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Purdue Basketball: Can't Spell Lead W/out D

Carsen Edwards is leading Purdue on offense, but his defense is letting them down.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Carsen Edwards has 25 turnovers over his last five games. That’s five turnovers a game, including a whopping 8 against Florida St. in Purdue’s first road test of the year.

In that same span, Edwards has been taking a lot of shots. 99 to be exact, to which he’s made only 39 of them. That’s 39% shooting from the floor while taking twenty shots a game.

Purdue is on a two-game slide, both road losses against tough and ranked opponents. Florida St. jumped out to an early lead on Purdue, including a double-digit lead at half, but Purdue rallied strong in the second half. Taking the lead late into the game before a series of missed free throws and turnovers gave the game back to the Seminoles.

Against Michigan, once again Purdue surrendered an early double-digit lead that lasted to half time. Only this time, there was no return punch from a young Boilermaker team that looked completely outmatched.

It’s easy to look at Carsen’s raw numbers and think he has had a bad offensive start to the season. While it’s true, his numbers are not efficient in terms of making shots and turnovers, Purdue’s offense as a whole has excelled. According to KenPom, Purdue’s offensive is still good for 8th in the country.

Their offensive rebounding is great, gobbling up 38.5% of their misses. They’re taking a lot of threes and making them at a decent 38.6% clip even if their offense has settled for jumpers a bit too often.

Make no mistake about it, despite the rough numbers of late, this offensive success is almost entirely dependent on the amount of attention Carsen Edwards garners from opposing coaches and teams. He’s jacking up nearly 10 threes a game, most off the dribble and far from the three-point line, and he’s still making better than 38% of them. Hes constantly attacking the basket, too quick to stay in front of and too strong to knock off line. He’s also creating shots for other players, averaging 4.4 assists per game over the last five games.

For the most part, defenses know that Carsen is going to try and get buckets every possession, and while his efficiency has dropped some, he’s still getting his. Besides Ryan Cline and occasional flashes from Evan Boudreaux, Edwards is the only player consistently capable of creating offense for Coach Painter. The fact Purdue is a top-ten offense is a miracle, and that miracle’s name is Carsen Edwards.

But. As much credit the junior leader of this team deserves on offensive, the same can be said for blame and Purdue’s defense to this point in the season.

Unlike their offense, Purdue’s defensive numbers have been not good. Purdue ranks as the 42nd best defense in the country on KenPom.

The main culprit? Purdue’s defense against the three-point shot. Purdue’s opponents are shooting 36.4% from range, a number that ranks Purdue at 271st in the country at defending the three-point line. Not only are they allowing teams open looks, they’re allowing them a lot of them. They’re 317th in the country when it comes to 3 point field goals attempts versus 2 point field goal attempts allowed in a game.

The old saying goes, it’s not the percentage shot against you that shows how good of a perimeter defense you are, but the amount you give up. Purdue is having a lot of makes against them, but more critically, they’re giving up a ton of attempts.

This falls squarely on the head of Carsen Edwards, not just because he’s Purdue’s best player, but because he has been so bad at giving the acceptable amount of effort on the defensive end.

Take these two plays for instance: One an off-ball rotation where he’s supposed to bump the cutter to prevent a cut to the basket (he’s not up on his man anyway, might as well help out) and, more egregious, Jordan Poole’s three off a simple in-bounds play.

This isn’t good enough and it’s not an isolated incident. On my counting, Edwards gave up 5 made three-pointers in his 29 minutes of play against Michigan, and an additional two more field goals inside. All of the baskets were a case of being inattentive mentally and slow to get into position. In other words, effort. He gets a step behind because he’s watching the play elsewhere or just flat out not working to get by screens.

While he’s shown the ability to contort and drive and pull-up at will for an entire game, on the defensive end Edwards is taking possession after possession off. Something that doesn’t show up against Davidson, but will absolutely destroy any chance to knock off a team like Michigan.

Purdue will return home tonight to Mackey Arena to take on a dangerous Maryland team, needing a win ahead of another tough road game at Texas on Sunday. Edwards will need to harness that energy and focus on not just the offensive end, but on defense, too, if Purdue is going to bounce back in a conference that won’t allow you to take a single possession off without making you pay.

So far the price has been a 0-1 start to conference play and a blown game in the B10/ACC challenge.