7:00 Tuesday. West Lafayette. ESPN.
Before we get to the numbers, let survey some of the Boilermaker blogosphere buzz (while blowing bubbles biking backwards).
In just six short weeks, this group of freshmen and sophomores has not only won 10 of 11 Big Ten games, they have changed the culture and attitude of the entire program. When this conference season began, we were simply hoping to win enough conference games to squeeze into the NCAA tournament. The Michigan game was lackluster at best. Something happened in the loss in East Lansing though that made this group believe they could win right now. Now we sit with seven games remaining, leading everyone else and in control of our own destiny. It is a destiny we can take even more control of in the next 10 days. At the very least it has been a hell of a ride.
1. Purdue (19-5, 10-1). Last week: 2. I don’t know how anyone could put anyone else here. Purdue leads the conference and is the only team with a road win against one of the top four.
Matt Painter prepared Purdue so well for this road game that Bo Ryan was uncharacteristically forced to adapt to the Boilermaker’s pace on his own court. The Badgers had difficulty defending the perimeter throughout and as a result, Ryan was forced into shortening his rotation with Greg Stiemsma playing a quick three minutes while Brian Butch watched Jason Bohannon for long stretches from the bench.
Purdue might represent the wave of the future in another sense, as well. This spread-the-floor-with-quickness thing is spreading like a YouTube link, isn’t it? True, the Boilers don’t employ the Memphis variety, preferring to use their small big men for high screens instead of using them for weak-side offensive board opportunities. Still, with a point guard and four wings on the floor, this is officially no longer Gene Keady’s Boilermakers. One way to read a coach’s true beliefs is to watch their play calls coming out of timeouts. In Madison, Painter called more than one clear-out for Robbie Hummel to take Brian Butch to the hole. The play worked beautifully. (Eventually Bo Ryan had to pull Butch out of the game–there was simply no one on the floor he could guard.) Much like Duke, this Purdue offense waits to see who’s being guarded by the opponent’s slowest player and then isolates that match-up. For opponents, the simplest answer is, of course, to play zone: the Boilers managed just 0.93 points per trip against Ohio State’s 2-3 in West Lafayette on January 12 (but won anyway because the Buckeyes scored just 0.84 points per possession). I’ll be very surprised if Kelvin Sampson doesn’t roll out a 2-3, at least off made baskets, when Indiana hosts Purdue next Tuesday.
Purdue comes in at 19-5 overall, 10-1 in the conference, and flying high after the win in Madison. If all the love for the Boilermakers above weren’t enough to frighten you, Joe Rexrode reports that Kalin Lucas won’t be 100%, as he’s dealing with a bone bruise in his knee. He reports Izzo is taking a realistic approach to the coming week:
Izzo was asked today if a split this week between Purdue and IU would keep MSU in it.
He said a split “is probably not good enough to win the league. It’s plenty good, if we play well enough, for the big picture.”
In other words, while Izzo isn’t conceding the Big Ten, he’s realistic about the Spartans’ position in light of losses to Iowa and Penn State. And he’ll be happy if his team can start putting things together, get one victory, and start making a push as the postseason approaches.
Purdue’s only loss came at the hands of MSU in East Lansing. MSU won 78-75, despite turning the ball over 17 times. Purdue’s freshman quasi-star Robbie Hummel missed that game due to injury.
Let’s take a look at Purdue’s conference-only tempo-free stats to see what’s fueled their spectacular run in conference play. The numbers are consistent with the portrait painted above of a very good perimeter-oriented team (POT):
- They lead the league in 3-point shooting at 41.0%.
- They’re second in the league in free throw shooting at 74.4%.
- They’re not a great rebounding team–ranking second to last in offensive rebounding % (31.3%) and third to last in defensive rebounding (65.4%).
- They don’t turn the ball over, ranking first in offensive TO% at 18.4%.
- And they make their opponents turn it over a lot, ranking second in defensive TO% at 26.1%.
- Inconsistent with a POT, they block a lot of shots–ranking first in the league in block % at 9.8%
Kenpom predicts a 68-66 Purdue win. In light of the stats above, that seems too generous to MSU. It’s going to be a very steep 2-point hill to climb. Here are the Spartans Weblog keys to the game:
On offense, it’s pretty obvious: hold on to the ball. The one clear advantage MSU will have is size. They need to executive well enough in the half-court to get the ball to Suton and Morgan in position to create scoring opportunities near the basket. A consistent effort on the offensive boards by those two is also essential to equalizing the statistical advantages Purdue has on the perimeter.
I’m going to hold off on flaunting my regression-based advice for this game. It may be hard to push the ball up court against a small, quick team with nine players averaging over 15 minutes per game.
On defense, I hope Izzo has been showing the team the Texas game tape. They need to play the swarming help defense they played in that game and force tough looks from the perimeter. This is a team with a full eight players attempting at least one 3-pointer per game. And three of them–their three leading scorers–are shooting above 40.0%: E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and Keaton Grant.
Expect to see a whole lot of the small lineup with Morgan at power forward. He may be the player that absolutely needs to show up on both ends of the floor–keeping up with a smaller player on defense while using his size and athleticism to create mismatches on offense.
MSU moves up a spot to 10/9 in the AP/coaches’ polls. With Wisconsin moving down to 15/14, MSU finds itself in the somewhat bizarre situation of being the most highly-ranked Big Ten team, on the strength of their nonconference performance, despite clearly being the #4 team in the conference at the moment. Indiana is at 13/12 in the polls; Purdue is at 19/23.
Here’s what two of the formula-driven rankings say about the top five Big Ten teams:
30 Ohio St
26 Ohio St
May the statistical tide rise for the Green and White once again tomorrow night . . .