In spite of the otherworldly second-half show put on by Wisconsin against Purdue in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, what I remember most about last year's Boilermakers is the rock fight they engaged the Badgers in back in early January. A physically imposing Purdue squad played the Badgers as tough as any team did, staying closer throughout the game than the 62-55 final score indicates.
Now older and stronger, No. 14 Purdue (12-1) has paid its dues and returns to Madison as one of the Big Ten favorites, along with Michigan State and Maryland. The Boilers added freshman phenom Caleb Swanigan to a front line that returns both twin towers. In addition, forwards Rapheal Davis and Vince Edwards have the capability to match Nigel Hayes defensively and make life difficult for the Badger offense. As if Wisconsin needed any more of a challenge right now.
Tuesday's tilt will be another opportunity for Wisconsin (8-5) to get the bench production its sorely needs. Particularly from the perimeter, where we still don't know whether the Greg Gard version of Jordan Hill was a fluke or not. As for Purdue, Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails helped fill us in on what to expect from the Boilers.
Purdue is off to a great start this season and it's been based on the best defense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy. To an outsider, the two giant shot blockers inside -- Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons -- appear to be the anchor. How are these guys being used now that freshman Caleb Swanigan has emerged and what does their presence allow the team to do defensively?
Haas and Hammons are pretty much being used the same way they were last year. When one is in, the other is out. On defense they both pretty much relentlessly protect the rim while on offense they try to set up on the low block and dominate. Because of Swanigan they rarely have to go away from the basket on offense. Swanigan is still making some freshman mistakes, but he can play both inside and out and allows Hammons and Haas to pretty much stay near the rim on both ends.
Hammons is definitely the more versatile offensive player. He can shoot the jumper if needed and has added the three-pointer, though in a very limited role. He is 3 for 3 from long range, but he is still very much a dominant big man at the basket. When he is dialed in I don’t think anyone in America can stop him. He was fantastic in the second half against Vanderbilt and thoroughly dominated two seven-footers that tried to guard him.
There's no doubt that Matt Painter took note of how the Badgers folded under Green Bay's full-court pressure in the second half last Wednesday. Can we expect the Boilermakers to use a press on Tuesday night? In the half court, will Purdue use anything but the extended, aggressive man-to-man defense we're used to?
Oh no. We do not press. Purdue is going to play man-to-man and let Hammons/Haas swat everything within five feet of the basket. Hammons had seven blocks against Vanderbilt and is the Big Ten’s best shot blocker. We dare teams to drive on him.
Big Ten Basketball Kickoff: A B5Q Interview
•Hammer and RailsPhil answers T-Mill's curiosities about what's up with the Badgers over at SB Nation's Purdue community.
Purdue got its first loss out of the way (Butler did it) and then rebounded with a very good win over Vanderbilt. The Boilers even claimed a true road win at Pittsburgh already. So other than the one loss, has anything at all gone wrong yet?
It is a relief that Wisconsin did not do it. Only twice has Purdue started 14-0 (1993-94 and 2009-10) and both times they lost game 15 in Madison. The Butler loss was a concern because many of the same issues that have caused problems the past few years showed up. Purdue had some very long stretches of poor offense and struggled on the defensive glass. That said, they played pretty awful but managed to fight back and had the basketball down with less than 30 seconds left against a top 15 team. In most games Purdue has been able to wear teams down and dominate the final 10 minutes. Butler was the only game where it couldn’t do that because it played pretty poorly before that.
I am willing to chalk the Butler game up to a bad game against a good team. Purdue couldn’t afford a long dry spell and paid for it with a loss.
A year after the Boilers struck gold with the Jon Octeus transfer, they tried again with former Illinois State guard Johnny Hill. It looks like he's platooning with 5'10" sophomore P.J. Thompson however. Compare and contrast the point guard play for Purdue between last season and this season so far.
It is interesting because both have played well, but some of Purdue’s best teams have not had a dedicated point guard. The 2007-08 and 2008-09 teams didn’t have one and they did fine. The motion offense works best when any player on the floor can make the necessary pass for the basket. Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline have been more effective at the entry passes into the post. What Purdue needs to do is have more consistency knocking down outside shots. That will really open up the post.
In Rapheal Davis and Vince Edwards, Purdue has two players with good size and athleticism that seem to be able to do all the little things that help a team win. Is it unfair to characterize them as "glue guys" though? It seems like Davis has been the heart and soul of this team for a year or two and Edwards might be his understudy.
Davis is such a great defensive player and team player. He does everything needed away from the basketball to help this team win. What’s even better is that Purdue has found a way to win games, like Pittsburgh, when he is not on the court. Offensively Davis can drive to the basket and he has improved as a three-point shooter. Defensively, well, he is the reigning conference DPOY on a team with A.J. Hammons as a dominant defensive force. I think Purdue fans are just fine with those two battling for DPOY honors again.
As for Edwards, he is Purdue’s most versatile player and we’re extremely excited to see how good he can be. He can drive, shoot, pass, defend, and do pretty much everything. With Caleb Swanigan we can also play him at the three too. We have compared him to Robbie Hummel, only we can play him at the three where Hummel would have killed opposing teams.
The depth on this team looks incredible. Going at least nine deep, no Boilermaker plays even 70 percent of the minutes, in stark contrast to Wisconsin's heavy lifters, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. That bodes well for Purdue's postseason ability. Is it Final Four or bust in 2016?
I sure hope so, but I have been here before. It went poorly in 2010 and 2011. As a Purdue fan I am way too familiar with "finding the banana peel". Does a certain fumble remind you of anything? This definitely could be a Final Four team, but I will believe it around the time we’re cutting nets in a regional.
Give us a prediction on the final score.
Purdue is one of the few teams that has played well in Madison and it is just too deep. No offense to Wisconsin, but when Western Illinois and Milwaukee walk into the Kohl Center and win I have to expect Purdue can win too.
A big thanks to Travis for the inside scoop on this year's daunting Purdue team. Give @JustTMill a follow on Twitter and check out @HammerAndRails for more on the Boilermakers.
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