On the surface, the numbers look fantastic.
Purdue ranks No. 13 in the country in defensive efficiency, giving up about 89 points per 100 possessions. The Boilermakers have held two teams below 40 points. Essentially, it looks like business as usual for Purdue, which has ranked among the nation’s best in defensive efficiency for the past five years.
Looking closer, though, there seems to be some troubling points. If you take out the games against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, Purdue’s defensive efficiency drops tremendously. In the other six games, they have allowed better than 1.04 points per possession, which would rank in the middle of the pack nationally.
Iona sped the Boilermakers up in their mid-November matchup, seemingly scoring at will until Scott Machado fouled out late in the game. Temple shot nearly 52 percent from the field, High Point nailed almost 40 percent of its 3-pointers and Miami (Fl.) did well on the offensive glass despite going to a four-guard lineup. In Purdue’s one loss, to Alabama, the Crimson Tide turned up the pressure in the second half and started getting transition baskets.
This is not to say that Purdue is a mediocre defensive team, not at all. But this isn’t the Boilermakers’ squad of the past few years. Ones that had Chris Kramer creating havoc for opposing guards, E’Twaun Moore bodying up on the wings and JaJuan Johnson protecting the rim.
There aren’t many go-to defensive stoppers on the roster right now. Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow can guard the ball effectively, but the team as a whole struggles with big, physical wings. Terone Johnson (above) could help, but having him on the floor instead of Ryne Smith makes Purdue limited offensively. Moreover, they can’t take risks in the halfcourt because there are no intimidating big men guarding the rim. Jacob Lawson has the potential to be a force with his athleticism, but he is still a freshman. Robbie Hummel is currently leading the team in blocked shots, but his athleticism has been limited by multiple knee injuries.
In a half-court setting, Purdue’s physicality and strength will be enough to beat most teams. But teams have scored on the Boilermakers in transition. They allow 1.12 points per possession when the opponent is able to get out and run, which is what Iona did to score 90 points, and what Alabama did in the second half when the Crimson Tide won. Moreover, Temple was able to get easy baskets because it forced turnovers. Purdue’s big men don’t get back too well (outside of Lawson, again), making it easy for athletic opponents to get open opportunities in the fast-break.
How can they get better?
They need to get back in transition, continue limiting turnovers (Purdue takes care of the ball better than anyone in the country), and rebound more consistently. Moreover, they need to rotate better on isolation situations and pick-and-roll plays. Teams are simply getting too many open shots. Giving Terone Johnson and Lawson more minutes might help, but Matt Painter doesn't want to hinder his offense too much.
Purdue will be a contender for an NCAA tournament bid out of the Big Ten, I have no doubt. But in order to play with the big boys – starting on Saturday at Xavier – the Boilermakers need to improve their defense.
And that’s a major change from the past.
Photo: US Presswire
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