Yes, coach Matt Painter has noticed.
“His confidence has grown,” Painter said. “He’s doing a better job. I think he’s not out there just hoping someone misses. He’s doing a better job because he’s not getting behind plays. That starts from not letting the guy catch it where he wants to catch it.”
Somebody had to replace the perimeter defense that Davis, a former South Side standout, supplied for three years. Enter the 6-4 Mathias, who has always had a high basketball IQ.
“Whatever we give him defensively on certain actions, for the most part he’s doing exactly that and just staying with them and concentrating,” Painter said. “A lot of times it’s your preparation, but when you get in the game, it’s concentrating on what’s going on and not getting behind plays.”
Take the way Mathias helped limit Big Ten scoring leader Peter Jok of Iowa to 13 points (10 below his average) on 4-for-15 shooting during Wednesday’s blowout Boiler victory. It wasn’t the result of length or athleticism as much as relentless preparation, which is the formula Davis used to have so much success.
Mathias watched a ton of film on Jok, as he has on all the players he’s guarded. He studied the scouting report as if it contained the location of a rainbow’s pot of gold. And he followed the game plan rather than occasionally going rogue.
The payoff was obvious, although Mathias downplayed his role when asked about it Wednesday night.
“(Jok) is a tough guard because he is always moving. In that system they are always setting screens for him. He is always moving, so you always have to be with him. He is just a tough challenge and we did a good job on him.”
Added Painter: “(Mathias is) doing a better job of getting himself prepared to defend. The one thing I was very leery of was him getting discouraged when Jok makes tough shots because Jok does make difficult shots. That’s the one thing I told him, if he makes difficult shots, don’t put your head down and get discouraged, keep working on making it hard for him because good players end up scoring and getting to their average. Dakota has done a great job in his preparation and getting himself ready to defend guys.”
Mathias, who also had two steals against Iowa, was more than just a defender. He totaled 17 points and four assists. For the season he averages 10.1 points and 3.9 rebounds, way above his career averages entering the season of 5.3 and 2.2. He shoots 51.6 percent from three-point range. He also has 53 assists against 16 turnovers.
Mathias isn’t the only reason why No. 15 Purdue (12-2 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten) has won seven straight games. The Boilers have the Big Ten’s most potent inside-outside game. They lead the conference in three-point shooting (41.3 percent) and have the league’s best frontcourt with 6-8 Caleb Swanigan and 7-2 Isaac Haas. They're the only team in the country to rank in the top 10 in three-point shooting (ninth) and rebound margin (ninth, plus-10.1).
Swanigan, a national player of the year candidate who has a nation’s best 11 double-doubles, averages a Big Ten-leading 12.4 rebounds, plus 17.8 points. Haas has averaged 16.0 points (on 70.8 percent shooting) and 6.7 rebounds in the last three games.
Meanwhile, swingman Vincent Edwards continues to thrive off the bench. He averages 13.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the seven games since getting bumped out of the starting lineup, well above his season averages of 12.0, 5.3 and 3.9.
That reflects the kind of player leadership crucial for major success.
“Leadership is an action,” Painter said. “Anyone can say the right things. It is important to say the right things, and then do them.”
The Boilers are.
Minnesota (12-2, 0-1) looks to bounce back after blowing a double-digit second-half lead at home to lose to Michigan State in overtime.
Forward Jordan Murphy was huge against Michigan State with a Swanigan-like 21 rebounds, 12 points, two blocks and two steals. He averages 10.6 points and 8.6 rebounds.
The Gophers have three other double-figure scorers — guards Nate Mason (13.5 points), Dupree McBrayer (12.7) and Amir Coffey (12.3). Mason has a team-leading 76 assists.
Reggie Lynch, a 6-10 center, has a team-high 42 blocks. He averages 8.1 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Coach Richard Pitino has called this the most complete team he’s had in his four seasons in Minnesota, which is big given last year’s group produced the worst record in school history at 8-23. There’s only one senior on the roster.
UP NEXT: Minnesota at Purdue
TIPOFF: 4:30 p.m., Sunday
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