It was a strange 2017.
Purdue football just finished winning more games than losing, including a bowl game. Purdue basketball became Team USA basketball for a summer and won the silver medal. Purdue basketball is winning games on the basketball court in impressive ways. The computer rankings absolutely love us, but the humans?
Not so much. This is still Purdue basketball and the stigma still persists. We will never really compete on the national level. This is still Coach Painter. This is still the Boilermakers. They’ll choke in March.
But this is a new year. It’s time for new narratives.
Get Out of Haarm’s Way
I don’t think anyone expected this. Matt Haarms was an intriguing collection of physical attributes put into a foreigners body. Even though he had to come to Purdue a semester early, the redshirt freshman was an absolute unknown. It made sense that he wouldn’t be ready.
Instead, the Dutchman has transformed the entire Purdue team. Haarms is probably the seventh best player on the team on any given night. (There is ample room for argument here.) But he provides Coach Painter with the absolute perfect pairing with Isaac Haas. Not only can Painter play offense/defense with his two centers, he can play them together. Haarms fluidity on defense, his ability to chase and recover and go after shots at the basket, while also being able to move on offense gives Painter the ultimate flexibility.
This gives Painter all the room he needs to use his known quantities in their best way. If Haas is getting beat early against a team’s starting guards in pick and roll sets, he yanks him right away for Haarms like he did in the Marquette game. Haarms is so good at corralling a guard on a pick and roll and using his arms to impose himself over the guard, that he can alter an entire offensive strategy when he’s in the game. By the time Haas comes back in the game, the opposing team’s offense is out of sorts and Haas can go right back to creating mismatches on the other end.
Haarms block rate of 16.6% is sixth best in the nation. He’s averaging over 3 blocks a game while playing less than twenty minutes a game. Though that number is going up the more comfortable he gets on the offensive end, particularly playing alongside his fellow seven-footer. Haarms has played 20+ minutes in the last three games and at least 18 minutes in the last five.
Carsen Edwards is Getting Historic
Those flashes of incredible plays by Edwards are starting to become storms. The sophomore has averaged over 22 points in the last four games, and he’s only now finding his jump shot from range. He’s closing in on 1,000 points for his career as he positions himself squarely into the B10 player of the year conversation.
The little guard from Texas is a blur of efficient scoring. He’s now just under 37% from three, but his biggest improvement has come inside the arc. His freshman campaign saw a guard who didn’t know how to use all his tools. This year, the sophomore is using the threat of his speed to play with pace to attack the basement or create space for his mid-range jumper. Edwards shot 41% from 2-pt range last season, he’s shooting 63% this year.
He’s still turning the ball over, but not as much, and his assist rate has jumped 4.7%. This has led his offensive rating to skyrocket. As a freshman his offense rating was a measly 94, now it’s at 117.7 which rests him in the top 350 in the nation. He’s leading his team to big wins now, but when his career is over, Edwards might find himself sitting at the very top of the leader board for points scored by a Boilermaker.
Cline to Shine
Watch Ryan Cline closely and forget what you think you know about him. He’s turned himself into a good defender. He’s always been strong and a good rebounder on the defensive end, but now he’s also sticking with his guys. He’ll occasionally get caught up off the ball, but he’s shown marked improvement on staying on a guy’s hip while he drives. He’s getting called for less than 2 fouls per 40 minutes, a top-150 mark in the nation and it’s no longer because ball-handlers blow by him so quickly he can’t foul them. He’s changing direction on defense with a fluidity that’s more in line of Mathias’s improvement last year. Granted, he’s still nowhere that good.
And man, is his shot back. After declaring his back healthy, he’s been flushing everything from deep. In the last six games Cline has taken 23 3-point attempts and made 14 of them. The better than 60% shooting from deep has offset Mathias’ struggle from distance and provided bench scoring that was sorely missing early in the season.
But Cline’s maturation is also one of his quieter skills. He has always been a low turnover player and a good passer. He’s bordering on play-maker status at this point after an assist rate of 12% last season has bumped all the way up to 18.8% while his turnover rate has actually decreased. The junior has 34 assists on the season to just 10 turnovers.
At some point, the steady consistency of this Purdue team and the continued success of the program has turned to stagnation in the eyes of fans and media. Purdue is still getting votes in the 20’s in the AP poll. People are still rolling their ideas at the idea of Purdue having a deep run in March.
But on the court, a new Purdue is emerging. One that is stronger, faster, better.
Welcome to 2018 - the year of the Boiler.