The Purdue Boilermakers made another major statement about being the unquestioned most complete team in the country by beating the #1 Arizona Wildcats 92-84. Absolutely massive games from Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer combined with Zach Edey’s 22 points, 9 rebounds, and a career high 5 assists was too much for Caleb Love and the Wildcats in one of the best non-conference matchups this season.
Let’s extend this possession and take a look back with ‘The Rebound.’
1 | Keep the Ball Moving on Offense
Purdue’s offense looked elite for most of the game against the Wildcats. With a three headed monster of Edey, Loyer, and Smith torching Arizona from inside and outside, it forced the Wildcats to move away from their dominated man to man defense and go to a 3-2 zone they had previously not even showed in a game. That’s how desperate the game had gotten for Tommy Lloyd. Had that switch not come, it may have very well been Purdue scoring 100 or more points. Instead, the Boilers got stagnant against a wrinkle and the Wildcats were able to claw themselves back into the game.
Arizona went to that defensive switch around the 15:09 minute mark and that would coincide with Purdue not scoring from the field for almost 8 1⁄2 minutes. In that stretch Arizona went on an 11-0 run, the largest of the game, while Purdue’s offense went stagnant. It was highlighted by a number of really bad turnovers and allowing Arizona to get itself into an offensive groove in transition. During that 11-0 run, Purdue had 6 of their 13 turnovers and it was mostly just poor ball movement and off ball movement to help guys like Edey when he was tossed the ball in a bad situation.
Here is a breakdown of what happened to Purdue when Arizona went to that zone:
This is the first possession from Purdue against that zone and you can see Arizona isn’t comfortable. The ball movement is quick, sharp, and definitive as Purdue finds TKR in the middle of the zone and as the defense collapses, he calmly turns and finds an open Loyer for another made three. Had this continued to happen for two or three more possessions, it is likely Arizona would have gone away from this. Instead, this was the last field goal Purdue would make and Arizona stuck to this zone as Purdue turned the ball over again and again.
This is a montage of some of the next possessions Purdue had against that 3-2 zone and you can see the poor off ball movement, passing, and execution from Purdue. This is where things went sideways for the Boilers for a bit as the turnovers led to a lot of fast break points where Arizona had a 17-7 advantage. The best example of great ball movement came as Purdue finally broke through and forced Arizona out of the zone.
However, the ball movement for the other roughly 30 minutes of game play was magnificent. That kind of ball movement when shots are being hit from the outside gives Purdue an offensive efficiency where many teams simply won’t have the ability to keep up.
Had it not been for the extremely long scoring drought due to bad ball movement and turnovers, this would have been an A+. Purdue put up 19 more points than any other team had scored on Arizona this season so far and could have scored 100 had that drought not gone on so long.
2 | Get Arizona into Some Foul Trouble
This was always going to be a tough task because Arizona just doesn’t foul a whole lot and looks to do a lot of the same things defensively as Purdue does. To combat that, you either have to drive right at Arizona when you get inside the arc and make tough shots, have a big man you can use dump a pass to for a shot at the rim, or keep moving the ball to get good shots from beyond the arc. Purdue did all of those things while drawing 19 fouls against the Wildcats (tied for the most with Belmont) but only hit 12-19 from the free throw line. That percentage needs to improve if the advantage isn’t an overwhelming one.
It’s a task getting a well coached and experienced team to make mistakes, especially a team like Arizona who doesn’t really beat themselves all too often. This was really more about a solidly officiated game from a crew who should be rewarded with some high level games in the NCAA Tourney. Both of these teams want to force their opponents into hitting tough shots and limiting the free ones they give up. Purdue happened to hit more tough shots, especially in the midrange from Fletcher Loyer.
3 | Limit the Third and Fourth Scorers for Arizona
We all knew Caleb Love was going to go get his because that is what he does in big game and it just seems like Purdue struggles to really shut down a player of that caliber. If Love is hitting his shots like he was against Purdue, you make it as difficult as possible for him and try to limit the other scorers on the floor. That’s where Purdue did a really good job against the Wildcats.
Keshad Johnson had 24 points on 8-13 shooting and he was incredibly efficient in that effort but Purdue made Love a bit more inefficient in the second half as he went 5-12 (3-8 3pt) from the field. He did go 7-7 from the free throw line in the second half but that’s what great players do when they are struggling: attack the basket and get to the foul line. The key was not allowing Arizona’s other really good scorers to hurt them as no other Wildcat scored above their season average while Larsson (-2), Boswell (-5.7), Bradley (-4.4), Lewis (-6), Krivas (-8.1) were below their season averages. That was a key part of the victory for the Boilers.
