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Purdue Basketball: Northwestern Preview

The Boilermakers hit the road to face Northwestern in the conference opener tonight!

Northwestern v Gonzaga Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Northwestern University Wildcats (5-1, 0-0) - KenPom #57

Basic Information

Location: Evanston Illinois

Type of School: Private Research University

Mascot: Willie the Wildcat

Head Coach - Chris Collins

Seasons at Northwestern: 11

Career Record: 161-163

Conference Championships: 0

NCAA Appearances: 2

Kenpom Style of Play

() = National Ranking per Kenpom

Offense

Adj. Efficiency: 112.6 (49)

Adj. Tempo: 62.2 (357)

Avg. Poss. Length: 18.9 (317)

Defense

Adj. Efficiency: 99.9 (77)

Avg. Poss. Length: 17.3 (205)

Adjusted Tempo

62.2 (357)

Kenpom 4 Factors

() = National Ranking per Kenpom

Offense

Effective FG%: 51.6 (124)

Turnover %: 14 (30)

Off. Reb. %: 31.7 (116)

FTA/FGA: 26.6 (294)

Defense

Effective FG%: 53 (270)

Turnover %: 24 (12)

Off. Reb. %: 30.7 (213)

FTA/FGA: 30 (123)

Personnel

Northwestern Starters

Position Number Player Class Height Weight Previous Team Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Position Number Player Class Height Weight Previous Team Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Point Guard 0 Boo Buie Sr. 6'2" 180 N/A 35.8 18.5 3.4 5.3 1.4 0.1
Shooting Guard 3 Ty Berry Sr. 6'3" 185 N/A 30 11.4 4 1.3 1.5 0
Small Forward 5 Ryan Langborg Sr. 6'4" 195 N/A 33.3 11.5 3.1 2.4 1.2 0.3
Power Forward 13 Brooks Barnhizer Jr. 6'6" 215 N/A 36 14.7 6.6 2.9 2 0.8
Center 34 Matthew Nicholson Sr. 7'0" 280 N/A 20.9 5.3 3.9 1.9 0.5 1.4

Northwestern Bench

Position Number Player Class Height Weight Previous Team Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Position Number Player Class Height Weight Previous Team Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Combo Guard 11 Jordan Clayton Fr. 6'2" 180 N/A 8.2 0.5 0.6 0.6 0.3 0
Forward 2 Nick Martinelli So 6'7" 200 N/A 20.5 7.2 3.2 0.9 0.6 0.2
Center 32 Blake Preston Sr. 6'9" 240 N/A 10.1 2.1 2.4 0.8 0.3 0.4
Center 33 Luke Hunger So. 6'10" 255 N/A 10.3 4.2 1.7 0.6 0.1 0.3

Playing Style

Offense

Northwestern’s offense looks a lot like Purdue’s offense from 2018-’19, with Boo playing the role of Carsen and Nicholson doing his best Matt Haarms impersonation from the high post with screens and dribble handoffs.

The majority of possessions start with a high screen at the top of the key for Buie, trying to turn the corner, and the center on a delayed roll to the basket. If Buie gets cut off, he throws out to a wing, and the motion repeats, often with the wing using the screen to drive and get the ball back to Buie on the wing, who then either takes the kick-out 3, or resets at the top of the key with yet another screen.

Saying this offense is deliberate is an understatement. Only 5 teams play at a slower pace. If you enjoy watching a walk up the court and grind on the shot clock, Northwestern is your team. Their main goal is to have the ball in Buie’s hands with 10 seconds left on the shot clock and a high screen at his disposal.

PURDUE SHOULD NOT GIVE BUIE THE SWITCH HE WANTS!

I normally abstain from all caps, but a good bit of Northwestern’s offense revolves around hunting good matchups for Buie. They’ll run through their set a few times, seeing if they can get him on a slower wing or better yet, a power forward. The Boilermakers should at least make Northwestern work for the switch or you’re going to see nothing but Buie working Fletcher Loyer at the end of the shot clock.

If they go away from Buie, they’ll look to their power forward Barnhizer next, the Lafayette Jefferson product is a 6’6”, 215-pound power forward capable of driving slow-footed power forwards. They’ll even run a few 4/5 pick and rolls for him. I anticipate Northwestern trying to hunt the Edey vs. Barnhizer matchup on the perimeter to see if he can get Zach in foul trouble. They’ll also pick and pop with Barnhizer. He’s only shooting 27% from deep, but he attempts 3 a game.

They use their center’s both as screeners at the top of the key and facilitators. Matt Nicholson is second on their team in assists, and most of those come off dribble handoffs into 3 pointers. I think that’s what reminds me the most of the 2018 Purdue offense. When they’re strictly using their center as a screener, they roll him into the lane late to clean up trash. They don’t have roll guys that finish at the rim.

Their two wings take spot-up 3’s off Buie drives or cut to the basket looking for easy layups. Ty Berry is a knock-down shooter when left wide open, and that happens a good bit when defenses collapse around Boo. Ryan Langborn is only hitting 22% from deep, but he attempts 4.5 a game. I assume he’ll start hitting some eventually; he’s not shy about pulling the trigger.

One more note for the Boilermakers. When Buie cycles the ball out and sets up on a wing, you can’t help off him if someone else drives. He’s hitting 40% from deep, and Northwestern is always looking for him. When he comes off the high pick, he’ll pull the trigger on a 3 if the center doesn’t show. That’s tough to do with Zach because he covers so much ground in one step, but don’t be surprised to see him attempt a few, especially late in the clock (what am I saying, everything happens late in the clock for Northwestern).

