Should Purdue Think About Going Small?

Posted by Jim Root on December 28th, 2016

Entering the season, West Lafayette, Indiana, had a fairly legitimate claim to possession of the best collegiate frontcourt in college basketball (apologies to Wisconsin and a couple of other teams). Between incredibly versatile swingman Vince Edwards, half-man/half-Terminator center Isaac Haas, and former five-star power forward and Big Ten POY candidate Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers had the bodies to own the paint in most any match-up.

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Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan provide a potent trio up front for the Boilermakers .(Associated Press)

Despite all of that front line talent, though, head coach Matt Painter has faced an interesting decision in how to deploy his best three players. Playing them at the 3-4-5 spots gives the Boilermakers a massive size advantage, but there are drawbacks with that lineup too. Haas, for example, can be a liability on both ends of the floor when pulled outside of the paint, and his presence on the offensive end — despite being a major weapon in drawing fouls and double-teams — can clog up the lane for the more dynamic Swanigan. To his credit, Swanigan has developed his outside shot to the point of greater respectability (52 percent from three-point range this season, compared with 29 percent last year), which resolves some of the prior spacing issues. But Painter’s tradeoff of playing Swanigan with Haas usually takes him out of the interior, where his combination of strength and quickness make him a match-up nightmare for most defenders.

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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.

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Big Ten Conference Preview: Purdue, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 11th, 2016

The ballots have been revealed and the results have been tabulated. Unlike another round of voting that took place this week, there isn’t as much shock value in seeing these results. We at the Big Ten microsite have voted and determined how the league will shake out this season. The last of three segments lists our top four teams (the bottom tier can be found here and the middle tier can be found here).

4. Purdue: The Boilermakers enjoyed their best season since 2010-11 by winning 26 games and finishing 12-6 in conference play. They lost two All-Defensive Team members, including the Defensive Player of the Year AJ Hammons, but expectations are still high in West Lafayette. This is mainly because there just aren’t many teams nationally that can unleash a frontcourt with a trio of players as talented as Vince Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. With this trio in place, Purdue can expect the defense and interior scoring to comparable to last season. If PJ Thompson and Dakota Mathias can also consistently knock down shots from the perimeter, Purdue should equal, or surpass last season’s success.

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan leads a deadly Purude frontcourt that is one of the best in the nation. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Best-Case Scenario: Elite Eight

3. Michigan State: A brutal early schedule and some nagging injuries on the interior makes Sparty’s preseason ranking a little fluid, but it’s difficult to not give Tom Izzo a well-earned benefit of the doubt. A star freshman crew of Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward will all have to contribute early, but they have the skill sets to do so. Bridges (26.5 PPG, 4.0 BPG) in particular dominated in Michigan State’s two exhibition wins and could be a First-Team Big Ten talent. Also keep an eye on Eron Harris and Matt McQuaid. They will have to make many of the shots that Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes took last season. If Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter can return well at some point from their injuries, this will be one of the best and deepest teams in college basketball.

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Five Tweaks to the CBS 100 From a B1G Perspective

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 28th, 2016

CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander published their preseason top 100 (and one) list of the best players in college basketball on Wednesday. Fifteen Big Ten players made the list, with many of the usual suspects appearing at some point in the countdown. The full list is available here, with the stated premise being “it’s a huge game of pickup hoops, you keep picking guys in order of who you think is best.” Here are the five small revisions that one humble Big Ten basketball scribe would offer to Parrish and Norlander.

  • Too Low: Vince Edwards, Purdue (#84): Edwards is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big Ten and nationally. He made steady progress in numerous facets of the game during his sophomore season, specifically in increasing his three-point percentage by eight points to a legitimate 40.7 percent. He led the Boilermakers in assists from the forward spot and can guard both wings and post players. He should be 10 to 15 spots higher.
Vince Edwards is the 84th best player in the land according to CBS. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Vince Edwards is the 84th best player in the land according to CBS. (Jerry Schultheiss).

  • Too High: Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (#32): It is certainly understandable that Koenig was selected this high because he has a pedigree of two Final Fours and a Sweet Sixteen to his credit. But with NPOY Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker gone from last year’s squad, he struggled shooting (39.2% FG) and distributing (15.1% assist rate) the ball. He belongs on the list as a top 100 player, but he should not have been listed as the sixth-best player in the Big Ten.

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Big Ten Key Offseason Questions: Part IV

Posted by Patrick Engel on April 11th, 2016

In three parts over the last week, we’ve examined a key offseason question for 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams. Part I reviewed Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois; Part II featured Nebraska, Penn State and Northwestern; Part III examined Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa. The fourth and final part today examines the Big Ten’s top four teams from this season: Purdue, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana. (Note: Scout.com used for all player and class ranks).

Purdue (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten)

Dakota Mathias (31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Dakota Mathias (#31) needs to be a productive three-point shooter again for Purdue. (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar)

Can Purdue find consistent offensive production from its guards?

