Purdue and Texas have some recent history on the basketball court. Texas took both ends of a home and home in 2018 and 2019, and then there is Chris Beard. Right as Purdue is on the brink of the greatness it has sought for decades, it must overcome a tournament nemesis. Let’s see what Wescott Eberts of SB Nation’s Burnt Orange Nation had to say about tomorrow’s game:
T-Mill: Purdue fans have a bad history with Chris Beard. How similar is this year’s Texas team to his previous teams at Little Rock and Texas Tech?
Wescott: Fundamentally, the Beard teams all have a lot of similarities in style — they play at a slow pace, they run a version of Bobby Knight’s motion offense, and they want everything to come from their defense. When Beard was at Little Rock, he wasn’t yet using the no-middle defense current Texas Tech head coach Mark Adams convinced Beard to run after his first season as the head coach in Lubbock. I frequently call it the most consequential decision of Beard’s coaching career. Texas runs a version of that defense and can throw a few different defensive tactics at opposing teams — a little bit of press, switching every ball screen, trapping the ball handler. This Longhorns team is a little bit bigger and more athletic than the Trojans and the Red Raiders were an elite defensive team capable of protecting the rim and forcing turnovers, That was the first year of the no-middle defense and Texas Tech finished No. 4 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Texas isn’t that good defensively, in part because they don’t have a high-level rim protector, but they’re better offensively.
T-Mill: You’ve got Marcus Carr too? He’s done some really good work in three previous games against Purdue. How much does that help?
Wescott: I’m not sure it makes a difference. Carr’s paradigm as a player is so much different for Texas than it was at Minnesota that it doesn’t feel like an apt comparison. What Beard needs from Carr is for him to be consistent and assertive looking for his shots while having enough game awareness to get his teammates involved when necessary. With the Gophers, Carr obviously erred on the side of taking as many shots as necessary to find a rhythm. Asking him to serve as more of a point guard didn’t go well for Texas or for Carr’s professional aspirations in that potential role. But against the Hokies he did manage to balance both of those aspects in his most complete performance with the Longhorns. Texas is quite dangerous with that Carr and solid support from guys like Andrew Jones, Timmy Allen, and Courtney Ramey.
T-Mill: One of our fans pointed out that this is the toughest defense Purdue will have faced, but the toughest offense Texas has faced. What are your thoughts on this statement and how does Purdue have success against an excellent defense?
Wescott: Well, Texas played Gonzaga and the Zags currently have the No. 1 offense by KenPom. Purdue is second, so I’m splitting hairs here, but Texas has certainly faced some of the best offenses in the country. They were torched by Drew Timme in Spokane while Beard was trying to incorporate all the transfers and find his footing as the Longhorns head coach. They nearly beat Kansas twice, losing in overtime on Senior Night, a game that has produced wins for the Jayhawks every year since 1984. They’ve played two games against No. 8 Baylor. There was a lot of ugly, defensive basketball played in the Big 12 this season, a group that certainly includes Texas, but the Horns have played five games against opponents with top-eight offenses.
The clear area for Purdue to exploit is the small Texas defense. Allen and Christian Bishop made up the starting Texas frontcourt — Allen is 6’6 and Bishop is 6’7. The team’s best post player, 6’9 forward Tre Mitchell, a UMass transfer, left the team. The other option with some size is 6’9 forward Dylan Disu, a Vanderbilt transfer who has struggled to contribute while trying to bounce back from an ACL tear. On the interior, the Horns are small and paper thin. Zach Edey and Zavion Williams have the ability to dominate Texas in the paint and if that happens, the path to victory looks difficult from this perspective. Against Timme, Beard refused to send double teams and Texas just couldn’t stop him. I expect Beard will try to avoid giving up threes and allow Edey and Williams to score at one or two points a time. If Texas gets into foul trouble, though, things could get really ugly. I grew up an Illinois fan — in Lafayette, no less — and I’m thinking about how that title game against North Carolina came down to James Augustine picking up some early fouls and Sean May destroying Roger Powell. The Longhorns don’t even really have an Augustine.
T-Mill: Last season North Texas knocked out Purdue by playing a glacial tempo. Texas is 339th on KenPom in tempo. Is this a big advantage this year, especially when Purdue is prone to late shot clock defensive lapses.
Wescott: I’m not sure how much Beard would run if he had the capability — he was a student assistant under Tom Penders, though these are far from the Runnin’ Horns — and this Texas team doesn’t have much capability. They don’t have a lot of speed or finishing ability at guard like they did with Matt Coleman and Kerwin Roach. They don’t have NBA-quality bigs like Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba, Jaxson Hayes, Kai Jones, and Jericho Sims. So they don’t have athletic threats in transition anywhere on the court, they don’t have pick-and-roll finishers or guards who can get to the rim and convert or get to the free-throw line regularly. Allen has a YMCA-style game, Bishop will not be able to finish over Edey or Williams in traffic, and Carr relies on his ability to produce jumpshots off the dribble. Late in the shot clock, Allen is capable, too. Since the Longhorns play slow, they rely on late shot creation, but they’ve been inconsistent in that area all season, especially Carr. And Allen can get overwhelmed by bigger players, like he did in a 2-for-15 shooting night against Kansas in that overtime loss.
T-Mill: Purdue appears to have a big advantage in the post with Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. How does Texas counter?
The first reality is that Texas doesn’t have the option of switching ball screens. They can ice or hedge and recover or they can trap them. I think trapping is a bad idea with the size of the Boilermakers — the Longhorns just don’t really have help defenders who can protect the rim. Then Beard has to decide how to defend post ups. Playing behind Edey may be a bad idea, so they might look to front at times, but that can expose the weak-side defense to skip passes and Purdue is so dangerous from three. It’s a tough call and Beard may want to show a few different looks, including a little bit of backcourt pressure to shorten possessions for the Boilers. The guards will also have to help on the defensive glass because Purdue is such a strong offensive rebounding team and do a strong job of pressuring the ball handler if Texas is playing behind Edey and Willams in the post. The Longhorns especially can’t afford to let long possessions end in second chances, particularly with the three-point shooting risk that naturally entails.
T-Mill: What would you say is Texas’ biggest weakness?
They can get overwhelmed by longer, more athletic opponents. Purdue is certainly much bigger and that’s a huge matchup problem for Texas on both ends. Unless the Longhorns can really space the court, I think it’s going to be hard to score inside, Meanwhile, Beard and his staff face some difficult choices about how to defend the Boilermakers.
BONUS STATEMENT: Purdue fans showed out two seasons ago when you guys played us in West Lafayette in support for Andrew Jones. I love that he has recovered well and has kicked cancer’s ass.
Wescott: Certainly appreciate the warm reception that AJ1 received in Mackey and it’s been awesome seeing how he’s been able to battle back and become an advocate for the fight against cancer. He’s one of the best stories in college basketball and it was awesome to see him get his first NCAA Tournament win on Friday. He was sensational in the game, but most of all, it’s been a privilege to cover Jones and his remarkable journey.