If rest is what this team needed, we got it. By the time we play on Friday it will have been 12 days since our last game. It is the longest layoff of the season. I am a firm believer that this team needed rest. It’s body language at the end of the season, especially at Wisconsin, was off. They were dialed in for months with a compressed Big Ten schedule (and we had one of the better stretches with no three-game weeks) and I believe it wore on them. Last week the team got away from basketball, and that is a good thing.
As a result, I believe that if this team is playing at its maximum level, few if anyone can beat us. By that I mean a fluid offense that is making teams play inside and out. It is an offense that moves when the ball enters the post and makes crisp passes to the open shooter on the perimeter. It is an offense that has two guys that can attack the basket at will. It is an offense where if you leave a shooter wide open, any of them, just put the three points on the board.
Defensively it is a team that can contain drives to the basket and at least do something against the screen and roll. We have defended the perimeter well, but have struggled with the high screen and roll all season as well as on the defensive glass. Really, it should be all about holding teams under 70 points. I say 70 because Purdue is 28-2 when scoring at least 70 points and 0-4 when it does not.
Unfortunately, we know there are flaws. As much as we like each guy, each seems to have a weakness. As a team we can survive one or two in a game. When they cascade together, however, it spells disaster. Here is my wishlist for each player to avoid:
Isaac Haas – Perimeter Defense – Watching Haas on the defensive end is painful. He cannot defend the perimeter. At all. Teams know this and do everything possible to draw him out. Worse yet, when he defends inside he refuses to get his hands up. I would argue that he would double his shots blocked (and rebounding) if he just kept his hand up instead of at his side. He is so big he can basically be a wall inside. He is the perfect center for my old coach Basil Mawbey’s 2-3 zone. We know what we have though. Since we can’t hockey line change has for Haarms when we come off of offense and go to defense we kind of have to live with it. Purdue will fare much better against teams with traditional bigs near the basket, because as good as Haas is offensively (he makes 6 of 10 field goals) he is an absolutely liability defensively that teams can exploit.
Vince Edwards – Vincent Shows Up – My long-running theory is that Vince is the transcendent player that can shoot the three, drive, rebound, defend, and facilitate. Vince is the guy that can give you a 20-7-7 with ease. Vincent is his evil identical twin brother that sucks at basketball and locks Vince in the basement of Stewart Center. There will be concerns about the ankle, but with 12 days off and no games on consecutive games I think we’ll be okay. We had Vince against Rutgers to the tune of a 26-5-2 and 10 of 14 shooting. That was 14 days ago when the ankle was worse.
We haven’t gotten “Vincent” as much this year. The closest was at Michigan State but he still had 7 rebounds and 6 assists. A classic Vince game was last year against Iowa State when he had a 25-10-4. A classic “Vincent” game was at Louisville last year, where he had a 1-3-3 and took only four shots.
Vince always brings it for the tournament though. he has given us a 14-8-7, a 24-13-1, a 21-5-3, a 21-10-4, and an 8-4-2 in five career NCAA games. If the ankle is fine we’re getting Vince.
Dakota Mathias – Whatever the Hell happened vs. OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin – Dakota has been this team’s metronome. He can drive, pass, and shoot. He defends well. He rarely turns it over. He is a rock and the perfect complimentary college player because on any night he might bomb in 7 threes. The three-game losing stretch vs. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin were awful for him. He was 6 of 21 from the field, 4 of 13 from three, and scored only 16 total points. He also had 7 turnovers, 5 of which came against Ohio State alone. By comparison, he had just 42 turnovers in the other 31 games total. The nadir was his 1 of 7 performance at Wisconsin. His next three games were 18, 18 and 25, hitting 13 of 21 from long range.
