This team has the potential to be considered one of the greats in Purdue basketball history. The offensive talent is undeniable, and occasionally, overwhelming for even the best teams. When things go well, they can bury teams with a 5 minute 2nd half run and keep them buried with a brutally efficient offense. Sometimes, unfortunately, those runs don’t happen. Michigan State decided to play Purdue straight up in the post, stick to spot up shooters, play the long game, and try and beat them down the stretch.
That looks to be the formula to beat Purdue. Granted, it’s a tough one to get right, and most teams will fail. Credit to Michigan State and their patience. They were willing to get beaten up on the inside, make Purdue work for their 2 points, and then come down on the other end and get it back by exploiting the Boilermakers atrocious on ball defense. They worked their drive and kick game for 3’s and Purdue didn’t adjust. Again, the formula is there for all to attempt. This isn’t some grand revelation on my part. If you can drag Purdue into the deep water of a 1 possession game, it’s a coin toss. If you go out and try and play with them, they’re going to run you off the court.
Much of what plagues Purdue on defense is personnel. Simply put, at any given point in the game Painter puts a team on the floor that, at best, is average defensively. The big men struggle to defend the pick and roll, Edey is the only rim protector, and for the most part, the perimeter players can’t contain the dribble drive. Purdue over reacts to drives and gives up wide open 3’s on kick outs. It feels like Purdue is still playing defense like it’s 1987, and not 2022.
What hurt Purdue at the end of the Michigan State game wasn’t necessarily personnel, but defensive philosophy. In his on-court postgame interview, Michigan State’s Tyson Walker said “we knew we were going to get the switch.” He knew any token threat of a high pick and roll would allow them to dictate the matchup.
In this case, Michigan State knew they could get Trevion Williams matched up on their point guard. If I’m an opposing coach, and I need a bucket, I’ll dictate that matchup and live with the consequences. You’re guaranteed a good look. It doesn’t take advanced level x’s and o’s. There is little chance for a turnover. If you can turn the last possession into a make/miss proposition on a good shot, you take it.
I feel like I’m insulting y’all by breaking this play down. Anyone that’s played organized basketball from the elementary school level up knows what Michigan State did. In fact, my 3rd grade team used this exact play to win the Noblesville city championship in 1990. I’m only doing it because if you watch basketball like I do, slightly/very drunk and with only one eye open on possessions like this, you may have missed it.
1-5 Pick and Roll
Red Circle - Tyson Walker - 6’0” - PG
Yellow Circle - Malik Hall - 6’8” - F
Purple Square - Eric Hunter Jr. - 6’4” - PG
Green Square - Trevion Williams - 6’10” C
Purdue’s in good shape here. If Michigan State wants to clear it out for Tyson Walker to go 1 on 1 with Eric Hunter Jr., you live with that. Hunter Jr. is a solid defender and should make Walker hit a contested shot. If that happens, tip your hat.
Tom Izzo isn’t happy with that matchup, so he decides to change it. He doesn’t want Hunter Jr. on Walker, he wants Trevion Williams on Walker. That shouldn’t be easy. There is no way Purdue wants their center on a point guard on the last possession, with this much time left on the clock, but stunningly simple play gets Izzo what he wants.
I’m sure Izzo has some complex stuff in his back pocket that would take me 2 days to figure out, but why use any of that when the high pick and roll gets you where you want to go, and it’s something the players involved have run their entire life. This isn’t a play, it’s muscle memory.
Hall (yellow circle) sets token screen here. It’s nothing soul crushing, just a gentle stick the knee out brush screen on Hunter (purple circle). Honestly, if Walker (red circle) wanted to come off this screen shooting, he would have an open look, but there isn’t any reason for him to rush. To me, it looks like Tre (green square) is playing back to catch the roll man and Hunter Jr. is going fight over the screen.
I’m not going to mention the fact that Tre (green box) is using pretty terrible footwork on the cross over instead of sliding (oops, I guess I did mention that), but at this point, everything is still on the table in terms of the defense. Hunter Jr. (purple circle) could fight through this screen and keep Walker from getting the corner. Tre could show and recover to the roll man, and make this an extremely difficult pass, especially if we trust Ivey (we do not) to rotate down in case of emergency.
I can’t think of a worse outcome for Purdue on this play, outside of a catastrophic non-contact knee injury, than for Walker to get an iso on Tre with 5 seconds remaining and an open court. Anything but that and Michigan State, at minimum, has to do something mildly challenging to score.
