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It’s Carsen Time

Carsen Edwards can lead Purdue to the promised land or an early flameout next week.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Minnesota David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Carsen Edwards

Carsen Edwards has scored 1,781 points in his three year career at Purdue, good for ninth all-time on the school scoring list when he passed Robbie Hummel (1,772) Friday night. If he chooses to return for his senior season he will almost certainly leave as the all-time leading scorer at Purdue, passing Rick Mount’s 2,323 points (in 72 games to Carsen’s 104). He has won two Big Ten championships. He is now, officially, a two-time All-American.

These are undeniable numbers. Even if he leaves after 1-to-6 more NCAA tournament games his legacy is set. He will depart as one of the greatest players in Purdue history.

He is also one of the most polarizing players in Purdue history because the following numbers are also undeniable:

4-17, 1-8 from 3 vs. Minnesota (loss)

6-18, 3-10 from 3 at Northwestern (win)

7-31, 3-5 from 3 at Minnesota (loss)

9-16, 4-8 from 3 vs. Ohio State (win)

8-14, 2-5 from 3 vs. Illinois (win)

3-16, 1-10 from 3 at Nebraska (win)

4-24, 0-10 from 3 at Indiana (win)

6-11, 3-6 from 3 vs. Penn State (win)

8-27, 3-13 from 3 at Maryland (loss)

8-16, 2-8 from 3 vs. Nebraska (win)

6-20, 1-9 from 3 vs. Minnesota (win)

This goes beyond a slump. In the last 11 games, Carsen is 69-200 from the floor and 23-92 from 3. That is a dismal 25% from three and 34.5% from the floor. He has transformed from a volume scorer to a volume chucker/ If he is on, Purdue is capable of beating anyone with versatility and combination of different weapons. If he is slightly off, he still opens things up for everyone else. But if he is way off, he will shoot Purdue out of games.

He has not been on for more than six weeks.

How does he get back on, however? Just look at his game at Penn State, where he was on fire, hit 8 threes, and finished with 38 points. Not to mention when he dropped 40 at Texas earlier in the year or 40 last year at Illinois. Even at Wisconsin this year he had 36 (on 26 shots, but it was still better than some of his recent games). Carsen’s ability to get white hot and completely take over a game has been missing for weeks. We have seen the rest of Purdue’s team step up in that time, masking some of the misses and struggles.

That led to a Big Ten regular season title, but now Purdue has to put it all together. This is tournament time. They next 20 miss game will be Purdue’s last of the year.

So what do you do? How do you handle a guy like him? He is an exceptional talent, but he has been pushing so much of late he is 11% below his career average from 3 and 7% below his career average from the floor. I have moved from “Carsen is shooting so there is a great chance he will make this”, to “Carsen is shooting, please go in.” He is even missing open looks, as we saw in Minneapolis last week.

What makes it even harder is that all the questions we had 32 games ago about the players around Edwards have been answered, and they’ve been answered in the affirmitive. Does Carsen have a supporting cast? Yes, as Ryan Cline and Matt Haarms have been mostly great all year. Nojel Eastern has found his role as a guard that is a devastating matchup inside 7 feet. Grady Eifert has become the greatest walk-on in Purdue history, while Trevion Williams, Aaron Wheeler, Eric Hunter Jr., Sasha Stefanovic, and even Evan Boudreaux at times, have become excellent role players that know exactly what they need to do. This resulted in an unexpected Big Ten regular season championship that makes this year a success no matter what happens next week. It is safe to say that virtually everyone else, Matt Painter included, has exceeded expectations this year.

Perhaps it is familiarity. Big Ten coaches have now seen him for three years. Opposing players have seen him the same amount too, and facing a guy a second time can lead to an improved performance. Indeed, here is how Carsen did in “First games” versus an opponent compared to “Second games”

Maryland - 1st game: 4-15, 3-9 3FG, 9-9 FT, 20 points 2nd game: 8-27, 3-13 3FG, 5-8 FT, 24 points

Michigan St. - 1st game: 3-16, 2-13 3FG 33-4 FT, 11 points 2nd game: 4-19, 3-11 3FG, 3-3 FT, 14 points

Indiana - 1st game: 6-18, 3-10 3FG, 5-6 FT, 20 points 2nd game: 4-24, 0-10 3FG, 1-2 FT, 9 points

Ohio State - 1st game: 6-16, 4-9 3FG, 11-13 FT, 27 points 2nd game: 9-16, 4-8 3FG, 3-3 FT, 25 points

Penn State - 1st game: 12-24, 8-15 3FG, 6-6 FT, 38 points 2nd game: 6-11, 3-6 3FG, 6-6 FT, 21 points

Minnesota - 1st game: 6-20, 1-9 3FG, 4-6 FT 17 points 2nd game: 7-31, 3-15 3FG 5-8 FT, 22 points 3rd game: 4-17, 1-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 11 points

Familiarity could definitely be a factor, but I think a more telling stat is his number of free throw attempts. When he gets to the free throw line five or more times Purdue tends to do really well. It means he is attacking and being aggressive instead of settling for threes. It could also just be as simple as him being in a cold streak right now and he is trying to shoot his way out of it.

