"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

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Purdue Preview

Purdue Boilermakers
November 13, fiserv.forum

Coach: Matt Painter (321-159 at Purdue, 346-164 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 13.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 11.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 8

Projected Starters: PG Jahaad Proctor (6'3" RS Sr), SG Eric Hunter (6'3" So), SF Nojel Eastern (6'6" Jr), PF Aaron Wheeler (6'9" So), C Matt Haarms (7'3" Jr)

In the last four years, Purdue has been on a roll, earning a 5-seed or better every year, going to two Sweet 16s before last year's Elite 8 run that ended in overtime to eventual National Champions Virginia after an incredible tying buzzer-beater to end regulation. However, gone are Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline, and Grady Eifert, all starters that combined for 54.5% of the team's scoring, 54.6% of the team's assists, and 31.3% of their rebounding. That's a ton of production. Those losses have led to most early projections leaving them out of the top-25, though as seen above, Torvik's advanced stats model still has them in the top-10.

Simply, there are a lot of questions to answer. The first is who will play the point. Grad transfer Jahaad Proctor (19.5 ppg/3.3 apg at High Point) may get the first look, though he spent most of his time at the 2. Nojel Eastern seems certain to start and might also get a look at the 1, though his reputation as a lock-down defender came from guarding wings. Purdue fans are tabbing Wheeler as their next potential NBA talent while monster big man Haarms will likely retain the starting center spot. There's depth for the final starting position, with Hunter, Sasha Stefanovic, Trevion Williams, Evan Boudreaux, and Brandon Newman all being bandied about as possible starters.

While there are questions about the starting lineup, there's no doubt Purdue is deep and talented, even if no one on this roster has had to carry the load for a high-major team before. I expect Eastern and Wheeler to develop into the offensive 1-2 punch but the team not to fully realize their identity until conference play. While that seems like a good sign for Marquette, the same could've been said about the Indiana team that bludgeoned Marquette in the Gavitt Games last year and some of these same Purdue players were part of the team that pounded Marquette at the BC two years ago.

Purdue's renaissance under Painter has largely come down to a change in style of play. Purdue was known as a gritty, defense first team that was going to leave opponents battered. From 2010-14, their aggressive play style led to diminished results as the game became more perimeter oriented and games were officiated tighter. Painter realized their deficiencies and changed how they played. This started by recruiting longer, more athletic players. They became a team that focused on ball movement and finding the best shot, which increased the percent they took beyond the arc, both in terms of accuracy and in the volume of threes taken. Defensively, their turnover-oriented style was too physical for the reduced contact allowed in the rules changes so they focused on staying in front of their opponents and defending straight up. In many ways, they have undergone a similar transition to the one Marquette went through when Buzz Williams left and Steve Wojciechowski took over. The three-oriented offense, a defense that wants to challenge shots rather than creating turnovers, this will be a matchup of strength versus strength with the only difference being Marquette wants to play a bit faster.

It's tough to forecast what Purdue will be this year. I almost certainly think the T-Rank above is too bullish. Most pundits have the Boilers as a top-half Big 10 team and it seems foolish to not expect them to make the NCAA Tournament. The question is still who will score. Eastern, Wheeler, and Haarms have all shown themselves to be efficient in low doses but have combined for just one 20+ point game in all their careers (Haarms scored 21 against Illinois last year). Proctor scored at High Point, but has averaged just 5.5 ppg in his career against top-100 kenpom teams, which will be the norm for him this year. If any of the other players can prove to be an effective scorer while not being a defensive embarrassment, they will likely get a lot of minutes. This looks like a fringe top-25 team that should be on the right side of the bubble, but if they can't find someone to shoulder that load, it could be a long year in West Lafayette.

Marquette Connection: 0-9. That is Marquette's series record against Purdue. The series dates back to 1932 and Marquette has never secured a win against the Boilermakers. It is the most frequent opponent Marquette has played and never defeated. This includes, most famously, the 1969 Elite Eight matchup where Rick Mount sank Marquette's Final Four dreams 75-73 on a buzzer-beating 20-foot jumper in overtime. It also includes the 86-71 Gavitt Games defeat from 2 years ago at the Bradley Center. Purdue is one of only two Big 10 teams Marquette has never defeated, but the other is Maryland, who they have never played (but could in Orlando this year). If you need any extra motivation, Marquette's abysmal record against Purdue and in the Gavitt Games should be reason to really cheer for a victory in this one.

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