The top-ranked team in the country heads to Bloomington on Saturday to take on No. 21 Indiana.
The Hoosiers have won five of their last six games but dropped a 66-55 contest at Maryland in their most recent matchup on Tuesday.
Enter Purdue, the No. 1 team in the country amid a nine-game winning streak. Matt Painter has himself another juggernaut on the north side of Indiana, and this will be the Boilermakers’ first time coming to Assembly Hall with a No. 1 ranking.
Something has to give. But first, how is Purdue so good yet again?
For the second year in a row, Purdue’s offense is atop the Big Ten. But this year looks a little different for the Boilermakers. Four of Purdue’s top five players in minutes moved on from West Lafayette, which is why this team wasn’t even ranked to begin the season.
Zach Edey was sixth in minutes played for Purdue in 2021-22, and he has grown to be a superstar in college basketball. The 7-foot-4 behemoth leads all major conference players with 22.0 points per game. Edey has evolved from being a small ingredient of Purdue’s offense to the flavor that makes the meal.
Edey has a combination of touch and size that college basketball has never seen. He uses his large frame to seal defenders deep inside the lane. The Boilermakers are comfortable feeding Edey from any angle. He converts from both sides of the basket and the center of the lane.
Once Edey grabs the ball in opportune spots, he’s pretty automatic. Edey converts on a whopping 61.7% of his field goals on 13.8 attempts per game. He has scored 10 or more points in every game this season.
Defending Edey will be a tall task that not many teams have accomplished this season. While Saturday’s game has been promoted as a showdown between Edey and Trayce Jackson-Davis, it may be best for Indiana not to use Jackson-Davis as the primary defender on Purdue’s giant.
Jackson-Davis is at his best protecting the rim defensively. The IU senior averages 3.1 blocks per game this year and is averaging 3.8 blocks per game since the start of December. So why not use Jackson-Davis’ stellar rim protection to your advantage?
The Hoosiers could place their other forward on Edey, send a double team, and ask Jackson-Davis to play the “rover” role when Edey rises for a shot. Doing so would give Jackson-Davis more time and room to load up and make vertical contests on Edey’s shots.
If Jackson-Davis is tasked with defending Edey directly, the two centers jump at the same time, giving Edey—who’s seven inches taller—the clear advantage. Indiana will likely throw multiple looks at Edey, but I think it would be most effective if Jackson-Davis is mainly used as a help defender.
When Purdue isn’t finding Edey on a post-up, it’s running a pick-and-roll action. Purdue runs ball screens with an extra wrinkle.
The Boilermakers like to have a wing set a pindown for their center, who gets a head start on his man while setting the ball screen. As the center (typically Edey) rolls to the basket, the wing lifts to the top of the key, where the ball handler can find them for a shot. Sometimes the wing sets a back screen for the center to get an easy layup.
These plays are referred to as roll/replace plays (Spain pick-and-rolls when the back screen is incorporated). Purdue significantly shifts defenses when running these actions. The goal is to move defenders around so much that one of the three main options winds up uncovered for a bucket. Indiana has to communicate properly and be prepared to see the Boilermakers run these plays.
Fletcher Loyer (12.4 ppg) and Braden Smith (9.5 ppg) are second and third in scoring for Purdue. The freshman backcourt pairing has shockingly made an immediate impact in the Big Ten.
What stands out about Loyer and Fletcher is their shooting capabilities. Smith has made 40% of his 3s this year while Loyer has made 36.2% from deep. Both players frequently utilize the mid-range area. They are capable of mixing catch-and-shoot looks with pull-up opportunities.
Ball pressure will be important for Indiana on Saturday. Loyer and Smith are both suspect finishers inside the lane. Loyer is hitting only 42.5% of his 2s this season, and Smith makes 50% of his 2s, which is right around the Division I average. If Indiana can chase them off the 3-point line, I’d take the chance of those two finishing with Jackson-Davis shielding the hoop.
Even if IU defends Purdue well to cause misses, it has to complete possessions. The Boilermakers are fourth in the nation with a 38.1% offensive rebound rate. Edey has the highest individual offensive rebound rate in the country at 22% (minimum 300 total minutes). Both Edey and his frontcourt partner Caleb Furst crash the glass hard to get putback points.
Indiana has been a fairly mediocre rebounding team this season. The Hoosiers need all five players to box out and contribute on the glass. It is difficult enough to stop Purdue the first time, so it must be limited to one-and-done possessions.
The Hoosiers have a tall task on their hands. Stopping Purdue is quite the challenge, although IU held Purdue’s explosive offense under 70 points in both meetings last season. If there’s any team that should be confident against the Boilermakers’ attack, it’s Indiana. Still, the Hoosiers need to limit what Purdue does inside while keeping Loyer and Smith from launching too many 3s.
DROPPING TO THE TOP
The biggest difference between Purdue this year and last year is how it plays defensively. Defense was Purdue’s fatal flaw a season ago. The Boilermakers were clearly the most talented team in the Big Ten last year but finished third in the standings because of lackluster defense.
