Garrett and I took a look at a few key offensive stats early today. Now our gaze shifts to the defense. Last season, defense moved out of Mackey arena and spent the fall, winter, and part of the spring on a beach in Mexico. Early on, it looks to have come back refreshed from it’s season long sabbatical.
For my money, this team will live (or die...but hopefully live) on its defense this season. The offense is still a work in progress, but as long as the defense remains tight, the offense will eventually click. We saw that in the Marquette game, The offense struggled in the first half. Edey had 6 points and shots weren’t falling, still, Purdue went into the locker room down only by two points because the defense held Marquette to an equally bad half. In the second half, the offense found its rhythm and outside of letting one dude on the Golden Eagles go nuclear, the defense held as well. Purdue put up 43 points in the second half, and may have come close to 50 if they hit free throws. I don’t think the second half explosion happens without the first half defense.
Here are three things Purdue has done well on defense, and one thing they need to improve.
*Stats by Drew (via KenPom), analysis by Garrett
3 Point Percentage Defense
National Average: 33.1
Purdue National Rank: 15
Better 3 Point Defending Teams: Wisconsin (11% - 1), Ohio State (19% - 2), Rutgers (21% - 7)
We’re looking at a small sample size in this young season. That said, the perimeter defense looks better than last season’s Boilermakers defense which gave up 33.3% from beyond the arc, ranked 156th in 2021-22. They’re closing out what would have been open shots last year.
With length on the wing, experienced front court starters and tenacious defensive newcomer in Braden Smith, I don’t see the positive defensive trend coming toward any sort of halt as conference play approaches. We have guys big enough to protect the paint who also happen to be fast enough to switch to any opposing player with the slightest of open shots at the 3 and 4. Having a freak like Caleb Furst on the bench to bring instant energy and close outs at the 5 (when Purdue inevitably runs into a 5 capable of shooting from the outside) should also pay dividends as the season progresses.
(Blocked shots / Opp. 2PA)
National Average: 9.1
Purdue National Rank: 13
Better Shot Blocking Teams: Oregon (32.6 - 1), Kansas (25.5 - 5), Northwestern (25.7 - 11)
I’ve said this several times: Zach Edey will lead the Big 10 in blocks. Purdue was ranked 128th in this category last year, but the massive Edey’s block percentage was 7.4 last season. He’s now at a whopping 12.6 percent in the first three games.
The effortless blocks we’ve seen from Edey are the result of a giant learning better defensive footwork and positioning. Nobody’s ever going to say he’s as quick on his feet, but it looks like he’s moving better this season Combine that with his increased defensive awareness and Purdue has the rim protector they were lacking last season.
Effective FG % Defense
(FGM + 0.5*3PM) / FGA
National Average: 49.7
Purdue National Rank: 20
Better Defending Teams: Ohio State (33.6 - 1), Wisconsin (38.9 - 11), Northwestern (39.2 - 12)
Again, last year’s defense wasn’t great in this category but has improved remarkably early on in the season. The Boilermakers were ranked 134th overall last season at 49.1 percent. Edey’s improvement in shot blocking will more than likely keep this percentage down.
Length will be key for Purdue maintaining this aspect of defensive efficiency; we’re closing out perimeter shooters better than in the previous campaign while also protecting the paint. I think we’d all like to see that continue. We’ll see how that progresses throughout the season, but in facing smaller shoot-first teams, especially with Marquette, I like what I’ve seen so far in terms of forcing bad shots as the shot clock ticks down. The defense looks lively.
(TO / Possessions)
National Average: 19.2
Purdue National Rank: 214
Teams Better At Forcing Turnovers: Iowa State (35.7 - 1), Rutgers (29.3 - 4), Illinois (25 - 28)
Turnover percentage has gone way down since Painter took over, and that’s in interesting case study in a possible change in defensive philosophy. You can call it a defense with more patience, sure, but the defense doesn’t look terribly aggressive. The good news: freshman Braden Smith looks like an absolute pest early on in his collegiate career.
There’s a fine line between forcing bad shots late on in the shot clock and being timid on defense. The Boilermakers are capable of doing both in 2022, but can’t rely on trying to “force” shots when they delve into their conference schedule rife with better shooters than they’ve faced so far. Eventually those shots will be created by the opposition if Purdue can’t poke away the ball for transition points a bit more often.
We like how the defense has progressed from last year. They seem more multidimensional than last year’s squad as the experienced players improve under Painter in combination with one especially aggressive freshman point guard coming onto the scene. The Boilermakers seem to remember that Tenacious D, or I suppose resilient defense, can lead to transition points. That makes all the difference for the AP’s 24th-ranked team which is very capable of beating anyone by a couple of late points.
The areas in which Purdue struggled last year, at least this early in the season, seem to have been addressed. Progress is progress. Short term is not long term, but the trajectory looks promising from my point of view (which is at the edge of my seat).