The Boilermakers this season possessed one of the most productive frontcourts but one of the least productive backcourts in college basketball. P.J. Thompson boasted a 4.8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio, but the group of Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline and Kendall Stephens (if he returns) and himself are mainly three-point shooters, none of whom attempted more than 16 percent of his shots at the rim. This group of guards shouldn’t experience much turnover outside of senior Raphael Davis and possibly Stephens, if he transfers, meaning that freshman point guard Carsen Edwards should have every chance to become the starter from day one next year. He’s not very big (5’11”, 175 pounds), but he’s aggressive, mature and a good passer. If he can play well enough to earn major minutes, he’ll mitigate one of Purdue’s clear weaknesses. Matt Painter’s frontcourt should again be a strength, assuming Vince Edwards and Caleb Swanigan return to complement Isaac Haas, whose touches should increase substantially. This team’s Big Ten ceiling, though, might depend on the readiness of its lone freshman.

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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: Super Bowl Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 6th, 2016

It’s Super Bowl weekend and that means college basketball is pushed aside for nonstop professional football talk, party planning, and most importantly, the Puppy Bowl. Given the busy weekend, there’s a dearth of quality matchups around the conference this weekend. However, there are a couple of games worth carving out time for while you’re planning the big party. One is an intrastate rivalry that has grown in relevance now that both teams are consistent contenders for the Big Ten title. The other contest is the only Big Ten game this weekend that pits two ranked teams against each other. Here are your Big Ten games to watch.

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has been must watch TV since John Beilein has arrived in Ann Arbor . (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has been must watch TV since John Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

  • #10 Michigan State at Michigan (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, CBS). After getting run off the court at home by Indiana on Tuesday, this game is close to a must-win for the Wolverines in terms of Big Ten title contention. Michigan is not the most talented team in the conference – this was evident last Tuesday when the Hoosiers did whatever they wanted against the Wolverines’ defense – but their soft schedule in the final half of the conference play gave them a relatively easy trail to the title. This path is narrowing thanks to the debacle on Tuesday. On the other side of things, Michigan State is on a three-game winning streak that started with a momentum-launching victory over Maryland two weeks ago. Michigan presents the Spartans with their first test against formidable competition since that win over the Terrapins, and will serve as a barometer as to whether Michigan State has returned to its elite non-conference form, or if they are just riding an emotional win to two wins over bottom-tier opponents.

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Big Ten M5: 01.29.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on January 29th, 2016

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  1. Iowa lost its first conference game of the year on Thursday at Maryland, 74-68, and perhaps the most surprising part of the loss was Jarrod Uthoff’s poor play. Uthoff had scored double-digit points in every game this year entering Thursday and was shooting 48 percent on both two-pointers and three-pointers. The Terps held him to nine points on 2-13 shooting; Uthoff did not make a field goal in the first half. Eleven of his 13 field goal attempts were jumpers, and he missed them all. Iowa’s loss means no more Big Ten teams are unbeaten in conference play, although the Hawkeyes retain pole position in the conference standings.
  2. Michigan and Penn State will play each other in basketball and hockey on Saturday in the inaugural “Super Saturday – College Hoops and Hockey” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. The Big Ten announced the teams for the doubleheaders in 2017, 2018 and 2019 on Wednesday. Rutgers and Wisconsin will play in basketball in 2017, while Ohio State and Wisconsin will play hockey. In 2018, Minnesota and Ohio State will take the court and Minnesota and Michigan State will take the ice. Maryland and Illinois square off in basketball in 2019.
  3. Purdue beat Minnesota on Wednesday night, but by a much smaller margin that expected, 68-64. Boilermakers wing Vince Edwards played the game with a bruised patellar tendon suffered in a Jan. 24 loss at Iowa, but logged 39 minutes and scored 24 points to go with eight rebounds. He did not sustain any ligament damage, but admitted his knee was not close to fully healthy. It hasn’t impacted Edwards’ play of late: He is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in his last five games.
  4. Wednesday’s games produced two of the stranger plays of the season. Rutgers, trailing Michigan by eight with 45 seconds to go, tossed a free throw rebound out of bounds because its players thought Michigan’s Zak Irvin was shooting two free throws. Irvin was actually shooting a 1-and-1 and had missed the front end, but no Rutgers player realized that. In Purdue’s win over Minnesota, A.J. Hammons grabbed a rebound with one hand over two Minnesota players. He used one hand because his other hand held his shoe, which fell off earlier in the play. He put his hand inside it and kept playing. That board has to be the most impressive rebound of his college career.
  5. Illinois center Mike Thorne Jr.’s season was considered over when he had meniscus surgery in late November. But he returned to the court for the Illini’s Jan. 19 loss at Indiana. However, he hasn’t played since. He did not play in Thursday’s overtime loss vs. Ohio State, but did pregame work and was a game-day decision. As Scout.com’s Jeremy Werner said Monday, Thorne is no longer eligible for a medical redshirt after playing against Indiana.
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Big Ten M5: 11.20.15 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel on November 20th, 2015