Ok, so this might be a little harsh. It sounds like Walker knew Purdue was going to auto switch the screen, because Purdue tends to auto switch this screen, but in theory Tre (green square) could still show with high hands and retreat, letting Hunter (purple square) recover to Walker (red circle).
Walker does a nice job of vaguely threatening the drive, at which point, he knows he has Tre on the hook.
Oh...Oh...No...Not Like This
It’s clear that Walker (red circle) has no interest in turning the corner and running the pick and roll. This play is set up to get him isolated on Tre (green square). It’s hard to show this, and I’m severely limited in the size of gif files I can post, so you’re going to have to take my word. As soon as Walker is sure he’s got Tre in an iso, he takes a leisurely side dribble (from the first red circle to his current position on the court) and comes under control. He’s got about 6 seconds to torture Tre.
Hand Down, Man Down
*I’m going to get rid of the circles now, because it’s Tre vs Walker 1 on 1, nothing else of note is happening.
Before I criticize Tre, I would like to point out that coaching is all about putting your players in a position to succeed. Tre is not in a position to succeed. He’s in the confluence of two stress dreams at the moment. He has shown up for class without pants, and he totally forgot this class was on the schedule, hasn’t cracked the book, and has to pass the final to graduate. Basically, everyone is looking at him, he’s all alone, and he doesn’t know what’s going on. If you polled every coach in America, and asked them if they would take this end game situation, you would get a 100% “yes”, response. I’m willing to bet if you offered the same group of coaches this scenario, but it would cost them a point, the majority would still take this situation.
This isn’t fair to Tre. He has no business guarding Walker. Painter’s a great coach, but this isn’t his finest moment. Even if Walker misses, Malik Hall is in great rebounding position for the put back. He’s got 4 inches and 35 pounds on Hunter Jr. Izzo used the most basic play in basketball to get his point guard isolated on Purdue’s center, and his best post player isolated on Purdue’s point guard. That’s total coaching domination.
Anyway, back to the action. This is the still right before Walker pulls up and sinks it in Tre’s eye. Tre is terrified of any sort of Walker drive, because Michigan State is in the bonus and a foul sends Walker to the line for game winning free throws. Walker hits him with the slightest hint of a jab step, Tre drops his hands to his knees, manages to get into the most unathletic position possible, and Walker rises and fires.
Make or Miss
The camera angle is deceptive. This is not a contested shot. Tre is basically at the free throw line and Walker is about a foot behind the 3 point line. I’m pulling up and taking this on Tre at 40, with no concerns of him blocking my shot. It’s make or miss for Walker, with no consideration for the attempted late close. He’s got at least 5 feet of separation, and Tre’s vertical is more...uhm...horizontal I guess, I don’t think his feet leave the floor. Worse yet, this is the shot Michigan State wanted. Walker isn’t freelancing, he’s following the game plan. This is the shot he was setting up. He’s in rhythm, unhurried, wide open, and shooting 56% from deep on the season.
Walker and Michigan State got the shot they wanted. It was wide open, and it went in. I would like to give a shout out to Hunter Jr., because he’s doing an excellent job of boxing out Hall, and was in a solid position to rebound (I put this to sabotage the “too negative” critique).
This is a good Purdue team with the ceiling to be great. Matt Painter is a great coach, and I wouldn’t trade him for any other coach, including Tom Izzo.
Now that we’ve taken care of that business, Coach Painter and the Boilermakers need to take care of their business. Giving Michigan State exactly what they want at the end of the game is coaching malpractice. What’s unsettling is we’ve seen this scenario play out before. North Texas didn’t wait until the end of the game to hunt a matchup last year. They used the same strategy to get Sasha perpetually stuck on their point guard with the slightest hint of a screen.
I expect similar out of Wisconsin and Johnny Davis later today. In late clock situations, check out who is guarding Davis. If it’s not Hunter Jr. or Ivey (Hunter Jr. please), Wisconsin will spread the floor and let Davis work over Sasha, or Thompson, or Gillis, or God forbid, Tre and/or Zach. Matt Painter forgot more basketball during his morning constitutional than I’ve ever learned, but he’s got to figure out a way to keep the opposing team from dictating matchups with little to no effort.
He’s coaching this team like everyone is a capable defender, and folks, I wish that were the case, but it’s not. I hope to see better moving forward, but I’m not entirely optimistic. Yes, this is a personnel problem, but it’s also a coach failing to adjust to a personnel problem (and no, I’m not talking about going zone).
Now let’s kick Wisconsin’s ass tonight.