Purdue Needs Better Guard Play to Reach Its Goals

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 6th, 2016

At the beginning of the season, Purdue’s backcourt was generally identified as its biggest potential liability. Such concerns were exposed last weekend during a stunning comeback by Iowa in Mackey Arena where the Hawkeyes erased a 17-point halftime deficit to upset the Boilermakers. Matt Painter’s squad gave up more turnovers (10) in the second half than it made field goals (eight). The loss, while just a blip on an otherwise superb season to this point, highlighted several issues of concern in the backcourt: turnovers, weak leadership, and streaky shooting. If Purdue has designs on its first Final Four appearance under Painter this season, he needs to ensure that his guards form an identity that mitigates some of those problem areas.

Alex Barlow and Butler Are Better Than Many Projected (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Raphael Davis committed four turnovers against Iowa, which helped the Hawkeyes steal an unlikely win at Mackey Arena. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Inconsistent shooting is the most vital issue. Spotty perimeter accuracy (35.2 percent from three-point range) fails to create sufficient interior space for Isaac Haas, A.J. Hammons, and Caleb Swanigan to get to work on the low blocks. Butler’s strategy to soundly beat the Boilermakers in December was to crowd the paint and dare the guards to beat them from deep. As a result, the Boilermakers shot 7-of-22 from three-point range (many attempts were wide-open) and never really threatened after getting down early. In the first half last Saturday, Iowa tried to replicate the Butler recipe with little avail, as Purdue’s Dakota Mathias and Kendall Stephens shot a combined 5-of-8 from behind the three-point line. But in the second half, the Hawkeyes’ press forced Purdue into just 1-of-11 three-point shooting as the big lead quickly slipped away. 

While Purdue has three big-time players in the post, it may not have a Big Ten-quality point guard. Although P.J. Thompson and Johnny Hill shouldn’t be viewed as scapegoats — the pair combines to average 10.3 PPG and 5.2 APG on the season — neither has yet emerged as an extension of Painter on the floor. As a result, the Boilermakers’ offense often seems lost. Another unintended consequence is that the 6’9″, 250-lb Swanigan is forced to handle the ball on the perimeter far too often. The freshman forward is an exceptional passer with above-average ball-handing skills for his size, but he has also committed a team-high 46 turnovers this season — almost twice as many as the next offender. If Thompson or Hill could take better command of Painter’s offense, then Swanigan wouldn’t have to initiate things quite as much (leading to turnovers and impacting offensive efficiency).

Still, there’s no need to panic. Iowa has shown it can compete with elite teams on the road (the Hawkeyes should also have a road victory at Iowa State) and Purdue owns the top defense in college basketball, according to KenPom. Regardless of whether Painter ultimately establishes better point guard play this season, Purdue’s defense along with its power inside will lead to victories against most opponents. But against top-tier competition, the team will need to figure out its best combination of guards to protect the ball, run plays that take advantage of its dominant inside game, and provide more consistent perimeter shooting. Even if Purdue only improves in a couple of those areas, that might just be enough to send the Boilermakers to the Final Four.

Alex Moscoso (170 Posts)

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