Let’s start off by acknowledging that college basketball, by its nature, is chaotic. Purdue ran into a determined team on the road with a solid game plan and lost. That’s happens on occasion. This game feels different though. It’s not that Purdue lost, like I said, sometimes that happens on the road. It’s how they lost that concerns me. I’ve seen this before in March.
Northwestern came in with a simple game plan. Foul Edey when he’s trying to get position and double Edey immediately when he touches the ball. I know, I know, the refs helped this game plan by refusing to call fouls (is the “cylinder foul” no longer a thing?), especially in the second half, but folks, I’ve got bad news for you. If your game plan requires consistency from NCAA refs to be effective, you’re going to eventually run into inconsistent NCAA refs.
When the whistle isn’t going Purdue’s way, and the other team is slowing the game down and putting the ball into a shot creators hands at the end of the clock, can Purdue find enough offense, or enough defensive stops, to win the game?
As I’ve looked through the stats, trying to find a common thread in Purdue’s losses, the two stats the stands out are field goals attempted and turnover percentage.
Purdue Field Goals Attempted / Turnover Percentage
Purdue 64 - Rutgers - 65
Purdue FGA - 48
Purdue Turnover % - 17.7
Rutgers Turnover % - 12.5
Purdue 74 - Indiana - 79
Purdue FGA - 58
Purdue Turnover % - 19.9
Indiana Turnover % - 9.7
Purdue 58 - Northwestern - 64
Purdue FGA - 47
Purdue Turnover % - 19.6
Northwestern Turnover % - 12.2
As you can see, Rutgers and Northwestern decided the best way to cool off Purdue’s offensive efficiency machine was to limit attempts. Indiana has more talent than both Rutgers and Northwestern, and were able to play a bit faster, but Purdue couldn’t overcome their turnover issues. It’s strange, Purdue wants to play at a deliberate pace on offense, but they don’t want their opponent to play at a deliberate pace on offense
The way I see it, this Purdue team has two major flaws.
Purdue doesn’t have a guy on the squad capable of taking a game over off the dribble. The offense is predicated on post entry passes. Those tend to be contested. Then, if you hard double Edey, it’s predicated on him making the right pass out of the post. Northwestern turned 7’4” Edey into Purdue’s point guard, and then forced him into 6 turnovers.
Purdue’s offense doesn’t start until Edey gets the ball in the post. Painter can run 100 different sets to get him the ball in the post, but if you ignore the window dressing and say “when Edey gets the ball on the block, come with a double every time and make him a passer instead of a scorer” it works out better than letting him bury your post player and dunk the ball.
Zach’s an elite finisher, but he’s an average passer. Purdue has several elite post entry passers, but have average finishers outside of Edey. While Purdue’s 7’4” center is trying to pass out of the post to guys that don’t necessarily want to shoot, Northwestern chews clock and finishes their possessions by setting a screen for Boo Buie, dictating his matchup, and letting him score off the dribble. The ball is rarely in danger because Purdue’s passive defense doesn’t challenge passing lanes.
Every Purdue turnover is amplified, because they’re not getting them back on defense.
No Second Gear
I touched on this a little in the turnover section, but it’s been an issue for Purdue since Painter switched to his no foul / no turnover defense. If a team wants to drag Purdue into the deep end, they can, because Purdue’s defense can’t (or won’t) turn up the intensity and speed up the opponent.
At the same time, Purdue can’t pick up the pace on offense, especially if Zach is consistently getting double team. When that happens, it results in multiple post entry passes, per possession. I get frustrated when Purdue enters the ball to Edey, the double comes, he passes the ball out, and instead of attacking a team in rotation, the offense resets to get Edey another post entry pass, which results in another double team, and Edey kicking it again, except this time the shot clock is running down and someone has to launch a shot or Smith is forced to try drive the ball.
I’ve said it with every Purdue big man. The Boilermakers’s offense is unstoppable when a dominant post player is part of the offense, not the entire offense. I’ve seen too many Purdue players turn down good positions for themselves, in hopes to eventually get Zach another touch in the paint. It feels like the next time a Purdue guard/wing pumps a hard close out and drives the ball, will be the first time.
To Adjust or Not?
Matt Painter gets paid to make this choice, and it’s a tough one. When the refs are allowing a “physical” game and making Edey’s life miserable, does he stay the course, or change things up on either offense of defense?
Against Northwestern he stayed the course.
When you’ve got a 7’4”, National Player of The Year in the post, it’s tough to go away from him as the primary finisher, even when the other team is somewhat slowing him down. It’s not like Edey had a bad game. He put up 24 points on 7-10 shooting and went 10-13 from the line. The problem is, the work it takes to get him those points slows the pace of the game down to a crawl.
I was hopeful that Purdue would have a second gear this season. Edey will always be the focus, but I thought we would see more of either Furst or Kaufman-Renn at center to occasionally step on the gas and make the opponent change their defensive game plan.
Kaufmann-Renn only played 5 minutes against the Wildcats, but those 5 minutes had some of the better Purdue offensive possessions of the game. You saw more of the pure motion offense, with Kaufmann-Renn being a part of the offense, instead of the focus of the offense. In the 5 minutes he played, Purdue hit 2 3’s (Morton, Furst) and TKR hit a nice hook shot in the lane. When Edey isn’t on the court, the offense speeds up and guys take open shots instead of passing them up in hopes of getting Zach a touch near the rim. Then again, getting Zach a touch near the rim isn’t a bad choice.
One thing that disappoints me about Coach Painter this year is not turning up the defense when Zach is off the court. TKR isn’t going to play much, and he’s got 5 fouls, but he’s still in the game playing drop coverage even though he’s not a shot blocker? Why not have him crank up the intensity on defense? When a team gets in a groove against Purdue, they tend to stay in a groove because the defense doesn’t change, regardless of personnel. Northwestern found what they wanted with Buie off the bounce. Purdue tried Morton and Newman on him, but they never changed how they were playing defense. Buie knew he was going to get the ball at the end of the clock, with the opportunity to attack the basket, and he didn’t care if it was Morton or Newman checking him. On several occasions, he didn’t have to contend with either because Purdue switched a token screen late instead of the primary defender fighting through.
It was clear the only way for Northwestern to win was Buie going off. Purdue didn’t do much to stop him. Meanwhile, Chris Collins was doing everything, including using weapons, to slow down Edey. Northwestern’s defense was keyed up to make Edey’s life difficult, meanwhile Purdue’s defense was keyed up to....I don’t know...not foul I guess? Buie got up 20 shots, Zach got up 10. In fact, Purdue’s top 2 scores (Edey/Loyer) attempted 16 shots. Northwestern’s top 2 scorers (Buie/Audige) got up 36 shots.
Hard to win games like that.
Should Purdue occasionally take Edey off the floor, pick up the tempo on offense and the intensity on defense? I don’t know. It’s easy to say that in hindsight when Purdue loses.
Purdue let Northwestern play their game. They came in with a game plan, got exactly what they expected from Purdue, and found a way to win. Painter never pushed them out of their comfort zone on offense of defense. I promise you, Purdue will see this again in March. A team will drag Purdue into a slow paced game. Zach Edey will get hacked in the post with no repercussions. Will Painter have something different for that game or will he stay the course?
We’ve seen the Boilermakers lose in March to North Texas and St. Peters in games where Painter stayed the course. I’m hoping for something different this season, but I’m not optimistic. Hopefully Purdue finds a way to win late against a team that has no business being within 10 points.
That’s a dangerous game to play.