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NCAA Tournament: Purdue vs. Nova, A Torrent of 3’s

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Both teams love to shoot the ball, but Purdue will have to use their big men to beat the defending champs.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Villanova vs Saint Mary’s David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue and Villanova will square off tonight in the Round of 32 in Hartford, Connecticut. Usually, there’s no knowns in March, but we know one thing for sure - there’s going to be a lot of 3-pointers when these two teams square off.

On Thursday, when Villanova bested St. Mary’s and Purdue beat Old Dominion, they combined to hoist 50 three-pointers.

Purdue actually topped Villanova on the night, carrying most the deep-range load, shooting 30 threes while Villanova shot only 20. Only 20, because it’s been a long time since Jay Wright’s Wildcats shot under 20 threes in a game. In fact, it’s been since November.

Against Florida St. on November 25th, the Wildcats beat the Seminoles 66-60 while going just 3 of 14 from three. There only other game under 20 happened earlier in November when the then best-looking team in the nation at the time, Michigan Wolverines, trounced Villanova 73-46. Nova was just 3 of 15 from the three-point line that game and had 21 turnovers to go with it.

So while holding Villanova to just 3 makes and less than 20 threes seems like a good strategy, it doesn’t seem full proof. Florida St., who improbably came from behind against Purdue at home in the final minute, was able to limit their three-point opportunities but couldn’t capitalize on their athleticism and toughness to get a win against the defending champs. Michigan on the other hand, completely dominated a young Villanova team that was going through similar growing pains as Purdue in the early stages of the season.

Villanova has made the 6th most 3’s in the nation, 369 to be exact. They’ve attempted 1,043!!!!! which is 4th most in college basketball. Purdue has not been as prevalent, but close, and they’ve been slightly more efficient. They’re 320-884 on three-pointers on the season. That’s the 29th most makes and 30th most attempts in the nation.

Unlike Villanova, they only have one game this season with under 20 attempts from three. They took just 16 threes (2-16) against Minnesota on February 3rd, a 73-63 win against a team that accounts for 2 of Purdue’s 9 losses on the season.

Which is a key distinction to make between these teams. While Purdue has two volume three-point shooters in Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline, both have had hot and cold streaks, Villanova has a full roster and a scheme built around and designed to shoot a ton of threes. They had four games this season where they took 40 or more three-point shots. That’s insane.

And that old saying, live by the sword, die by the sword, exists here. Three-pointers are so variant. Hoisting a bunch is mathematically the most efficient way to play basketball we’ve learned, but it also comes with the highest variable of outcomes. Villanova was 3-1 in those 40+ games, but their one loss was to Furman. Furman is a decent team, but they have no business beating the defending champs on the road.

For Purdue, their consistency to shooting a lot of threes has been remarkable. 16 is their lowest output and it happened just once. But it also came in a win, where they had one of their best performances offensively besides outside shooting. For Purdue, with Carsen Edwards in particular, the three-point line seems more like a crutch than a developed plan at times. Too often Purdue settles or has to settle for a three, either early or late in their possession.

Against Minnesota, at home, Purdue was patient and used their dynamic big men to hurt a tough and athletic Minnesota defense that shut down Purdue’s offense twice later in the season. But in the first match-up, the big men were king. Trevion Williams and Matt Haarms combined for 31 points, going 15-19 from the floor, and they did it in different ways.

Haarms attacked as the roller in pick and rolls. Frustrating the Gopher defense by using the threat of Cline and Edwards off the dribble to cut early on screens and get open dunks at the hoop. For Williams, he was a man amongst boys. He grabbed offensive rebounds, controlled the block, and used his size, touch, and passing to maneuver the defense around and then score when he got 1 on 1 opportunities.

And this will be where the game is decided, not beyond the arc. Villanova will shoot a lot of threes. So will Purdue. But the Wildcats don’t have the big man to match up to Williams or Haarms.

St. Mary’s two big men, Jordan Hunter and Matthias Tass, caused Wright’s switch everything defense problems throughout the game just by being bigger and getting the guards to guard them in the post. They combined to score 15 of St. Mary’s 57 points, but neither are the caliber offensive weapons of Haarms or Williams who each bring a different variable to Purdue’s offense, both which probably kept Wright up at night worrying about a scheme to counteract them.

For Williams, a Villanova squad that lacks anyone within 40 pounds of him and no one tall enough to deter his bevy of hook shots, he should feast in the post. The true freshman will force doubles if he makes his shots early, and he’s shown an unnatural ability to find open cutters and three-point shooters. He’s most comfortable being patient and waiting for the defense to commit and making timely and spectacular passes while not turning the ball over.

And that’s the back-up. The starting big man for Coach Painter, Matt Haarms, the 7’3” Dutchman has been a revelation since the turn of the calendar. He leads Purdue in box score +/- at 12.9, a good 2 points above the next closest teammate, and the eye test has backed it up. He’s been Purdue’s best player in the last two months with his efficient scoring and his ability to control the rim at the other end. His mobility allows him to switch any screen, an invaluable skill for a big man going up against a Villanova offense where everyone can and will shoot. He’s rebounding better than he ever has.

Haarms is averaging 13 points a game and nearly 3 blocks a game in his last 9. He adds a mobility to Purdue’s pick and roll that makes defenses make an impossible choice. Pay attention to the cutting 7’3” big man who moves quicker than a guy that tall should, or leave Ryan Cline and Carsen Edwards the space to pull up on jumpers. Defenses can guard these plays correctly and shut off both, but only occasionally, eventually all defenses break under that kind of constant pressure.

This double-edged attack is something Coach Wright doesn’t really have. He has a five-tool threat in Eric Paschall, but he doesn’t have the big men to consistently pressure Purdue’s defense at multiple levels. A Purdue offense running with patience, with guards looking to get their big men involved, does.

It’s Purdue’s one advantage against the defending champs, and they know it. “It’s something that against Villanova, we need to get the ball in the paint, and then they’re pretty good with not allowing that,” Ryan Cline told reporters from the podium yesterday. This will be the task for Purdue’s guards and wings. Get the bigs the ball and often.

Still expect a torrent of 3’s from both sides, and all the variance that comes with it, but the key for a Purdue win will almost certainly fall in the paint.

Purdue’s big men should be enough of a mismatch to unlock the door to the Sweet 16 for a third straight time, guards willing.