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Scrimmage pt. 2: Then There Was Defense

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Is Carsen Edwards defense good enough to keep him on the floor?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Media Day Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed the first part of our coverage on the scrimmage, you can read it here.

While I hit on the things that stuck out most to me after the first scrimmage, there’s still plenty of lingering questions and defensive points to make. Let’s get to them.

CAN THE FRESHMAN DEFEND?

This is the question that might define Carsen Edwards season. At this point, there are questions about all of his game because of that ‘freshman’ label, but to be honest with ourselves, offensively he might already be our best option at 2. Is he our best player? Obviously not, but as I wrote yesterday, he can hurt in so many ways and has the athleticism we’ve been lacking. But we know what Coach Painter expects at this point from all his players, and if you can’t sniff it on the other end, you’re probably not going to get much run.

Or is that the case? Last year, Biggie played huge minutes, and in case you were living under a rock, he wasn’t very good on the defensive end. He rebounded well, yes, but he could not stay in front of defenders and did not provide rim protection. Ryan Cline also got significant minutes last year while not being able to stay in front of anything resembling a quick wing. However, they did both give great effort on the defensive end, but think of this as a shift in coaching philosophy for Painter. Yes, he preaches defense, but he’s willing to let it slide a little in favor of someone who can open up the offense.

At least he was last year with A. J. Hammons back there roaming the paint and covering up for everyone’s mistakes. Hammons is now gone, so Purdue’s point of attack defense has to be better. Haas is not going to cover up for drives to the rim like Hammons did because frankly, Hammons was a monster and one of the best college players I’ve ever seen at it. His timing at the rim, altering and blocking shots, was other worldly. Haas and Swanigan ain’t that.

The thing Carsen has going for him is his physicality on D. He’s very fluid laterally, and has a strong base. He’s not going to get pushed off a guy. He’s longer and more capable of disrupting in pressing a man than Thompson or Spike. He actually looked pretty good at it. The thing you worry about at first is him learning what is and isn’t a college foul. Purdue won’t have many games for him to figure that out till they’re playing some juggernauts. I think he’ll be fine though.

The thing that showed at the scrimmage that concerns was an inattentiveness off the ball. He got caught zoning out a bit, having flat feet, and losing his man simply by not being engaged for the full 30. This might be a case of it being a scrimmage and not being at peak intensity, but it’s not something you want to have an off switch for. Carsen will be part of a pretty loaded back court though and I’d be inclined to think he’ll turn it all the way up to 11 when the season starts.

The concern is that freshman just don’t know how to navigate screens well. They don’t anticipate them and they don’t clear them. They don’t know when to switch and they don’t get to their proper spots right away leaving rollers or shooters get lost and open. This happened on a few occasions. That’s just part of the headache, but not damning.

I think it’ll come down to this: Painter will have to play Edwards as long as the efforts there. There’s no reason to believe it won’t be for the freshman. He plays hard and he’s athletic enough to make up for some of his mental mistakes and he just brings too much versatility on the offensive end to leave him on the bench.

VINCENT EDWARDS, NEW NAME, SAME GAME

He’s awesome. He’ll keep picking his spots and the more weapons he has around him, the better he becomes. I will say though, he got outplayed by Dakota Mathias in the last part of the game. Vincent’s charge is to turn into a defensive specialist to fill in the void of Rapheal Davis on the wing, but he’s still not quite there yet. Again, matters of effort and intensity are not the best things to judge during an intra-squad scrimmage. Vincent is still the name we trust and the catalyst of this Boilermaker squad.

DID YOU HEAR ME SAY DAKOTA OUTPLAYED VINCENT?

Because I did, and it was awesome. Dakota shot the ball terribly from deep, going 1 of 8, but besides that, he was perfect. He ran multiple pick and rolls with Caleb and showed off a bevy of next level passes. He was able to move the ball and facilitate the offense, making whip-smart passes, and leveraging his shooting to create space. His pace is nice, and he never gets in a hurry. The most encouraging is that he looks to be quicker, in better shape, and really improved on the defensive end. He gave Vincent fits at the end of scrimmage in one on one situations and was still going strong afterwards for suicides. I’ll be writing a predictions column again this year, and here’s a sneak preview:

This is gonna be the breakout year for Mathias.

EIFERT EFFORT

With Taylor’s injury, it was up to Grady Eifert to fill in the tenth spot and the former walk-on was pretty great. He didn’t try to do too much, but what he did do was hustle his ass off and grab rebounds and loose balls while cleaning up a bunch of messes at the hoop.

BASIL IS AN IMPORTANT INGREDIENT

Basil looked like the best player on the team at times, and others, he just disappeared entirely. His jump shot looks better, and he’s our best athlete. His ability to push the pace and finish is extremely encouraging. I don’t think he missed at the rim the entire game despite going 100 mph and having to finish over some long arms. Basil’s play changes Purdue’s ceiling. They need him to be both assertive and smart and stay a little more disciplined on defense.

CLINE IS NOT A HEADLINER, YET

It’s pretty apparent after the Spain trip and this scrimmage, that a big focus of the Purdue staff was to have Ryan Cline try and stretch himself. Unfortunately, that has mostly been to the tune of long jumpers off the dribbles that have not gone in. He even missed his open looks during the scrimmage. However, this is good, let him get it out of his system now. He’s got more than enough of a track record to not worry about his shot, and as soon as the season starts, he’ll go back to being the spot up shooter and smart passer that turned heads his freshman year. He’ll expand his game, but thankfully Purdue doesn’t need him to do too much this year.

SPIKE IS AN APT NAME

He still doesn’t look entirely there, but he looks better and more fluid, more confident and comfortable than he did at the Jeff scrimmage. He’s not going to play big minutes, but you can start to see as his familiarity grows, so does his ability to anticipate where and when people are cutting and he’s a clever dribbler, prodding and pacing his way around the court creating lanes. He’s a steady hand, a leader, and someone that will have a moment or two this year. His passing is next level and Painter seemed to give him a little more leeway to hold the ball and create this game.

SAY WHAT YOU WANT ABOUT P.J.

He’s not the most exciting player, but he’s steady and his jump shot is for real. He turned into a great 3 point shooter last year and this year seems to be picking up on the same pace. He looks confident taking both off the dribble and catch and shoot 3’s. He’s not the sexy pick, but he’s still everything Purdue needs him to be. He’s not going to push the ball or get to the hoop often, but he’s going to spread the floor, make the right pass, and then hit open shots. There’s a lot of value in that. Especially when you have wings like Dakota and the Edwards who needs the ball in their hands.