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  1. A healthy Peter Jok is huge for Iowa. The junior wing scored 20 points last night as the Hawkeyes pasted Marquette to give the Big Ten a 4-3 lead over the Big East in the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Before the season began, we detailed Jok’s importance to the team’s success, but an injury sustained in the Hawkeyes’ first game of the season put him on the shelf. Sophomore Dom Uhl and freshman Brady Ellingson combined for 38 points on 14-of-18 shooting and eight rebounds in Jok’s absence, but in only 28 minutes of action this season, Jok has accounted for 28 points himself. Nevertheless, Uhl and Ellingson’s production is an encouraging sign for Iowa’s depth, which was a significant question mark entering the season.
  2. Rutgers may have found itself a leader. The Scarlet Knights lost a heartbreaker to St. John’s on Thursday when Bishop Daniels’ game-winning three-pointer left his hand just after the clock hit all zeros. But the silver lining in the loss was the continued emergence of freshman Corey Sanders, who played at least 30 minutes for the second straight game and is averaging 4.5 APG on the season. On Rutgers’ last possession yesterday, head coach Eddie Jordan trusted Sanders to call and run the final play that was very close to producing a buzzer-beating victory. Even if Rutgers struggles mightily again this season, Sanders is quickly looking like a key building block for the program’s future.
  3. The early signing period ended on Wednesday, and Wisconsin and Rutgers were the two Big Ten programs that failed to land any signees. Every other conference team signed at least one player, and all but Purdue signed two. Rutgers lost its lone commitment — three-star point guard Kwe Parker — in early November when he decided to reopen his recruitment. Wisconsin whiffed on two of its bigger targets, top-100 point guards Xavier Simpson and JaQuori McLaughlin, down the stretch. Neither team has enough space for a large incoming class, but Bo Ryan and Eddie Jordan have work to do before the next signing period in April.
  4. Purdue’s backcourt is proving itself. We touched on the Boilermakers’ need for additional backcourt help before the season started, and so far it has delivered. In the team’s first three games, forwards Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, A.J. Hammons and Vince Edwards made a combined total of 41 field goals — the backcourt or Edwards (a wing who does a little of everything) assisted on 20 of those. Meanwhile, incumbent guards Rapheal Davis, Kendall Stephens, Dakota Mathias and freshman Ryan Cline are averaging a combined 40 points per game and are shooting 48 percent from behind the arc. The biggest open question was with UT-Arlington transfer Johnny Hill, who was brought in to be the starting point guard. So far he boasts an 11-to-4 assist-turnover ratio with seven steals, yet another reason why Purdue has won three games by an average of 34.7 points per game.
  5. Illinois’ freshmen are surviving trial by fire. With Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, Leron Black (who returned to action after missing one game) and Tracy Abrams all sustaining various injuries since the start of the school year, Illinois has needed some mileage from its freshmen, D.J. Williams, Aaron Jordan and Jalen Coleman-Lands. While not perfect to this point, the trio has been productive. Williams started the first two games and only totaled four points, but he had zero turnovers and just one foul. Jordan has averaged 8.0 points per game with an 8-to-1 assist-turnover ratio. Coleman-Lands ranks third on the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game and has averaged 24.3 minutes of action off the bench. He also leads the team in steals (five), three-pointers (nine) and three-point percentage (56 percent). All of this hasn’t been enough to get Illinois more than a single win against North Dakota State, but the experience that the youngsters are getting will be invaluable when conference play starts in January.
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Purdue’s Frontcourt Needs a Competent Backcourt

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 27th, 2015

There is hope in West Lafayette — Purdue fans haven’t been this optimistic during a preseason since Robbie Hummel roamed campus back in 2011. The reason for all those good feelings is because the Boilermakers return the bulk of an NCAA Tournament roster that lost an excruciatingly close opening round overtime game to Cincinnati. Matt Painter’s squad really put it together at the end of last season, winning nine of its last 12 regular season games, including an impressive victory against Illinois that effectively cemented its place in the field of 68. With virtually all their important pieces returning and joined by the services of a top 20 freshman, why did the coaches slot Purdue as a borderline Top 25 team? It’s because despite an impressive group of big men populating the frontcourt, the Boilermakers must address serious concerns about the legitimacy of their backcourt.

Raphael Davis is the lead scoring guard (10.7 PPG) in a backcourt looking for firepower. (Mike Fenner, Indianapolis Star)

Raphael Davis is the lead scoring guard (10.7 PPG) in a backcourt looking for firepower. (Mike Fenner/Indianapolis Star)

There’s no doubt that the strength of this team lies with its big men, starting foremost with senior center A.J. Hammons — the Big Ten’s leading shot-blocker for two consecutive seasons, member of the All-Big Ten Second Team and All-Defense Team — and fellow seven-footer Isaac Haas, who showed well in his freshman season, averaging 7.6 PPG and 4.1 RPG in fewer than 15.0 MPG. Add into the mix five-star freshman Caleb Swanigan (assuming he is ruled eligible), and Purdue likely boasts the second-best front line in the Big Ten behind only Maryland. However, with the notable exception of Swanigan, these players aren’t agile enough to create scoring opportunities for themselves on the blocks. Rather, they need to be fed from the perimeter to score on a consistent basis — around 70 percent of Hammons and Haas’ shots at the rim come from assists. Therefore competent guard play will be integral for Purdue to reach the full potential of its frontcourt. Read the rest of this entry »

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