Big Ten Preview Part VI: Key Questions For Northwestern & Purdue

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 8th, 2017

With the season just a few days away, Rush the Court’s Big Ten preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we address Wisconsin and Michigan.

#4 Northwestern – Can the Wildcats’ offense take another step forward?

Chris Collins hopes to improve on last season’s historic campaign. (Getty Images)

Here’s what we know about Northwestern heading into 2017-18: it’s experienced, well-coached and should be darn stingy on defense. What we don’t know is whether the Wildcats, fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, can improve enough offensively to become the top-tier Big Ten contender everyone expects them to be. But there is reason to expect an upswing in production. Already one of the least turnover-prone units in the country (16% TO rate), Northwestern welcomes back the Big Ten’s most experienced — and productive — starting backcourt in Bryant McIntosh (14.8 PPG, 5.2 APG) and Scottie Lindsey (14.1 PPG), a pair of preseason all-conference honorees. While neither is a great outside shooter, both players are very effective from inside the arc and at the free throw line (87% FT and 84% FT, respectively). What’s more, 6’8″ forward Aaron Falzon returns this season after missing most of 2016-17 to knee surgery. His three-point shooting ability (35.5% 3FG) alongside Vic Law (12.3 PPG) — the team’s best returning perimeter shooter, defender and overall athlete — should give head coach Chris Collins plenty of depth and versatility at the wing position. Throw in one of the league’s top offensive rebounders in Dererk Pardon (12.1% OReb rate) and you’re suddenly looking at a roster that can stretch the floor, limits miscues, maximizes its opportunities to score, and makes the most of its trips to the free throw line. In other words, you’re looking at all the makings of an efficient offense. After scoring less than a point per possession in eight of their 12 losses a year ago, the Wildcats need to realize that potential this year if they’re to truly compete for a league title.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #4 Purdue 80, #13 Vermont 70

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 16th, 2017

Purdue did not play its best game of the season this evening, but the Boilermakers did enough things right to hold off a pesky Vermont team that was still within five points in the last five minutes. Turnovers and shaky defense are still a concern for Matt Painter’s team going forward, though.

BIggie Swanigan Notched His 27th Double-Double of the Season (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1.  Purdue still has a dangerous offense. The final numbers made things look much nicer for Purdue’s offense than it actually played tonight — at times, the Boilermakers really struggled to get anything going. All in all, though, Purdue finished the game scoring well over 1.10 points per possession, solid shooting percentage numbers, and only two turnovers after halftime. The first half was somewhat uglier, so there’s plenty for Matt Painter to focus on cleaning up with his team before Saturday.
  2. Purdue still has issues to fix. This isn’t the time of year for Painter to deal with things like inadequately closing out on three-point shooters or improperly feeding the post. It is possible that the Boilermakers slightly overlooked the Catamounts, but that too is problematic because this team simply isn’t good enough to hit an on and off switch like that.
  3. Vermont could have grabbed the upset but lost the game in the paint. If a couple of three-pointers hadn’t rolled in-and-out, this game was there for the Catamounts’ taking, having received tremendous performances from Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes. Tonight wasn’t a very good defensive performance from Purdue, but a +11 rebounding edge and a +14 advantage in the paint ensured the victory.

Star of the Game. Purdue’s Vincent Edwards experienced a similar scoring stretch similar to Reggie Upshaw for Middle Tennessee earlier today. Edwards scored the first eight Purdue points in the second half, while adding five rebounds, three assists, a steal and two blocks. The junior didn’t need to carry the whole offense tonight, but his early second half scoring punch perhaps prevented a fatal lull.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Six Big Ten X-Factors Heading Into Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 26th, 2016

Conference play is almost here, and after a 138-42 (.767) combined non-conference start, Big Ten teams will begin squaring off against each other tomorrow afternoon. As of right now, it looks like three front-runners (Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana) have emerged, followed by a group of good-not-great teams competing for the top of the next tier — a glance at the most recent KenPom ratings reveals eight teams ranked within the NCAA Tournament at-large sweet spot of #29-#68. With things so relatively even, a number of x-factors around the league could very well swing the race with improved performances. Here are six players who could heavily influence how the Big Ten standings ultimately end up.

Carsen Edwards (USA Today Images)

Carsen Edwards is a Possible X-Factor For Purdue (USA Today Images)

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: One of the reasons why Purdue is a perceived title threat is because the majority of their players are reasonably consistent. Edwards, however, is the biggest wild card in the rotation, and his continuing development could be the key for the Boilermakers in March. Since the freshman moved into the starting lineup on December 3, he has averaged 9.3 PPG and a couple assists per outing. His shooting can stand to improve, but he’s a blur in the open court and causes havoc defensively on the perimeter. If Edwards can become a more efficient scorer during Big Ten play (95.0 Offensive Rating on 24.9 percent usage), Purdue’s offense (as well as the team) could move into the top 10 nationally.
  • D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin: With five returning starters this season, little was expected from Wisconsin’s lone true freshman. And yet Trice has been an efficient and capable third guard off the bench, including some outstanding shooting from deep so far (18-of-30 3FG). He has basically stolen the minutes that were going to Jordan Hill last season, and if he continues to give the Badgers another backcourt option beyond Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter, Wisconsin could make another run at the Final Four.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Dakota Mathias is Purdue’s Unsung Hero

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 8th, 2016

Purdue is off to a strong 7-2 start with the losses coming in close contests to top 15 teams Villanova and Louisville. From what we’ve seen so far, the Boilermakers have established that they’re on a short list of teams that look like they can win the Big Ten and make a run into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are the stars who deserve first billing, but it’s also time to note the significant improvement that junior guard Dakota Mathias has made in becoming one of the league’s best shooters as well as the steady hand guiding Purdue’s offense.

