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Who Will Be Purdue’s Second Leading Scorer: Matt Haarms

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The Dutch blockman with the hair became a March Sensation. Can he become an offensive threat this year?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Purdue vs Texas Tech Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Carsen Edwards will lead Purdue’s basketball team this year in scoring. It is known.

What isn’t known is who is going to step up around him. There’s a lot of candidates with a lot of questions. Squeaky fresh freshman without any track record, redshirt freshman with lots of potential but obvious concerns, seniors that have played behind All-Big Ten guards and All-Americans, and sophomores stepping into new roles.

On Tuesday, I gave the lone senior likely to start, Ryan Cline, even odds to be the second leading scorer. You guys don’t seem convinced so we’ll get into murkier water going forward. Starting today with the Dutchman with the hair, Matt Haarms. A block fiend who played in every game last season after redshirting the year before, and who shocked most of the college basketball world by being an immediate impact on the floor with his 7’3” frame and quick feet. And the hair of course.

His 79 blocks in his freshman campaign was the second most ever for a Purdue freshman and seventh most prolific block season in school history. He started two tournament games after Isaac Haas’ elbow injury.

In his first career start in the round of 32 against the Butler Bulldogs, Haarms had probably his most polished and well-rounded game of the season. He scored seven points, had six rebounds, two blocks, and one assist while avoiding foul trouble and playing very disciplined defense.

While the freshman did struggle at times throughout the season, there’s no questioning that his first season was a roaring success. The kid loves to play. He’s an emotional fireball of celebratory fists and yells. Mackey loves him.

But offensively, Haarms is almost all but an intriguing hypothetical. He was touted as a big man with a good jump shot. While the shot does look good, it barely went in, and he barely took it. He’s not a traditional Purdue big. He’s not going to back you down in the post and give you a bevy moves. Instead, his slender frames makes him rely on difficult fall aways and twisting shots in that difficult in between zone. While his quickness on a roll is nice, Haarms still has a lot of work to do with making the quick reads as a roller when defenses started paying attention to him in the tournament.

As well as he played against Butler, he struggled against a much more athletic and quick Texas Tech team. He was just 2 of 5 from the floor, but more worrisome, he turned the ball over 3 times and only grabbed 3 rebounds in 23 minutes.

Texas Tech was effective against Purdue because despite giving up a lot of size to Purdue, even with Haas out, they weren’t worried about what Purdue’s bigs could do to them on offense. Haarms can dunk the ball when he gets it, but he struggled to corral in passes from Mathias on a few pick and rolls that led to momentum killing turnovers. If he did get the ball inside, the Red Raiders chose to swarm the freshman. Not because they were worried about what Haarms would do with the ball, but because they didn’t trust him to read the floor quick enough to make them pay for it. They were right. Haarms struggled to identify when and where the help was coming, and where to send the ball. He was a dribble late getting into moves, and was lucky not to have a few more turnovers to his name that game.

This will be the mountain for Haarms to climb in the off-season, and why I’m cooling on him having a big break out on the offensive end this year. He did not seem confident in pulling the trigger on his jump shot last year unless he was wide open. Wide open shots tend to happen most frequently outside the arc for big men. Haarms took just seven attempts from three last year and made only one.

And without the jump shot taking a big leap, a Haarms point jump will have to rely on more of the same as this year: put backs off offensive rebounds, lay-ins over smaller defenders, and open lanes that lead to dunks. It’s possible. This offense should be more catered to a pick and roll scheme with Eastern and Edwards taking turns attacking the defense.

The sophomore will get more minutes and there’s not as many obvious places for the ball to go. His defense will be more critical than ever. The minutes are available. He will need the trend of not drawing fouls he started when he stepped into the starting lineup for the tournament to continue. If he reverts back to the over eager to chase blocks and hack freshman, he’ll find himself giving time to a couple freshman big men that could threaten to take his minutes.

Trevion Williams might have conditioning issues the whole season, but he’s clearly the highest-ceiling offensive big on the team. Dowuona might be a physical specimen and an absolute beast on the defensive end and boards. Boudreaux will likely get a chance to anchor the five spot in favor of spacing the floor.

There’s a lot of chance for variance with minutes. Haarms main draw will still be his defense and his effectiveness as a dribble-hand off guy and ability to move on offense.

It’s likely his points will depend almost entirely on if he discovers his jump shot as an every game, every open opportunity weapon. If that happens, then he becomes the viable second-option on an offense. But I don’t believe that’s where his priorities are. He still seems a bit away from being someone you run an offense through. He’ll never be able to be the feed in the post guy Coach Painter is comfortable with.

If there’s six or seven players scoring between 8 and 12 points, then maybe the scrappy Dutchman takes the lead, but I’m looking for him to recreate his production from his tournament run. Somewhere in the land of 6 to 9 points a game.

Matt Haarms odds to be Purdue’s second leading scorer - 7/2