After their victory in the first round of the Maui Invitational, the Purdue Boilermakers will get a rematch of one of the greatest Sweet 16 games in NCAA Tourney history when they take on the Tennessee Volunteers in the semifinals. Purdue, ranked #2 in the country, will play their third top 30 Kenpom rated team in their first five games with Tennessee at #7, Gonzaga at #9, and Xavier at #30. Purdue is the only team in the country with two top 30 Kenpom wins this season and will be the first to get three with a victory against the Vols.
Tennessee relies heavily on senior guard Dalton Knecht, a transfer from Northern Colorado, to provide them with a scoring punch. Knecht is averaging 19 points per game, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.8 rebounds a game for the Vols. He is supported by a set of guards in senior Josiah-Jordan James and Jordan Gainey to give the Vols a trio of guards that make them incredibly potent on the offensive end.
Let’s step into a Three Pointer for the Tennessee game!
1 | Limit Dalton Knecht’s Effectiveness
Knecht, a transfer from Northern Colorado and a former JUCO player at Northeastern, is a flat out scorer. The 6’6 guard is an efficient shooter from behind the arc shootings 36% and 38% in his two seasons at Northern Colorado and starting this season similarly at 39%. What sets the Knecht apart is his athleticism that has put him on the radar of NBA scouts in what is likely his only season at Tennessee. He is able to play above the rim and rebounds the ball well for a guard and has player up to the hype leading into the season.
Purdue likely won’t stop the guard from scoring in double figures as he has done so in every game so far this year, even against good competition like Wisconsin and Syracuse. What the Boilers can do is use a multitude of players to continue throwing at Knecht like Lance Jones, Camden Heide, Ethan Morton, and Myles Colvin. The Boilers will likely be the first team that have multiple defenders that are able to matchup with the lengthy guard on the season. What the Boilers need to do is make it difficult for Knecht and make him inefficient rather than trying to just stop him from scoring altogether.
2 | Get Edey Going Early and Often
Tennessee isn’t going to overwhelm anyone with their size this season as only one player that sees significant time is taller than 6’6 and that is 6’11 F/C Jonas Aidoo. Tennessee may need to play 6’11 true freshman J.P. Estrella out of necessity but he is only playing an average of 6 minutes per game so far this season. If Edey is getting to his spots and being patient with the ball so he doesn’t create his own turnovers, the need to hit those early shots to put pressure on Tennessee can’t be overstated.
Edey has struggled a bit to start games and that was no different in the game against Gonzaga where Edey was 4-11 in the first half but Edey was incredibly efficient in the second half going 4-5. That kind of efficiency to start the game against the Vols would likely draw a lot of fouls to go with that scoring. That’ll be important to force more playing time for Tennessee’s bench where Purdue can leverage even more of their advantages that they have.
3 | Limit the Bad Turnovers
Purdue has done an ok job this year limiting their overall turnovers averaging 11.8 per game so far this season. That’s a number that Matt Painter can live with but what can’t continue to happen is getting multiple bad turnovers from players who are not primary ball handlers. Even having three or four from Edey is understandable considering the amount of offense that runs through him on a game to game basis but getting three a piece from Mason Gillis and Fletcher Loyer can’t happen.
Against Gonzaga, Loyer and Gillis each had three turnovers and those six combined turnovers accounted for nearly half of Purdue’s 13 total turnovers. The issue was most of those were just boneheaded turnovers like Loyer just dropping the ball on a baseline out of bounds or Gillis dribbling into the lane with not plan and getting the ball taken from him. Those kinds of mistakes are what led to the Zags turning those turnovers into 19 points and those kinds of nights can be difficult to overcome.
Turnovers are going to happen for Purdue and to expect less than double digits on a nightly basis isn’t likely realistic. That’s especially true now that Purdue appears ready and able to push the tempo a bit more this season. What Purdue needs to do is limit the bad turnovers that lead to transition opportunities and buckets for the opposition. Doing that limits the opportunities to get easy buckets against an offense that will again be one of the most efficient ones in college basketball that has another gear thanks in part to the guards’ ability to get out in transition this season.
