The Indiana men’s basketball team got their first road win of the season in a 78-71 defeat of Nebraska on Monday. After getting that monkey off their back, the Hoosiers will look to remove another monkey on Thursday: The Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue has won nine straight games over Indiana, and this may be the best team the Boilermakers have ever had. Here’s what IU will be challenged with on Thursday night.
THE OFFENSE AND ITS COUNTERS
When discussing Purdue’s offense, I think it’s best to start with their most efficient player. That would be the 7-foot-4 sophomore Zach Edey. Edey is averaging 15.6 points per game and shooting 70.7 percent on field goals.
Edey’s main source of production is obviously post ups. Purdue creates these post ups by overloading one side of the court and having Edey pin his defender deep inside the paint.
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This overload allows Edey to post up without help being available from the weak side. Notice how there is usually no defender on the other side of the court and if there is, it’s a guard who has very little chance of affecting Edey’s shot. Also, watch the post-to-post cross screens that the Boilermakers sometimes use to trigger post ups (remember those screens for later on).
For the last four or five years, zoom action has been a staple of Purdue head coach Matt Painter’s offenses. Zoom action is when a big man has the ball at the wing or elbow, another player is to his side setting a pindown and a ball-handling guard is running off the screen to receive a dribble handoff from the big man.
Typically, the big man rolls, the screener pops and the guard has the option to drive, pass or shoot right away. Painter began frequently running this for Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline, and he hasn’t looked back since.
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This is a great set to run for Purdue’s leading scorer Jaden Ivey (16.4 points per game). His speed is hard to chase off screens. It is also a wonderful action for Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic, who is a 41.7 percent 3-point shooter on 6.4 attempts per game.
Speaking of Ivey, the sophomore from South Bend has made himself a complete basketball player. Ivey’s mix of speed and finishing make him extremely hard to stop. Add that to the fact that his 3-point shooting has jolted to a 43 percent clip and you have one of the best players in college basketball.
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Ivey’s job of getting to the rim is made that much easier by the fact that rim protectors are usually too occupied with Edey and Trevion Williams to give a genuine contest to Ivey’s finishes.
Oh yeah, did I mention Trevion Williams? Williams was Second Team All-Big Ten last season and has now become Purdue’s sixth man due to Edey’s improvement (Williams plays more than Edey). While Williams' scoring production has taken a slight decrease, his effective field goal percentage has soared from 52.5 percent to 58.8 percent.
Williams is used in a much different capacity than Edey is. Watch how Williams’ post ups occur in more spread alignments than Edey’s.
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Purdue is also much more comfortable with Williams handling the basketball. This is because Williams has better ball-handling and passing skills than Edey does.
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If Edey catches the ball above the foul line, it’s only to initiate zoom action. Williams can be trusted to touch the ball from anywhere on the court. The first play in that video is a zoom set, but Williams is wise enough to spot the defense overplaying it and throw the backdoor pass.
What makes the Boilermakers so dangerous, outside of individual players, is the counters they have to many of their sets. Remember those cross screens I mentioned on the Edey overload play? They also use those to set up alley-oops when defenses try to jump the passing lanes.
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Purdue’s zoom plays are usually set up by a pindown being set to get Edey and Williams the ball. But when a defender reads the action early and tries to beat the big man to the spot, here comes a backdoor cut and a lob.
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As Indiana fans know all too well, Purdue’s offense is consistently one of the best and most complex in the country (there’s still a lot I didn’t cover). The Boilermakers now have the type of talent and experience that puts it all together. They will be a tough cover for Indiana on Thursday night.
Purdue’s defense has been inconsistent, but they are coming off a 96-88 double overtime win over Illinois and the Illini only scored 1.04 points per possession (the national average is 1.01). After that performance against Illinois’ electric offense in Champagne, Purdue has to feel good about their chances against IU’s offense.
One thing to watch is how the Boilermakers decide to guard ball screens. For most of the season, Purdue has been willing to switch ball screens at the one through four positions. When Edey is the center, he is asked to play drop coverage, where he just stays between the ball handler and the basket until the on-ball defender can get back in front.
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When Williams is the center, he typically is tasked with hedging the screen and briefly cutting off any driving angle for the ball handler. Sometimes, Williams straight-up blitzes the ball screen action, effectively double teaming the ball handler.
