Purdue didn’t get to clinch their 25th B1G Title in the way they would have liked to, but, nevertheless, on Sunday afternoon Purdue got there with the help from the Maryland Terrapins. After a rough outing against the Hoosiers that saw the Boilers shoot just 5-23 from behind the arc and allow Indiana to go on a 17-4 run in the first 7:13 of the second half, Purdue got the help they needed to lock in at least a share of the B1G title before their game at Wisconsin on Thursday. Purdue can make it an outright title by winning just one of the final two games they have but more than that Purdue can still give themselves a chance at a #1 seed headed into the NCAA Tourney.
There is little more you can say about the season Zach Edey is having after going toe to toe with largely the only other player who could stake any claim as National Player of the Year in Trayce Jackson-Davis and going for 26 points and 18 rebounds (to TJD’s 10 points and 8 rebounds). On the season, Edey is now averaging 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 2.4 blocks per game in what is turning out to be one of the most dominant seasons in B1G history over the last 25 years. Edey will likely become just the programs second ever National Player of the Year, the programs 5th B1G Player of the Year, and the school’s 19th Consensus 1st Team All American.
For Wisconsin, they are led by sophomore point guard Chucky Hepburn who is averaging 12.4 points, 3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists per game but left in the second half of their game Sunday against the Michigan Wolverines with what was tabbed as lower body injury. His status remains unknown at the time of publishing this article. Wisconsin, though, has 3 other players who average in double figures in scoring with true freshman Connor Essegian from Fort Wayne, IN being one of the those players.
Let’s get into the important matchups!
1 | Ethan Morton/Brandon Newman vs. Connor Essegian
Connor Essegian, the freshman from Fort Wayne, IN, has been a really good player for Wisconsin this season. With point guard Chucky Hepburn possibly missing the upcoming game, Essegian becomes even that more important as the only other Wisconsin player able to score on different levels on a consistent basis. He showed that ability to be a focal point with Hepburn out as he went for 24 points on 10-21 but shot just 1-8 from behind the arc. That may be a bit of a one off type of performance from behind the arc as Essegian is shooting 39.7% on 151 total attempts (1st on Wisconsin). That shooting percentage is behind just Hepburn’s 43.5% on the season.
To stop Essegian, Purdue will likely look to their two best perimeter defenders in Morton and Newman but in all honesty Newman should probably get the nod to start the game against Wisconsin. Over the previous 3 games, Newman’s +/- is drastically better than Morton’s with an overall +/- of +14 to Morton’s -12. That kind of drastic difference, along with Newman’s 4.8% better shooting percentage from behind the arc may be enough to push him into the starting lineup these last two games to see if he can provide more for the Boilers.
If Hepburn is out, holding Essegian to around his average of 12 points a game and not allowing him to create shots for others will be key.
2 | Zach Edey vs. Wisconsin’s Double Teams
It’s not secret at this point that opposing defenses aren’t just going to let Edey go one on one in the post because I don’t think there is a post defender in college basketball that would be able to stop him over the course of a game enough to hold him under 30. Pushing teams to that as well is that Purdue just doesn’t appear to have the shooters around him to pose a significant threat to halt a double team for the entire game. Due to that inability for consistency, it’ll be important to see what Edey is able to do against Wisconsin’s double teams and how Purdue gets him into positions to be successful.
Purdue did not do a really good job consistently getting into their sets against the Hoosiers to take advantage of Edey’s scoring ability against a Hoosier front line that was hampered with foul trouble. Even though he went for 26 and 18, he could have easily gotten to 35 or 40 with a more focused effort earlier in the second half to stave off the Hoosier run that made the difference in the game.
Wisconsin will likely use 7’ Steven Crowl but at just 217 pounds, Edey will be able to really push him deep into the post to establish position. The only other option they would really have would be 6’9 forward Tyler Wahl and at that size Edey could easily just turn and hit a hook shot with little impedance. To counter that, Wisconsin will try to push Edey as far away from the basket early in the possession and then bring a very quick double team to force him into bad passes and rushed decisions. Edey has shown more patience and has only turned the ball over two times per game over the last 3 games.
Edey is going to get his and his impact may be strong on the offensive glass if Purdue isn’t able to get him the ball in positions to score enough to take advantage of the clear mismatch. If that is the case, Edey will need to be dominate and have a game with 7 or more offensive rebounds against the worst rebounding team in the conferene this season.
3 | Purdue vs. the 3pt Line
After the game versus Indiana, I don’t think this one is a particularly hard one to see as incredibly important. Purdue doesn’t have to be an elite shooting team to win games against really good opponents but it does need to be average. When it has shot poorly (below it’s not great season average of 33%), Purdue has experienced 4 of their 5 losses. Even in that singular loss, Purdue shot at their average of 33%. The fact is that when Purdue shoots just decently from behind the arc, they stand a wonderful chance of winning simply by giving Edey a compliment to his dominance inside. When they don’t, however, they can get beat by anyone and that is what worries Purdue fans moving forward.
If Hepburn is unavailable, that takes the primary ball handler and scoring threat away from the Badgers in a game that they may have to have to stay in the bubble conversation. They don’t have the players inside to deal with Edey so they will bring a double team on every post touch Edey gets unless the wings and guards are hitting their shots from behind the arc. Maybe the team will play more loose and relaxed without the pressure of the B1G Title over their heads because the last time they played without much pressure was back in November. Edey likely will get his points and his rebounds but will he get the necessary support to get a victory on the road in what is traditionally one of the toughest places to play in the B1G? Purdue just needs to get to that 35% threshold from their shooters and Purdue can win this game. If not, they could just as easily lose to a Badgers squad who may NEED this game to get into the NCAA Tourney.