The Purdue Boilermakers will take on the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the first round of what may be one of the most stacked early season tournaments in recent history that also features Tennessee, Kansas, UCLA, Marquette, and Syracuse. The Boilers will look to make an early statement in a season that the program and its’ fans hope will finally see the team get over the hurdles of March Madness. The Bulldogs have a deep and talented roster that features three former top 100 players in their starting lineup and five players scoring in double figures per game, although they have played just two games against inferior competition.
Let’s get into the keys for this first round matchup against the Bulldogs!
1 | Control the Offense and Defensive Boards
Purdue, in their first three games this season, have allowed all three teams to outrebound them on the offensive glass. That typically isn’t the case but this team just appears to struggle a bit in preventing teams from getting on the offensive glass. So far this season, Purdue has grabbed just 24 offensive rebounds while giving up 34 while last season the Boilers had grabbed 38 while giving up 32. This might be attributed simply to Purdue making more shots early on this season as compared to early last season, especially from behind the arc where Purdue went just 23-80 for 29% last year through the first three games while they have gone 31-67 for 46% this season.
Although making shots at a higher percentage means that Purdue just generally has less opportunities for their own offensive rebounds, Purdue can’t allow teams to continue to grab double digit rebounds on the offensive glass. Those are generally effort based rebounds and likely come due to the other players on the floor just expecting Zach Edey to grab the rebounds when it comes off the rim. The fact is that many times these rebounds are coming from guys who are not getting blocked out on the backside of the shot and being able to sneak a rebound in for second and even third chance points. Purdue has been outscored on second chance points in two of their three games.
Purdue has dominated on the glass overall this season holding a 126-93 advantage in total rebounds. This must continue throughout the rest of the season but in these next few games will be one of the advantages Purdue must leverage as they may be a bit exposed in other areas more so than in previous games. If Purdue can do that, they stand a good chance at defeating not only Gonzaga but the other top flight opponents throughout the season.
2 | Continue to Share the Basketball to Get Open Shots
Purdue has shown the ability through three games to hit open shots, something that wasn’t always the case last season. So far in three games Purdue is hitting 46% of their 3pt shots and while that might not continue to happen at that level for the entire season being around 35% is a realistic goal. That 35% would relieve a lot of pressure on Zach Edey in the low post to get more one on one opportunities.
The extra pass for Purdue is incredibly important with the types of sets and counters they employ to get good shots for everyone on the floor. The key though is sometimes passing up a good shot early in the shot clock to keep the ball moving around the perimeter to get a great shot one or two passes later. These extra passes can also allow Zach the chance to move in the paint to seal his man high or low for a better angle to attack the rim before a double can get to him.
Purdue boasts one of the best effective field goal shooting percentages in the country at 64.2% (9th) along with being the most efficient offense while having a much quicker offense this season rating 89th, all according to Kenpom. Purdue is also 4th in the country in assist percentage per basket at 72% which means they are making that extra pass headed into Maui. If that continues and Purdue continues to hit their shots, they’ll be incredibly difficult to outscore.
3 | Limit Gonzaga’s Trips to the Foul Line
This has to be one of the most maddening things for an opponent to watch over the last two to three years when playing Purdue. Purdue’s defensive concepts and plan is to force a lot of mid-range jump shots and contested shots outside of the paint. That, coupled with a big man like Zach in the middle that dissuades a lot of attempts at the rim, means opponents just don’t get a lot of opportunities to draw fouls and get to the foul line. That also means Purdue’s best players remain on the floor more often times than not.
Gonzaga takes 19.7 free throws on average per game, which is right around where the average is nationwide. The issue is that Purdue has only allowed 8.1 attempts per game and when a team doesn’t get those free points, they have to earn them against one of the better teams defensively nationwide. If Purdue can limit Gonzaga’s free throw attempts to 11 or less, that means Purdue is playing a clean defensive game which also means Purdue’s best players are remaining on the floor.
And 1 | Don’t Turn the Ball Over
A key piece of Purdue’s formula with the way they want to play the game is limiting free points, as mentioned above with their limiting chances at the foul line. That also holds true from providing extra possessions and points of turnovers by taking care of the ball. Purdue’s offense is so efficient that it requires an opponent to play above their normal level for an entire game which is just, plainly put, really hard to do. It makes it even more difficult if Purdue doesn’t turn the ball over. Coach Painter has frequently preached the need to stay at 10 or less turnovers a game and if Purdue can remain at that point, it just makes it that much more difficult to beat the Boilers.
In Purdue’s six losses during the 2022-2023 season, Purdue turned the ball over 16 times in three games and 13 in another game. The first round loss to FDU is included in one of those 16 turnover games along with one of the Indiana losses. If Purdue takes care of the ball, they generally win the games they play.
Players to Watch:
#34 Brandon Huff | Forward | 6’10 235lb | Freshman | 21 pts, 7.5 reb, 3-5 3pt
Huff is the leading scorer for the Bulldogs through two games even though he has not started a game yet. That might change at the Maui Invitational but Mark Few may like bringing his young big man off the bench in this matchup so he doesn’t pick up a quick foul or two trying to defend Zach Edey. The top 100 player out of Illinois could be a bit of a matchup problem for the Boilers if he is able to hit some early threes and pull Zach out of the middle.
#0 Ryan Nembhard | Guard | 6’0 175lb | Junior | 11 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast
The small but quick guard is Gonzaga’s version of Braden Smith with the capabilities to get a triple double at his fingers tips most nights. A scorer who looks to work the offensive flow first and foremost, Nembhard can make life difficult for opposing teams by making things happen when the offense gets off the rails. Lucky for Purdue, they’ll be able to have multiple defenders to throw at him throughout the game.
#13 Graham Ike | Forward | 6’9 245lb | Junior | 18 pts, 7 reb, 1.5 ast, 2 stl, 2-2 3pt
The former Wyoming Cowboy transferred to Gonzaga to step up the competition and he has backed that up so far this season. Listed as a four star transfer according to 247, the big bodied forward/center will likely draw first honors in trying to defend Zach Edey on the interior. In his time at Wyoming he did average nearly 3.5 fouls per game so that may be something to watch early on in this contest.
Gonzaga just continues to be one of the most consistent programs in the country over the last decade. They continue to recruit well and get the players they need in Mark Few’s system to be successful and they have backed up that regular season success with success in the NCAA Tourney. They have talent but they may not have enough of it if the Boilers play a consistent game throughout and limit their mistakes. If that happens, Purdue can win this game with Edey controlling the interior and the combination of Braden Smith and Lance Jones controlling the tempo. This is going to be a good game but Purdue is able to keep Gonzaga at just enough arms length to win the first round in Maui.