"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Purdue/Gonzaga Capsules, 2023-24

Purdue Boilermakers

November 22, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Matt Painter (438-203 overall, 413-198 at Purdue)

Three-Year NET Average: 15.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 15.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 1

Projected Starters: PG Braden Smith (6'0" So), SG Fletcher Loyer (6'4" So), SF Ethan Morton (6'7" Sr), PF Mason Gillis (6'6" Sr), C Zach Edey (7'4" Sr)

Zach Edey is the favorite to repeat as National Player of the Year

Photo by Alex Martin | Journal & Courier

Big 10 champs, Big 10 tourney champs, 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, all of that was forgotten when Purdue fell in the first round to Fairleigh Dickinson. The Boilermakers return all 5 starters and while there will be some argument for Kansas or Duke atop the rankings, when a team is that good and brings everyone back, they deserve to be where T-Rank has them. In addition, they return two key bench players in Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman-Renn, while also adding a fifth year guard in SIU transfer Lance Jones and a dynamic athletic freshman in Myles Colvin. Painter is arguably the best coach in college basketball who has yet to reach the Final Four and questions will abound until he makes it to the third weekend in March, but this is a loaded team that will likely be even better than that team that was so highly decorated before FDU happened.

Offensively, everything centered on Edey. If he wasn't taking the shot, he was getting the rebound and putting it back in. That bit them against FDU, where his supporting cast looked afraid to shoot. He is going to dominate the opposition. He was named kenpom's Game MVP 22 times, which is the second highest total ever in a single season. Even in losses he averaged 23.5/12.7. The key is trying to mitigate the damage Edey does and hope his cohorts don't kill you from deep. Last year, six different players took 80+ shots beyond the arc, but as a team they shot just 32.2% from deep. They also tend to turn it over in losses. Purdue lost the turnover battle in 5 of 6 losses last year. Defensively, Painter likes to have a monster in the middle to erase shots in the paint and his wings and guards are great at chasing teams off the line. They keep coming at you and rarely give second shots, so teams have to make the most of their opportunities. Purdue is also excellent at defending without fouling (#1 nationally last year) so beating them from the field is critical. Pressure the guards into mistakes on the defensive end, prevent the non-Edey players from turning into a Robin to his Batman, and be patient on offense while hitting open looks once you get them and this team can be beat. But it won't be easy. This is deservedly one of the best teams in the country and their expectations should again be claiming a Big 10 title, earning at worst a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and perhaps most important, making a deep run in March with the full capability of cutting down nets on the first Monday in April.




Gonzaga Bulldogs

November 22, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Mark Few (689-135)

Three-Year NET Average: 2.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 3.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 15

Projected Starters: PG Ryan Nembhard (6'0" Jr), SG Nolan Hickman (6'2" Jr), SF Steele Venters (6'7" Sr), PF Anton Watson (6'8" 5th), C Graham Ike (6'9" RS Jr)

Gonzaga hopes Anton Watson will emerge from the shadow of Drew Timme

Photo by Kyle Terada | USA Today Sports

By Gonzaga's recent standards, earning a 3-seed and finishing 8th at kenpom is a disappointment, as they haven't been that low in either category since 2018. They did make it to the Elite 8 which kept intact their streak of making at least the second weekend every tournament since 2015. Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, and Rasir Bolton all departed, which leads to transition in Spokane. Anton Watson and Nolan Hickman return, but Ryan Nembhard, Steele Venters, and Graham Ike are all newcomers via the transfer portal. Nembhard should look familiar, not just because his brother played for Gonzaga but he also played for Creighton last year. Venters and Ike were both productive at lower level programs than Gonzaga. To sustain their excellence, either one of those players or someone like Ben Gregg, who was highly efficient in limited minutes, Jun Seok Yeo, a South Korean sophomore that averaged 25.6 ppg/10.6 rpg in a U-19 World Cup field that included Zach Edey, Chet Holmgren, and Victor Wenbanyama, or highly regarded freshmen like Dusty Stromer will need to emerge on the national stage over the course of the season.

Few's offense has evolved with the game. He adapts to his players and the evolution of basketball. The current result is a fast-paced offense that uses ball screens and motion. Few has often ran his offense through elite bigs. As a result, his teams dominate inside, ranking top-10 in 2PFG% seven straight years. They don't tend to take a ton of shots from deep, but are highly efficient when they do. When Few finds something that works, he will run it over and over and over until the opponent stops it. Don't be surprised to see the same exact play on two or three straight possessions if it's working. Gonzaga's defense isn't as highly regarded as the offense, and slipped to #73 last year per kenpom, their worst mark since 2007. The goal is to relentlessly chase teams off the line and force the opponent into isolation scenarios. They typically have the length and athleticism to win one-on-one battles. What was missing last year was the Chet Holmgren/Brandon Clarke type shot-blocker to erase drives when they lost those one-on-ones. Ike is decidedly not a shot-blocker, so expect their defense to be their Achilles' Heel this year. In terms of talent, Gonzaga should still be good. Considering their league, they will likely rack up a gaudy win total and find their way to an at-large bid. But unless someone emerges as an All-American candidate, there probably isn't enough here to be the truly elite level of team we've become accustomed to seeing from Spokane.

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