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Against Illinois, the Boilermakers decided to “ice” most ball screens rather than dropping or hedging. This forced Illinois to drive baseline and limited them from utilizing the middle of the court.
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It’s hard to tell whether Purdue has decided to completely change their ball screen coverage, or if they felt they needed to ice screens to limit Illinois’ guards from driving straight down the middle. In Purdue’s other games ice coverage was more of a wrinkle in their defense than their base coverage.
I believe that Indiana’s best shot at attacking drops and hedges is to drag the screen out to the point where Purdue’s centers are forced to switch onto IU’s ball handlers. When the switch happens, the Boilermakers will send aggressive help and the Hoosiers will have the opportunity to swing the ball around and find the open man.
While this following possession came against IU, it is a good example of how to attack these coverages.
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Michael Durr is trying to hedge and recover against Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon. Bohannon drags the screen to the other end of the floor, forcing Durr to switch on Bohannon and Rob Phinisee to switch on Iowa’s big man. Bohannon then uses his agility to get right past Durr and score.
If Purdue is icing screens on Thursday, Indiana will need to stress the importance of ball reversals. Purdue’s defense has been inconsistent because they tend to fall asleep off-ball and can be caught on their toes in scramble drills.
Watch how Purdue blitzes the screen and the weak-side defense isn’t ready to combat that:
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These ball reversals will be vital for Indiana regardless of how Purdue guards ball screens. IU’s best half-court possessions come when they make quick and accurate passes around the perimeter.
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Purdue has faced two elite big men this year: North Carolina’s Armando Bacot and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn. Those two combined for 12 points on 4-for-15 shooting against the Boilermakers. Trayce Jackson-Davis will have to be able to navigate a defense that guards well against post ups.
Even with the size that Edey and Williams provide, Purdue still opted to double Bacot and Cockburn as much as they could.
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There’s a good chance that Jackson-Davis will have to be the best player on the floor for IU to win on Thursday. Purdue’s great post defense has come on limited sample size. Bacot and Cockburn both battled foul trouble against the Boilermakers. Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson will both have to stay clear of poor fouls and being too aggressive.
That said, Indiana can not abandon the low-post game at any point. But being able to score with variety will make way for more post buckets down the stretch. It may ultimately just come down to how many tough shots Jackson-Davis can convert.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND KEYS
There is no simple answer regarding how Indiana should guard Purdue’s offense. The most important key for the defense is to not overplay Purdue’s actions. Unless the ball is in the air, don’t try to read a play before it happens. Eye discipline is a big deal against the Boilermakers.
When Edey’s in the post, I’d advise sending hard and timely doubles. IU has two great defensive bigs, but Edey is 7 inches taller than Jackson-Davis and 8 inches taller than Thompson. The Hoosiers could maybe try defending Edey one-on-one when the 7-footer Michael Durr is in the lineup, but I still wouldn’t lean on it.
When Williams is in the post, I think Thompson and Jackson-Davis can both hold their own one-on-one. With Williams’ vision, it’s probably not wise to double him. Depending on how Purdue is spaced, Indiana should be ready to send a second man to contest Williams as he’s going up for shots. Other than that, I’d say let IU’s two bigs handle Williams by themselves.
IU has to rebound to close out defensive possessions. Purdue’s offense is too good to surrender second chances to. Purdue currently has a 37.8 offensive rebound percentage, which is top ten in the country. Indiana is typically one of the better defensive rebounding teams in the country, but the Hoosiers allowed a concerning 16 offensive rebounds to Iowa last week. All five of IU’s defensive players need to play a part in securing rebounds on Thursday.
Ball movement and ball reversals will be the most vital part of Indiana’s offense on Thursday. If IU can move the ball quickly and accurately, they should have a good chance at the upset. If not, chalk up ten in a row for Purdue over IU.
I also think IU has to win the 3-point differential. Whether that means defending the perimeter extremely well or catching fire from beyond the arc, the Hoosiers’ best chance to win will be by outshooting Purdue from deep. Purdue is a top-five 3-point shooting team in the country at 40.3 percent, but they’re only shooting 35.3 percent on 3s in away games. Sturdy defense combined with bad luck could lead to a poor shooting night for Purdue.
This is a game that Indiana should be competitive in. Purdue is the better team, but IU’s defense combined with the Assembly Hall could make the Boilermakers uncomfortable. If the Hoosiers do what they need to do and a few bounces go their way, they could pull off the upset and get their biggest win of the season.