And 1 | Force Tennessee’s Bench to Play and Contribute
Purdue generates a lot of foul calls from their opponents, much to the dismay of those teams’ fans. The reality of it is that Purdue does as good of a job drawing fouls while at the same time doing an outstanding job of not fouling themselves. In all honesty, if Edey was called more accurately in the post when he shoots, he should probably get a foul call almost every time. Go back and watch the game against Gonzaga and you’ll see Edey’s forearm getting hit every time he shoots. If it is a foul to hit the forearm of a jump shooter then it is a foul when its the forearm on a hook or post move.
Tennessee seems to play their top seven a fair amount of minutes with the top 6 all receiving 21.3 minutes or more. Their seventh most minutes come from junior Zakai Zeigler at about 18 minutes per game. After that the minutes drop off drastically to just 9 minutes per game from Tobe Awaka. Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes relies heavily on his players with experience as all of those top 7 are juniors or seniors but that could pose a heavy burden on the Vols that may leave them exposed early on against the Boilers or at the very lease having to deal with a double edged sword.
If Purdue is able to generate the foul calls they generally have been able to get, it’ll put Tennessee in the position of needing to rely heavily on major minutes from players who are not accustomed to doing so against the best offense in college basketball and one of the best defenses as well. If Purdue isn’t able to get those players on the bench, they’ll suddenly have to be deep in the game against a deeper team that can roll athletic players with experience late in games. Either way, it’s a difficult task for the Volunteers to handle.
Players to Watch:
#3 Dalton Knecht | Guard | Senior | 6’6 197 | 19 pts, 3.8 reb, 1.8 ast, 7-18 (38.9%) 3pt
Echoing the sentiments from point 1, Knecht is the Vols most potent scoring threat. The 6’6 guard is a deadeye shooter who can fill it up quickly and is athletic enough to cause problems on the perimeter with his ball handling. A player who should get a long look in the upcoming NBA Draft, Knecht may very well be a first team all SEC type player for the Vols.
#30 Josiah-Jordan James | Guard | Senior | 6’6 207 | 12.3 pts, 8 reb, 1.3 ast, 1.8 stl, 8-14 (57.1%) 3pt
Taking a bit of a backseat to Knecht is Josiah-Jordan James but the lengthy guard shouldn’t be overlooked at all. He possesses great length and can flat out shoot the ball from behind the arc. The former top 30 recruit in the 2019 class, James is in his 5th year with the Vols and has played a consistent role for the Vols every season averaging double figures over the past three seasons. His career 3pt percentage in the four years prior to 2023 stands at 32.8% so the Boilers can’t just leave him alone behind the arc.
#0 Jonas Aidoo | Forward/Center | Junior | 6’11 230 | 8.8 pts, 8.3 reb, 1.5 ast, 2.3 blk, 0-4 3pt
The former 4 star, top 50 player from the 2021 class, Aidoo is one of the best shot blockers and at altering shots in the country. Although he lacks a high ability as a low post scorer, he does pose a threat in the high pick and roll game that Purdue will need to be aware of. He struggles as a shooter from the field beyond 6 to 8 feet from the bucket but he will take open threes if presented to him (5-18 last season).
Tennessee may have one of the more experienced teams Purdue will face when it comes to the primary players that will see minutes. The guards are dynamic and lead the way but the frontcourt is a bit of a weak spot for the Vols with a lack of overall size, depth, and scoring ability. That being said, Tennessee is highly ranked and highly thought of for a reason.
Edey will need to start the game strong and efficient to put as much pressure inside on Tennessee so that the wings and guards can run their actions to get open looks from three. We’ll get to see how Purdue responds to their first poor shooting night on the season. My guess, Purdue will continue to be an efficient offense and make it really difficult on Knecht with Morton, Heide, Jones, and even Gillis likely defending him throughout the game.