The Wisconsin Badgers (12-7 overall, 5-3 B1G) hit the road for another Friday evening B1G tussle, this time with the wildly erratic Purdue Boilermakers (10-9 overall, 3-5 B1G) at Mackey Arena. Wisconsin is coming off a big win over Nebraska while Purdue has lost two in a row and most recently got their doors blown off by Illinois at home.
Purdue hangs their hat on defense, like much of the B1G, but sports an absolutely horrific offense, especially when you just look at conference games. In B1G play, Purdue is shooting 27.3% from beyond the arc (No. 13 in B1G), 42.2% on two-pointers (No. 14 in B1G) and 64.3% from the free throw line (No. 12 in the B1G). Not surprisingly, their eFG% is only 41.8% which is also No. 14, or last, in the B1G.
They do force a lot of turnovers and have held teams to an extremely low percentage of three pointers made, which might be a problem for a team like Wisconsin who relies heavily on made threes.
To answer all of our questions about the Boilermakers, we called on our friends at Hammer and Rails and Casey Bartley was nice enough to clue us in on all things Purdue hoops related.
1) Purdue is 10-9 but ranked No. 27 (as of 1/22/20) by KenPom. Can you give us a quick rundown of the crazy season that the Boilermakers have had so far? What is Purdue’s best win?
It’s been less crazy than slowly deteriorating at this point. Purdue started off with a healthy dose of playing pretty well, leading late, and then their offensive woes collapsing at the end of games. (Texas, Marquette, Florida St.) Or just generally being bad on offense so they just plain lose to teams that are pretty good. (Illinois, Nebraska - not a good team, Butler)
But their best win is clearly their destruction of the Spartans at home. A 29 point war-crime that makes almost no sense looking at the games around it, but it was a promise of what this team can be when everything is working, maybe.
2) Nojel Eastern was picked to be an all-B1G player before the season started, but is only averaging 5.3 ppg and 4.4 rpg. What has happened that has caused him not to live up to his preseason billing?
The general media is not that good at knowing players? I don’t think there’s ever been anything that suggested Eastern was going to be that kind of offensive player. While the measurements are there - he is really really huge for a guard, and is a very good defender that can guard 1 thru 5 - but he absolutely can’t shoot, doesn’t have an effective dribble, or an effective post game.
His jumper has improved, as in it is not the ugliest thing on the planet anymore, but any jump shot by Eastern is a win for the opposing team. He’s a great kid, great attitude, plays his butt off, but offense is still a skills-based pursuit and he doesn’t have the kind of skills to challenge defenses.
3) Purdue’s defense has been, by far, the superior end of the court for the Boilers. What makes the defense so stifling? How do they keep their opponent’s three-point percentage so low?
I barely even look at three-point percentages. That’s mostly a luck-based thing, and has more to do with the other team shooting and the fact that college players just usually aren’t great at shooting. Good perimeter defending teams don’t allow a lot of threes. Purdue actually allows a high percentage of shots against them to come from three - they’re an aggressive to help off the dribble team and they’ve been burned by it at times this year. Maryland got hot early because they found open threes on dribble penetration.
That said, Purdue is a really good defensive team because most teams don’t shoot the ball very well, and they’re long everywhere. Eric Hunter Jr. (pictured above) has been a revelation on the defensive end, him and Eastern are nightmares for opposing point guards - ask Cassius Winston who was forced into nine turnovers. Sasha Stefanovic who looks like he should be a liability on defense, and absolutely was last year, has been one of Purdue’s best defenders. They rely on off-ball rotations and two bigs inside that bully the post and protect the rim.
The bigs do a good job at hedging, and then getting back to their man. Williams has incredibly long arms and has been a problem for guards to get around. The off-ball rotation behind them has been pretty air tight this year, and Matt Haarms is one of the nation’s best shot blockers even if he’s highly overrated as an overall defender. He’s agile and tries really hard and that covers for his over aggression.
There’s not a negative defender on the roster and that’s what Purdue will have to lean on if they’re going to turn this season around and go dancing.
4) Who is an under-the-radar player for Purdue that will make Wisconsin fans sound smart at the bar when they say “watch out for this guy”?
After the last two years where Carsen Edwards was so loudly the best player on the court, it kinda feels like everyone on Purdue is quietly good. Eric Hunter Jr. is fantastic, plays really intense defense, and doesn’t do too much on offense. Stefanovic is sneaky good at a lot of things instead of just shooting.
But the subtle brilliance of this team is Trevion Williams (pictured above, presumably looking for a cutter). It isn’t his size or his bullying down low. It’s not his scoring, but want to be smart and appreciate basketball? Talk about Williams passing.
Watch how he never misses a cutter. Watch how he never rushes, how he’ll take one dribble, make one fake, look one way, and pull all five defenders where he wants them and then finds a shooter on the far side of the court. He’s as good a post passer as I’ve ever seen at this level.
5) What is the final score and who will be the leading scorer for Purdue?
Stefanovic will have 20+ as he’s been hellfire at home this season and Purdue needs this one. He’s also shown an ability to attack the basket more and more as the season has gone on and get to the line.
He’s coming into his own and Wisconsin will have their hands full with Eastern’s emergence and Williams inside. Look for Purdue to try and get out in transition and their sharp shooter to get open looks after taking just eight three-pointers as a team Tuesday.