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Spain and Gain

What shouldn’t we take away from Spain?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Purdue vs Arkansas Little Rock Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After yesterday’s 88-67 win over Albacete, the Boilers are now 2-0 in Spain with a small break to enjoy the sights before finishing off the trip with two more games this week. This is good, purely because it means they didn’t lose. Wins are always better than losses.

With trips like this, it’s really hard to know exactly what to take away from the games. Thanks to the ease of recording games we’ve been able to either stream these games or watch them after the fact on youtube. Still, it is a murky crystal ball to try and gain any kind of future out of it. Purdue is playing professional teams, but it’s hard to really get a feel for the talent they’re going up against. Both teams have severely lacked the height to have even a chance at guarding Haas and Biggie inside. As well, they’ve lacked the elite athleticism that will really test Cline and Mathias on the wing. Instead, as cliches have it, they have mostly featured teams with crafty, undersized foreign players who have struggled with Purdue’s depth and Big Ten bodies.

So, before we take anything from the first two games, let’s put the proper cautions on what not to take away from Purdue’s first two games.

In two games, the Boilermakers have turned the ball over a staggering 39 times. This is smoke and mirrors. Yes, turnovers are going to be a problem for this team as it was last year, but a lot of these turnovers in Spain have been for two reasons: the subtle differences in rules between international play and the US and the fact that these refs actually call travels at all. Hummel, when starting his professional career abroad, said the hardest part was just getting used to the fact that you have to dribble before you start your movement with the ball. These kids have played basketball their whole life with travel rules that they’re used to, and to expect them to just change their hard wiring for four games in Spain is an impossible tasks. A good number of these violations weren’t even in high stress situations, just a matter of catching and taking off with the ball as their habit and teaching has taught them to do their whole career.

As it stands, Caleb leads the team with 19 points per game. Freshman Carsen Edwards is second at 14 points per game despite playing just over 15 minutes per game. These counting stats are impossible to count on in any scenario where the sample size is only two games. Haas and Vincent Edwards are also averaging double digit points with 9 points a game coming from Ryan Cline and P. J. Thompson.

So what can we take away from Spain to this point? Probably nothing for certain, but there are some trends to store away for later.

The Boilers are going to take a lot of 3’s this year. They’ve connected on 17 of 49 attempts through two games. When they’re not firing away from deep they will be trying to smash the ball into the post. What’s most telling about our style of play is that Caleb Swanigan is second on Purdue in minutes with 54. Isaac Haas has only played 38 through two games. If this is an indication of things to come, that means that Painter is planning on spending a lot of time with Biggie on the court as the five.

Point guard is still a fluid situation, and tantalizing in its potential for improvement this year. P. J. led with 50 minutes and continued to show an improved touch from deep, especially off the bounce. Spike is still trying to get into game shape, and Carsen Edwards has been a short-minute monster averaging nearly a point per minute.

This leads directly to what Purdue’s strength is going to be this year: offense. They have shooters everywhere and will surround the best post scorer in the B10 with them. This year will be the defining year for Coach Matt Painter. He has all the tools to create one of the best offenses in the nation, he just has to put them in the right places and get it out of them. This team is deep and loaded, with shooters and high IQ players all over the place. If he doesn’t get a long tourney run out of them then that will be as damning as any first round exit the last two years.

And while our defense will suffer this year without Hammons and Davis, we collected a ridiculous 35 steals in these two games. While we won’t get close to keeping that in the actual season, it does speak to the strength of our team on that side of the ball. We no longer have a living breathing black hole swatting everything at the rim, but we do have a lot of guys with a lot of length. Basil and Vincent should wreak havoc in passing lanes, along with Biggie and Haas clogging the paint, and that allows Dakota to use those super quick hands of his to take some chances helping on drives. If we can leverage our length into turnovers and play disciplined ball around that, our defense shouldn’t fall off much from the last couple years.

Of course, what this trip will really provide for these players is something that can’t be compiled on a stat sheet. They’re building memories together. They’re getting to see a part of the world most of them would not normally get the chance to. They’re becoming better humans, together, and building the kind of rapport that will hold them unison for the rest of the off-season and when things get tough during the season. It will provide experience against mostly professional players, and it will allow them to learn a little more about themselves as individuals.

But most importantly it will allow them to learn more about each other, on and off the court.