I will be blunt: Carsen Edwards is capable of turning it on and dropping 120 total points in four games as he leads Purdue to its first Final Four in 39 years. He is also capable of going 4 of 23 in a second round loss to a lower seed.

Neither result would surprise me. He has the ability to get hot and just go off on a team and we have been waiting for that to happen these last 11 games. For whatever reason, it hasn’t happened. He has put up some decent scoring totals, but he has also had some of the worst games of his career at Indiana, at Maryland, and at Minnesota, when he tried to do too much.

How do you figure him out? Let’s look at his assist and turnover numbers during this same 11 game stretch:

2 assists, 7 turnovers vs. Minnesota (loss)

5 assists, 1 turnover at Northwestern (win)

1 assist, 2 turnovers at Minnesota (loss)

2 assists, 2 turnovers vs. Ohio State (win)

0 assists, 6 turnovers vs. Illinois (win)

2 assists, 5 turnovers at Nebraska (win)

4 assists, 1 turnover at Indiana (win)

2 assists, 7 turnovers vs. Penn State (win)

9 assists, 2 turnovers at Maryland (loss)

2 assists, 0 turnovers vs. Nebraska (win)

5 assists, 4 turnovers vs. Minnesota (win)

It is a very, very small sample size, but the college basketball season is a small sample size and tournament games get even smaller, but we saw peak Carsen and what we need from him for about two possessions at Northwestern last Saturday. Those possessions happened 67 seconds apart, but a struggling Carsen could have pulled up for a shot like he has many times. On consecutive possessions he found Eastern and Haarms for easy layups with excellent passes. Those plays extended a 54-47 Purdue lead on a timeout with 9:09 left to a 58-47 Purdue lead with 8:02 left. Purdue was in full control the rest of the way and Northwestern never got within 10 points again. Yes, it was against the worst team in the Big Ten, but it was two critical possessions where Carsen’s heroball tendencies, especially while he is struggling, could have taken over. He made the right call and turned a precarious situation into a walkover.

How do you control that? What do you do? As a coach, you cannot possibly micromanage what a player does within a split second. Up 54-47 with 8:53 left does Carsen shoot a challenged jumper or does he see Nojel cutting to the basket and hit him for an open layup? That’s not on Matt Painter. In that moment, it is just Carsen.

Purdue has overachieved this year by winning a share of the Big Ten title. In that, it can underachieve by failing to reach the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. Yes, that is a very complex statement, but it is true. So much of that relies on Carsen. Is this merely a slump he can break out of or is it who he is, trying to carry a team alone instead of playing to make all the pieces around him better?

The thing is, Carsen is more than capable of having a great tournament and ascending into the rafters as a Purdue legend. It is his time. For one last stats dive lets look at his six NCAA Tournament games to date:

vs. Vermont (80-70 win): 4-10, 2-4 3FG, 2-3 FT, 12 points

vs. Iowa State (80-76 win): 3-6, 0-3 3FG, 3-3 FT, 9 points

vs. Kansas (98-66 loss): 1-10, 0-5 3FG, 4-4 FT, 6 points

vs. Cal State Fullerton (74-48 win): 4-12, 1-4 3FG, 6-6 FT, 15 points

vs. Butler (76-73 win): 4-17, 3-10, 2-2 FT, 13 points

vs. Texas Tech (78-65 loss): 11-20, 4-9 3FG, 4-4 FT, 30 points

The Butler and Texas Tech games were the first examples of this iteration of Purdue basketball. They were without Isaac Haas. We Purdue had to go away from being post dominant and lean towards this more perimeter offense. Carsen was objectively great in that Texas Tech game while Dakota Mathias struggled and we only got 6 points from the bench. That is the type of Carsen game we need, combined with everyone else playing their roles as well as they have lately. He was efficient with a good balance between attacking and picking his spots for three. Can he do that for 3-4 games?

We will find out next week.