Purdue is allowing just 0.936 points per possession this season, which is the third-best mark in the conference and top-30 in the country. Despite losing a bevy of talent, this team has significantly improved defensively.
Like the offense, Purdue’s defense centers around Edey. He was part of the squad’s defensive issues last year despite his massive frame. This year, Edey is much more grounded on defense and has a better understanding of positioning.
Edey averaged 4.96 fouls per 40 minutes in his first two seasons. This year, Edey commits just two fouls every 40 minutes. He finds himself in better positions so and isn’t always caught recklessly swatting at defenders. As a result, Edey stays on the floor much longer.
Purdue’s main ball screen coverage is to put Edey and backup big Trey Kaufman-Renn in a deep drop. The Boilermakers have their guards fight over screens as their centers ensure neither the ball handler nor the roller gets behind them. Teams take countless mid-range shots as a result.
According to Bart Torvik, 38.1% of shot attempts against Purdue are “far 2s.” That is the second-highest mark in the country. Mid-range shots have been questioned for years now in basketball, and the Boilermakers force opponents to attempt what many deem the most inefficient look in basketball. Purdue has the second-lowest “close 2” defensive rate as a result (25.4%).
Jalen Hood-Schifino, IU’s lead guard, willingly launches a lot of mid-range jumpers. Hood-Schifino doesn’t drive downhill often anyway, so Purdue’s defensive approach could be conducive to his style. He is coming off a game in which he was 1-for-14 from the field, so he’ll be looking to get back on track.
If Hood-Schifino nails a few pull-up jump shots early, it may force Edey to step forward in his drop. That would lead to easier driving lanes and a chance for screeners to score once they roll. Hood-Schifino will play a large factor in how well Indiana’s defense performs against Purdue.
Purdue forward Ethan Morton will likely guard Hood-Schifino for most of Saturday’s game. The 6-foot-7 junior is one of the Big Ten’s top on-ball defenders. Morton has gone from 14.8 minutes per game last year to 26.7 this season. His increased playing time has strengthened the Boilermakers’ defense. Morton harasses the other team’s lead perimeter player regularly.
Although Morton only scores four points per game, his defensive impact cannot be quantified. Hood-Schifino (and whoever else Morton guards) has to be wise about his shot selection. Highly-contested shots are ill-advised against Purdue’s defensive stopper.
The best strategy for IU in this one will be to spread Purdue’s defense out. The Boilermakers have their coverages and rotations nailed when it comes to guarding a set offense. They are easier to attack when they’re spread out and forced to move.
How Indiana decides to use Jackson-Davis intrigues me. Jackson-Davis averages 3.5 assists per game. He averaged 4.2 assists per game in January because IU opened the offense for him. Jackson-Davis operates from outside of 15 feet more often, and it leads to him finding opportunities for others.
The Hoosiers should attempt to pull Edey away from the rim by giving Jackson-Davis the ball at the top of the key. From there, Jackson-Davis should have the option to execute a dribble-handoff or find cutters going toward the basket. Doing this could also provide Jackson-Davis space to attack Edey one-on-one off the bounce.
Neutralizing Edey as a rim protector would unlock so much for Indiana’s offense. Indiana should try its hardest to put Edey in space early in this ball game.
Purdue’s defense is no joke this season. The Boilermakers have corrected the problems they had last season on this end. While the defense is stronger, it’s not impossible to score on. With Edey at the rim, I’m looking for IU to get creative with its offensive attack against Purdue.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND KEYS
This game is being played at Assembly Hall, which means Indiana should dictate the terms. Edey is a monstrous two-way force whose presence usually determines games. But with Indiana having a disruptive home crowd on its side, it can’t be afraid to challenge Edey at both ends.
Playing as if they should win will go a long way for the Hoosiers. After all, they were the higher-ranked of the two teams in the preseason. Indiana has to do what’s best for its success on Saturday rather than fearing what Purdue does well.
On defense, IU has to communicate well, rebound and be familiar with Purdue’s personnel. Throwing multiple looks at Edey is important, and I believe the Hoosiers should keep Jackson-Davis off of Edey as much as possible. Purdue’s young guards could rattle easily in front of Indiana’s electric atmosphere. Indiana should try its best to limit those players early to make them think a bit longer about their decisions on the court.
Indiana struggled offensively against Maryland on Tuesday, but this team usually produces high-scoring outputs at home. IU has battled with several great defenses this year with mixed results. A tough defense is nothing new for the Hoosiers. It’s just about executing the game plan and knocking down open shots. IU should try its best to get Purdue’s defense moving around because the Boilermakers are very in-sync when they face stationary offenses.
Like last year’s game in Assembly Hall, this should be an all-out war. Indiana’s homecourt advantage should be worth some points against the No. 1 team in the country.
Purdue is the better (and hotter) team at the moment, but Indiana is a suitable competitor when at its best. I’m not sure any outcome would surprise me on Saturday, although Purdue is a handful on both ends. Expect both teams to lay everything on the line and make large adjustments to stop the other. In actuality, this game could just be about who handles the spotlight better.