It’s not all too often that two guys can go for 29 and 24 and get soundly beat but Purdue’s defensive effort was really showcased in this game. Outside of the lapse in the middle part of the second half where Purdue allowed the Wildcats to get out into fastbreaks off turnovers, Purdue controlled one of the best offensive teams in the country.
And 1 | What’s the Rotation Going to Be?
There seems to be some questioning if TKR will be replaced in the starting lineup but Matt Painter has never been one to make changes just for the sake of making changes. This year, especially, he appears comfortable allowing guys to play and making decisions on the rotations from what he is seeing in the flow of the game. That’s paid dividends so far this year and Painter even said he made a mistake not getting Colvin into the game more against Northwestern.
It is becoming more and more clear that the rotation is settling itself in a bit more and roles are being defined. One of the best lineups that Purdue had from a +/- perspective against Arizona utilized Myles Colvin alongside the other starting four but another really interesting lineup that features two players off the bench has Caleb Furst playing alongside Edey and Cam Heide in for Lance Jones. Those two lineups will be fun to watch evolve more this season and gives Purdue a lot of flexibility in how they want to approach opponents.
Those guys outside of the big three don’t need to do anything heroic for Purdue to be great. Even in Gillis’ big game last year against Penn State where he went 9-12 from behind the arc, he wasn’t trying to do anything other than what his role calls for. Notably when he does those things, alongside Heide, Colvin, Furst, Morton, and TKR, Purdue is just so damn hard to beat. The rotation will sort itself out on a game to game basis and Painter appears more in tune to what he needs to do in games than in any other season before. These stats show that his in game decisions are coming quick and decisively.
Painter is making great in game substitutions overall and once these guys start falling into their roles more and more, it’s going to make Purdue even more difficult to contend with. Gillis has, at times, tried to do too much by putting the ball on the floor. Those guys around the big three just need to be comfortable in their own skin and allow others to do the heavy lifting. Their times will come and that’s why guys like TKR and Gillis have shown an ability to get 20 points and why Heide, Colvin, and Furst could all put up 10 or more easily on any given night.
Well I was right that this was going to be an absolutely great game to watch. Purdue did play some of their best basketball of the season and pushed their lead up to 15 points but struggled through a long scoring drought while Arizona’s 3-2 zone gave them some fits to handle. Purdue got absolutely massive games from their big three in Edey, Smith, and Loyer and when that happens it’s going to take an even more perfect game from the opponent to win. This was as high level of basketball in college as you’ll see, maybe all season.
Even with a dominating performance in another big time non-conference game, Purdue got more film of the things it needs to get better at if it wants to make that all important NCAA Tourney run in March. How great is that to have? What’s more is that Purdue scored 92 points on one of the best defensive teams in the country up to this point and only scored 6 points in an almost 10 minute span in the second half.
Arizona: 79 (off by 5)
Purdue: 76 (off by 16)
Player of the Game:
Hard to choose when three guys go get you 22 or more points and Zach Edey combines his scoring with 5 assists, but this one goes to Fletcher Loyer. He may not have had the biggest =/- score (+7 to Edey and Smith’s +15 and +14, respectively), but what he did was have as good a game overall on both ends of the floor as we have seen from him. He scored a team high 27 points and paired that with 3 assists and 4 steals with only 1 turnover while drawing two big charges on the defensive end.
Loyer has been the ire of Purdue fans for the way opposing teams have attacked him on the defensive end but he was great defensively against Arizona. Proactive in his off ball defense and active as an on ball defender, Loyer has made strides on the defensive side of the floor. If Purdue gets that kind of game from him defensively while he also continues to be a major shooting threat at all levels of the floor, Purdue’s ceiling is a lot higher than we all expected it to be.
Play of the Game:
With under 5 minutes left and Arizona making a run, Purdue was able to stave off a bit of the momentum that the Wildcats had generated after being down 15. Purdue finally settled in and Edey took control as he has done so many times in late game situations. With Edey getting going down low, the attention had been placed squarely on him and that left Purdue with the ability to exploit a major weakness of a zone: ball movement.
Smith attacked the weak point of the zone and collapsed the defense and kicked it out to Fletcher Loyer. The defense attacked hard toward him because of his shot making ability and that left Jones alone on the right side of the floor. The defense was late in their rotation because of Edey’s gravitational and Jones his a big time shot to extend the lead back to 7.
Your @HammerAndRails 'Play of the Game' from @BoilerBall's victory over @ArizonaMBB. Exquisite ball movement with Purdue attacking the zone to find an open @LanceBuckets to extended Purdue's lead back to 7 with under 5 minutes to play. pic.twitter.com/GAjXsxz4wc— Jed Wilkinson (@PurdueWilkie) December 18, 2023