P.J. Thompson – Hitting Open Threes – P.J. is going to get open threes. In Purdue’s offense he is often the fifth scoring option, but at least once a half he is left entirely open with a good look from three. Over his career he has been one of the best 3-point shooters we have ever had. He has made 154 of 384 attempts. At 40.1% for his career he is 10th in school history (neck and neck with Ryan Cline) and his 154 makes are 11th in school history. For the most part when he gets open looks, he cans them, and he is having a career year by currently hitting at 43.9%. Since hitting 5 of 7 in consecutive games against Wisconsin and Iowa he is just 13 of 44. He only got in double figures during that stretch with 12 points against Rutgers, and 6 came from the free throw line late. When P.J. hits even one three early it gives teams the dreaded “something else to worry about”. I know his defense has also struggled here too, but when he is hitting those 2-3 wide open looks he gets every game it is a 6-9 point shift in our favor. That’s huge.
Carsen Edwards – Playing Hero Ball – Carsen has been superb for the better part of six weeks now. He’s been deadly from three and on the drive. He either scores at the rim or gets fouled. It’s going to be very hard to beat us if he is going to drop 25 a night for six games, which is absolutely possible. That said, against Michigan in the Big Ten title game I think he tried to do a little too much. Part of it came from our defensive struggles. Part of it came from other offensive struggles. When Carsen plays within the offense as the dynamic playmaker with several other good guys around him he is ruthless. We can’t ask him to win games by himself though. Those 25 point nights come a lot easier when Haas is throwing in 16, Vince is giving us a 14-6-5, and Dakota is hitting 3-4 threes.
Matt Haarms – Emotion – Did Haarms hit a freshman wall? He is light year better than Haas defensively, so much so that we’re basically playing offense for defense with the two at the end of close games when we can. He has been down a little in recent games though. I think the rest can benefit him the most because it really seemed like he was pushing a little too much. Control the emotion, drop one bad foul per game, and just defend.
Nojel Eastern – Free Throws – I have really enjoyed the last few games watching Nojel rebound and defend. He is third on the team in offensive rebounds and has scored off of many of them. I love the way he authoritatively crashes the glass, too. That 42.6% from the line is quite glaring though. All five starters are over 75% from the line with Haas the only one not over 81%. 42.6% is bad though. That’s even improved, as in the last 10 games he is 11 of 20 for a slightly better 55%. When you talk about late subbing offense for defense, I want Nojel on the floor on defense instead of P.J., but when we secure the ball I want P.J.’s 85.2% at risk of getting fouled rather than Nojel’s 42.6%.
Ryan Cline – Not Shooting the Friggin’ Ball – We have got to get looks and time for Cline. I know Casey dug it up, but the more Cline plays, the better shooter he is. He only had two field goal attempts in 44 minutes of big Ten Tournament play. We have had only one “Ryan Cline comes off the bench and hits 4 threes” game this year and that was in Mackey against Rutgers. Last year we had two (Arizona State and at Iowa) and when he was a freshman we had two (North Carolina A&T and at Pittsburgh). He’s around 40% for his career from three. Leave the white guy open and let him shoot.
Grady Eifert – Being 4 on 5 Offensively – I included Grady here because he has earned his playing time. He has played in every game except against Butler and even earned a pair of starts. He only gets a handful of minutes each night, but he always gives us something be it a hard fought rebound, a putback, a steal, or a cut to the basket because teams forget him. He’s found money when he is in there. Expectations are low, but he busts ass and serves his role. If he scores it is a huge bonus. The guy had 22 career points coming into this year and has 52 this season alone. That’s found money.
Jacquil Taylor – Not Being Ready – Well, you never know if we’re going to have a game where Haas and Haarms are in foul trouble. Jacquil has played four minutes, all against Minnesota, since January 20th, but we’re undefeated when he plays. Have him take the tipoff, then sit him. Boom. Automatic win. We haven’t lost in a game where he has played since November 24, 2014 against Kansas State in Maui. That is the only loss we have had where he played. I know the mantra is to always be ready because you never know your moment, but there can always be a John Hart situation. Again, if Haas and Haarms get in foul trouble (or God forbid get injured) we’re going to need him.
Tommy Luce – Nothing – Luce is perfect. He is all things to all men. He is our human victory cigar.