It’s too soon.
March 30th still feels like it happened a second ago. Two blinks ago Purdue was going to their first Final Four under Coach Painter, and then the entire series of calamities occurred within that next breath. Ryan Cline missed the free throw. So did Virginia. The ball was tipped all the way to half-court, retrieved by Ty Jerome, and then thrown forward to Mamadi Diakite who had just enough time to lift a floater just over Matt Haarms and send the Elite Eight Game into overtime where Virginia would edge Purdue, 80-75.
A lot has changed since March. Tony Bennett got his Final Four and National Title.
Carsen Edwards - the star of the show last year in Louisville, scoring 42 points - is gone, off to the NBA. So is Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, leading guards for Bennett’s Cavaliers squad.
De’andre Hunter, the lottery pick, and Ryan Cline, the Sweet Sixteen savior, both gone, too.
What remains is two programs more defined by their brand of basketball consistencies than any other.
The Cavaliers will grind games to their pace, and they will win, with throttling defense and good shooting. The Boilers will sport one of the most precise offenses and a man to man defense that’s been around since Coach Keady.
So far Virginia has had more early season success filling in the big holes last year, while Purdue has struggled to a 4-3 start with a much more grueling slate to start the season.
From: Charlottesville, VA
Game Location: Mackey Arena (14,240)
Date: December 4, 2019
Time: 7:15pm ET
Radio: Boilermaker Sports Network
Odds: Purdue by 2.5
2018-19 Record: 35-3, 16-2 ACC (ACC Regular Season Champion & NCAA Champion)
2019-20 Record: 7-0, 1-0 ACC
Record vs. Purdue: Virginia leads 2-1
Last Purdue win: 61-59 at Purdue on 11/29/2006
Last Virginia win: 80-75 (OT) on 3/30/2019 in Louisville, KY (NCAA Tournament Elite 8)
Opponent Blog: Streaking the Lawn
NCAA Tournament History: 23 appearances, last in 2019. 2019 NCAA Champion
Coach: Tony Bennett (261-89 in 11th season at Virginia. 330-122 overall).
The Cavaliers have the best defense in the country, and it’s not all that close. Tony Bennett’s squad is back at it again. It is hell to play Virginia and it is slow.
They are the rare combination of teams with the length, athleticism, and discipline to not just force misses, but also get on the ball and force turnovers. They are 24th in the nation at forcing turnovers while leading the country in effective field goal percentage against. Those misses end up in Virginia’s hands. They’re the 9th best defensive rebounding team in the country.
By the numbers Purdue’s offense has slipped this year, but still rests at 31st most efficient in the country after having the 4th best offense last year. That 27 spot difference seems worlds apart, especially late in games, for a team that has struggled to find a replacement for Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline’s heroics late in game. The two guards provided calm, shooting, and a constant threat to defenses.
Despite a strong start by Jahaad Proctor and Matt Haarms in the 2020 season, neither creates the gravity or shots that Purdue’s back court could guarantee every possession last year.
All three of Purdue’s losses have come against quality opponents in games that went down to the wire: @Marquette, Texas, and Florida St. (Emerald Coast Classic championship).
Purdue has played four games against Kenpom’s top 50, while Virginia has played zero. (They do have a quality destruction of Syracuse in a game where the ‘Cuse only scored 34 points.)
While Purdue has slid on offense this season, Virginia has plummeted, going from the 2nd most efficient unit last year to barely inside the top-100. They do not have the shooters or play makers last year, with the loss of Guy and Jerome. They rely on being big and patient.
This could be particularly concerning for the Cavaliers who will play a Purdue defense that is longer and more athletic than last year’s squad, and who has the big men to match up. The young Boilermakers have improved on the defensive end. They are the 7th most efficient defense in the country and has done a great job at defending the perimeter. Nojel Eastern in particular can create havoc with his length against smaller guards.
While Virginia’s starting point guard Kihei Clark versus Nojel Eastern will be a fascinating match-up between point guards that are separate by more than 8 inches, this game will likely be decided in the trenches when two of the best and most versatile centers square off.
Diakite has frankly been one of the best players in the country. He’s stretching the floor on offense, protecting the rim on defense, and grabbing rebounds on both sides. He’s averaging 13.9 points per game (Virginia averages 55.1 ppg as a team), 7.3 rpg, 1 steal and block, and is shooting over 50% from three on the year.
Matt Haarms has been nearly as good, scoring 11.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 2.6 blocks per game. He’s shooting nearly 70% from the field and knocking down over jumpers when he’s not knocking the ball. He’s done all that in just more than 20 minutes per game.
They are both tall, lanky, extra-quick big men. They are uniquely designed to bother the other. Against Virgina last year, it wasn’t Diakite that beat Haarms as much as the guards able to drive to the rim and forcing Haarms to over help and leave the rim open for offensive rebounds and put backs.
The guards for the Cavaliers are not as dynamic this year. It’s likely to have a much more man versus man feel in the post. Don’t be surprised if the big man who gets best of the other finds themselves on the winning team as well.