Notre Dame (2:30 p.m.)

“We know that we have a really tough one against Butler,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said earlier this week. “They have had our number through the years.”

Butler (8-2) has beaten Purdue (10-2) five consecutive times and the Bulldogs have won five of their six games in this event. Meanwhile, it is just the opposite for the Boilermakers in the Crossroads Classic.

Purdue has far and away been the worst of the four teams in this event having won just once in six outings.

“We know that it is going to be a tough game for us,” Painter said.

Here are some things to watch for in the game.

• BIG Boilers

Purdue has a luxury that very, very few teams across the nation possess: Massive size.

The Boilers will start 7-foot-2, 290-pound senior Isaac Haas against the much smaller Bulldogs, as well as bring 7-foot-3, 250-pound forward Matt Haarms off the bench.

Conversely, Butler starts 6-foot-8 Tyler Wideman at center.

“Purdue is as good offensively as any team in the country,” Butler assistant Emerson Kampen told News-Sentinel.com Friday. “They present incredible mismatches.”

Kampen has been assigned the task of devising a defensive gameplan against the Boilermakers and he admitted that it wasn’t easy.

“You’re going to have to give them something,” Kampen said. “You definitely are not holding them scoreless. They are going to score some and the big fella (Haas) is going to score some.”

The Bulldogs aren’t going to rely on JUST Wideman or reserves Nate Fowler (6-foot-10) and Joey Brunk (6-foot-11) to defend Haas, Kampen explained that the perimeter defenders will have to be active and diving down on top of Haas with tremendous frequency.

“We’re going to have to help Tyler some,” Kampen said. “We’ll have to do our work early.”

That last statement was indicating how quickly any of the Butler post defenders begin to body up on Haas to prevent him from simply walking to the block and posting up. The further that he is from the basket, then the less effective that he will be.

“He’s too big and too good,” Kampen said of Haas. “He’s played four years of college basketball and he’s been guarded every single way that you can possibly guard the post.”

“If you give him the same (defensive look) consistently, I know what he’s going to do; he’s going to crush it.”

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• Purdue perimeter

As good as Purdue is in the post, unfortunately for Butler, that is also how good the Boilermakers are on the perimeter.

Purdue has made 39 more 3-pointers than the Bulldogs and two of its starters (P.J. Thompson and Dakota Mathias) are shooting 49 percent from long range.

“They have so many good pieces around (Haas) that can shoot,” first-year Butler coach LaVall Jordan said of Purdue’s guards. “It makes it tough to double team because they have so many shooters.”

Butler will have to balance how much they help on the post off of those two players, specifically, and try to get help from other defenders.

“You have to make sure that everything is contested,” Kampen said.


• Finish the (defensive) possession

Making sure “everything is contested” is nice, but it won’t be enough for Butler defensively.

The Bulldogs will have to close each defensive possession by grabbing any missed shots.

Purdue is outrebounding its opposition by four boards per game, while Butler is doing so by two.

Allowing the Boilers to grab offensive rebounds will serve as back-breakers for the already defensively-challenged Bulldogs.

“You have to limit the second chances when they do miss,” Kampen said, “and when you do – somehow – get them to miss, you grab the rebound.”

• Mathias vs. Martin

Purdue will more than likely have Mathias (6-foot-4) guard Butler’s top offensive threat, senior forward Kelan Martin (6-foot-6), which will serve as a very intriguing personnel match-up.

Mathias has guarded the opposition’s best players over the past couple of seasons and he has done so with great success.

Martin is scoring over 17 points per game, but has struggled with his shot this season.

He is connecting on just 42 percent of his shots overall and an anemic 25 percent from 3-point range. However, Martin has hit on 40 of his last 81 shots from the field and 7 of 19 from long range over the past three games (36 percent).

• Shooting will be key

If the Boilermakers are hitting from 3-point distance effectively, it will be impossible for Butler defenders to be everywhere. So to keep pace, Butler will have to do two things really well offensively: shoot and run.

The shooting part won’t be easy because the Boilers can really defend the perimeter well. Opponents are making just 31 percent of their 3-pointers against Purdue.

In addition, Butler isn’t a great shooting team to begin with.

Redshirt junior guard Paul Jorgensen is the only Butler player (aside from injured forward Sean McDermott, who won’t play) that has been effective from long range this season.

Which leaves the running part…

• Push the pace

If Butler offensively is facing a set Purdue defense a lot, it will be in trouble.

The Bulldogs will have to find ways to get “easy offense” such as scoring in transition and at the free throw line. The former, the Bulldogs have been OK at this season, while the latter they have not been.

“They have a lot of quickness now,” Painter said of the Bulldogs.

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


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