Northwestern’s offense isn’t super complicated. They don’t throw the ball into the post. They hunt matchups and utilize their big men either as screeners or facilitators at the top of the key. The offense revolves around Buie and Barnhizer, with everyone else playing a complementary role.

It really comes down to this though. Northwestern doesn’t have enough to win if Buie is limited. In their loss to Mississippi State, he was held to 9 points and the Wildcats couldn’t break 60 points. If Jones and Smith do the defensive job on Boo, it’s a Purdue win. Of course, that’s easier said than done. He’s a crafty player capable of scoring at all 3 levels. He has an impressive array of floaters he utilizes to score over bigger guys in the paint.

He’s at the top of the scouting report for a reason.

Defense

Northwestern is both very good and very bad at defense at the same time. They live to turn teams over in the half court and then use their offense to further choke the life out of the game. They’re 12th in the nation in turnover percentage. They love to collapse around a ball handler in the lane and then pick off long kickouts.

That strategy is feast or famine for them, though. They’re 12th in turnover percentage for the same reason they’re 327th in 3-point defense. Any time a player gets in the lane, they collapse on them. You’ll often see 4 Northwestern defenders with a foot in the paint on any drive. You don’t even have to drive. Taking a few enthusiastic dribbles towards the basket is all it takes to send Northwestern defenders scurrying to the lane.

Purdue is going to have open shooters all night. If they shoot over 35%, I don’t see how Northwestern wins this game.

That brings us to Zach Edey and Trey Kaufman-Renn

They’re going to auto double the center on every post catch. They leave a shooter in the corner wide open and challenge the center to make the pass, and the shooter to hit over a closeout. Nicholson is one of the bigger centers Zach will face this season. He’s a rugged-looking dude and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. I assume they’ll play him behind Zach, try to push him out, and then swarm him under. If the big man is patient, and Purdue brings their shooting shoes, he might end up with a triple double, including assists because he should be able to pivot and deliver passes to open shooters all night.

TKR has to be strong with the ball when he gets it in the paint. Any more than 2 dribbles and he’s going to turn the ball over because of the double team raking at him from the top side. He can’t take any absent-minded dribbles. When he puts the ball on the floor, he’s got to get into his move and look to score because they will punish him if he has to dribble to get to his spot.

Finally, this will be a huge test for Painter’s more lax approach to clock management this season. The Boilermakers have played against a few teams that want to play faster, not slower, than Purdue and were happy to oblige when the Boilermakers wanted to pick up the pace.

They will not find a willing partner in Northwestern.

Any tempo created in this game will happen because Purdue made it happen. I don’t anticipate the Wildcats sending anyone to the offensive glass. They’re going to work the clock to the dying embers, and then spring back on defense without even bothering to see if the ball went through the basket.

Purdue’s guards will have to force the action on their own. They need to take early good shots and not become fixated on forcing the ball inside and further chopping up the game. It’s their job to Purdue enough possessions to win the game. Northwestern wants to limit Purdue’s shot opportunities. That’s the way most good small teams will try to play the Boilermakers as well. It’s up to Braden and Lance to not let that happen.

In Conclusion

Here’s how this game goes down.

Northwestern will try and take the air out of the ball. They’re going to shoot jump shots late in the clock and then ruthlessly foul Zach Edey. Collins is going to come unglued every time the refs call a foul and it will eventually get the zebras to swallow their whistle.

Once this happens it’s up to Purdue to adjust.

Yes, Chris Collins will whine more than any coach outside of Tom Izzo. Yes Zach just got hit with a frying pan and they didn’t call it. I’ll be extremely interested to see how Painter handles it this season. In the past, he’s played into the slow down, foul game and allowed teams like Northwestern to hang around and possible snipe his team late with a run.

Northwestern struggles against teams that out athlete them. Purdue can do that this year. In the game Northwestern lost to Mississippi State, the Bulldogs point guard, Josh Hubbard went off for 29 points. I want to see Painter give Smith the opportunity to do the same. I want to see Lance Jones attack early and give Zach offensive rebounding opportunities where he doesn’t have to fight off 4 guys to score.

The only way the Wildcats win this game is if Purdue agrees allows them to dictate the terms of engagement.

We’re the bullies this year.

We need to make teams play the way we want them to play.

I think that happens tonight.

Prediction

KenPom

Purdue - 74

Northwestern - 66

Confidence: 77%

Drew

Purdue - 78

Northwestern - 62

Purdue makes a statement on the road tonight.

One way to keep teams from playing the most frustrating style of basketball against you as possible is to bludgeon the first team that tries it. Punch them square in the nose, and make sure that thing is shooting blood in all directions (figuratively, of course). Other teams have attempted to slow the game down, but even Tennessee isn’t as dedicated to the cause as Northwestern. Ruthlessly beating a decent Northwestern team will keep us from having to watch games played in the 50’s all season.

Purdue uses their newfound tempo to push the pace, work earlier in the shot clock, and let Braden control the pace of the game. Even if they don’t push it up the court to score, getting those extra seconds on the shot clock will be the difference between a violation and a wide-open 3 in the corner.

This Boilermaker team is on a mission, and I don’t expect them to fail in their first conference game.