Dakota Mathias has been one of the best deep shooters in the B1G this season. (John Terhune, Journal &Courier).

Dakota Mathias has been one of the best deep shooters in the B1G this season. (John Terhune, Journal & Courier)

Mathias has always been a strong long-range shooter, as his 38.6 percent mark from three-point range last season shows. But he’s taken it to another level so far this year, connecting on 24-of-43 threes (55.8%) and sporting one of the nation’s best Offensive Ratings (133.4). More than just a bomber, he has also led the team in assists four times and averages around four rebounds and a steal per outing. And even though he has also increased his turnovers (up nearly six percent over last season), Purdue owns the 14th most efficient offense in the land because it shoots the ball so well all over the court. Mathias leads a corps of shooters such as Ryan Cline, PJ Thompson and Vincent Edwards, all of whom are shooting better than 39 percent from deep. Purdue’s ability to shoot the ball from three-point range so well (44.8%, third nationally) gives the big men Swanigan and Haas numerous easy looks in the post.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Big Ten Feast Week Winners and Losers

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 28th, 2016

After 10 days of games in eight different tournaments, the picture as to how things will play out in this season’s Big Ten has become clearer. It is still somewhat murky and disjointed, but Feast Week gave us some insights as to the ceilings and floors for each squad. Here’s a brief look at which teams helped their cause last week and those that came away looking like they still have considerable work to do.

Winners

  • Maryland: While not playing in the most prestigious of events, Maryland was able to pick up wins over Richmond and Kansas State in the Barclays Center Classic. Neither were huge resume boosters, but they should help come March rather than hurt. The Terps pounded the offensive backboards all weekend, snatching an average of 40 percent of their own misses in the two victories. The most significant aspect of Maryland’s performances was that Mark Turgeon’s freshmen trio of Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson all played heavy crunch time minutes in a pair of tight games. Their continued improvement will largely determine the arc of the Terrapins’ season.
Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

Justin Jackson helped lead Maryland to two wins in Brooklyn last weekend. (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).

  • Michigan: The shine from the Wolverines’ two wins at the beginning of Feast Week lost some of its luster when they lost at South Carolina last Wednesday. Concentrating solely on their play in the 2k Classic, however, Michigan looked like it could be a serious threat to finish in the top three of the Big Ten. DJ Wilson’s defensive versatility was on full display, as he successfully guarded almost every position on the floor. The Wolverines held both Marquette and SMU under 1.00 point per possession and under 39 percent shooting from the field. They also hit 22 three-pointers and paired stellar outside shooting with their typical runs that led to easy buckets. Overall, Feast Week was a net plus for John Beilein’s team.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Purdue Enhances Its Reputation Despite a Loss

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2016

Aside from not coming away with a hard-fought victory, Purdue‘s Monday night loss at home against the reigning National Champion Villanova went about as well as possible. The Boilermakers proved that they can play at a roughly equivalent level to a top five team in coming back from double-figure deficits twice to tie the game before falling late. Matt Painter would undoubtedly argue that a loss is still a loss, but there are some things that Purdue should take away from this game that represent encouraging signs for the rest of the season.

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

Purdue Gave Villanova Nearly All It Could Handle (USA Today Images)

  • Physical Mismatches: Villanova is not a big team at all but few teams in college basketball will be able to match Purdue’s size down low. Seeing how the Boilermakers’ front line played against the gritty Wildcats, though, proves that Purdue should be able to run its offense through the paint. When Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan are both on the floor together, they can run some beautiful high-low action to take advantage of Swanigan’s exceptional abilities as a passer. Both players can also get to the free throw line at will, so expect many more nights where the pair combines to shoot 70 percent (14-of-20) on two-point field goals as they did on Monday night.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Can Purdue’s (Isaac) Haas in the Middle Handle a Larger Role?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 27th, 2016

Last season Purdue boasted a brawny, physical specimen in the pivot who began the season with averages of 13.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.6 BPG on 63.3 percent shooting from the floor. Sophomore Isaac Haas took excellent advantage of an early suspension to senior AJ Hammons and Boilermaker fans are anxious to see what he can now do as the primary interior player. The 7’2”, 282-pound junior is expected to lead a Purdue club looking to shake off a disappointing First Round upset to Arkansas Little-Rock in the NCAA Tournament. With many of the same pieces still on the roster, Matt Painter’s club has the tools to learn from last year’s mistakes and make a deep run in 2017. Haas will have to prove that he can handle both a larger role in the offense as well as providing a defensive anchor for his team to truly reach its full potential, but all indications suggest that he can handle it.

Isaac Haas is now the main man in the pivot for Purdue with the graduation of AJ Hammons. (Edwin Jacobson, Purdue Exponent)

Isaac Haas is now the main man in the pivot for Purdue with the graduation of AJ Hammons. (Edwin Jacobson, Purdue Exponent)

Haas has always been a productive player in the minutes he has received. He shoots the ball well, sporting a career mark of 56.8 percent from the field; and his 59.4 percent free throw rate would have ranked second in the Big Ten last year had he played enough minutes to quality. He’s simply too big of a physical mismatch for most college post defenders, which allows him to catch the ball wherever he wants and power through for a layup or a trip to the charity stripe. Despite some concerns about his stamina with the extra minutes, Haas should perform fine on the offensive end of the court. It’s the defensive end, rather, where he really needs to make an impression.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story