Purdue’s historic rise from unranked to #1 in the AP Poll has been so much fun to watch. But what has allowed them to actually accomplish this?
There have been teams before that have gone from unranked to number 1 in the AP Poll, however, no one has done it as quickly as Purdue. In the grand scheme of things, being number 1 in the poll means nothing. It does not get you a better seed, and it does not cause you to become invincible. It actually may do the opposite as you are going to get every team’s best shot. There are some recruiting advantages that consistently being ranked that high can hold too.
Let’s travel back to November 8th, shall we. Purdue comes in with two freshman starting at guard, Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer, and questions about how many minutes Zach Edey can play. The guards combined for 24 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and 8 steals. Edey played a measly 25 minutes, his season low.
A great outing but one that came against a weaker opponent. The Marquette game happened, and Purdue overcame a 9 point deficit in the final 10 minutes to win. Freshman Braden Smith took over the game and finished with 20 points. Edey had 20 points and 13 rebounds in 33 minutes.
Then PK85 happened. Purdue beat West Virginia, Gonzaga, and Duke by 12, 18, and 19 points respectively, all in the matter of 4 days. Purdue went from questions to dominant. Zach Edey played 27, 31, and 32 minutes and vaulted himself to THE National Player of the Year front runner.
Purdue takes care of a few games, and a scary overtime victory over Nebraska, and they ended up voted as the #1 team. Another close game against Davidson followed up by a win over New Orleans, the first time that Purdue has played at Mackey Arena as the number one ranked team. But how did that happen?
The simple answers are Painter, Edey, and everyone buying in. Painter has been phenomenal coaching, and he has said many times how much guys have bought in. Zach Edey looks to be the most dominant player in college, and he is averaging 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game in 32 minutes per game. (I have an article breaking down Zach Edey’s excellent start here.) Everyone seems to have bought into their roles.
Now that all the background is out of the way, let’s get in to some of the actual offensive and defensive schemes that have allowed Purdue to be successful.
Zach Edey Post Ups
This has to start with Edey because… well, because he is him. Per Kenpom, Edey is using 30.9% of Purdue’s possessions when on the floor, and he is taking 29.9% of all shots while on the floor. Both of those are the highest numbers on Purdue’s team.
Purdue’s entire offensive system functions off of getting Edey the ball in the post. They often will have a lot of false action before, in order to clear a side of the court for Edey.
This play above is one type of action that Purdue will run often. It starts with a “wide screen” to allow Waddell to get to the top. The Newman comes off a staggered pindown screen to get the ball on the wing where he can shoot if open or pass. He doesn’t have a shot, so it just turns into trying to find the angle to get Edey the ball, which comes via TKR. By Edey setting these screens, it is easier for him to seal defenders like he did here.
From the clip above, the cross screen to start the possession at both elbows is called an Iverson cut, and Purdue loves to start action with those. Usually it leads to the player cutting going to the opposite wing. On this one however, Loyer curls it, and Morton gets a cross screen. Purdue will go to this Iverson cut and cross screen at the elbow a ton. This one is set for Morton to get Edey the ball on the post. A double comes, and then it is Smith attacking into the lane and finding the dump off pass to Edey.
Most of Purdue’s actions are centered around trying their best to get the ball to Edey on a good angle and location. Edey’s job in these are often to set a screen and immediately seal or post up his man, trying to hit early to get good positioning down low. However, sometimes defenses can get through everything.
That is when the clip above comes into play. It is a clearout for Edey to get the post up. There is a false stagger screen set up top. Once the pass gets to Edey, Gillis cuts to the block, and Smith cuts through as are the rules. Edey then gets to go to work.
Chicago action is a down screen directly into a direct hand off (DHO). Purdue will run this a ton, especially for Loyer and Newman. Often times there will be things like Iverson screens before or baseline cuts. If you see Edey get the ball at the top of the key, 9 times out of 10 it is going to be this Chicago action.
The initial action above where Loyer comes off the screen on the block into the DHO with Edey is Chicago action. From there, Edey rolls, and whoever the other guy setting the screen is pops (Furst in this case). In this case, two went to Edey, so the ball got swung to Furst. He attacks a closeout (another thing Purdue emphasizes a lot), and gets the ball back to Loyer for the three. If this Chicago action looks familiar, maybe it is because you watched Purdue play against Nebraska.
Yep. As shown in the clip above, Loyer’s poster dunk came off of Chicago action. Smith set the down screen, and Edey set the direct handoff (DHO). Loyer does a great job in general of reading the defense and recognize whether he needs to pull up, pass, or get to the rim like he did here.
There is also a ton of other actions that Purdue will run that are not Chicago, but they have similar effects. Purdue will often run shooters off of a double stagger coming off of the baseline. All they want to do is have multiple guys moving with the shooters getting to spots that they can get the ball up. This allows Edey to roll and take up space in the middle. Guards and wings are then able to attack closeouts or rotated defenses.
High Pick and Roll
Purdue does not go to the pick and roll often, but they have gone to it multiple times down the stretches of close games so far. This generally involves Edey setting a screen for Smith, although it featured Loyer more in the Nebraska game. Purdue wants spacers on the perimeter so that defenses have to work really hard to tag Edey as he rolls. Smith is such a gifted passer that he can find anyone that is open at any point during the possession.
In the play above, Purdue runs two crossing actions before allowing Edey to go set the screen. This one turns into Spain pick and roll because Morton is setting a backscreen on Edey, after Edey set the initial screen. Gonzaga sort of has to switch the low man onto Edey, but Smith moves the defenders with his eyes. With Gillis and Newman in opposite corners (both respected as shooters) Edey has all the space in the world to roll to the basket.
Offensive Notes and Stats
One thing that is common amongst all Purdue actions is movement. Both physical movement and ball movement. Purdue is an elite passing team, and it is very rare that the ball ever sticks. 58.8% of all of their field goals are assisted on, the 39th best rate in the country. On top of that, Purdue has the 24th best TO% in the country, so they make smart, quality passes often.
This movement allows so much spacing to happen, even with a 7’4 giant in the middle. Painter and Purdue have schemed ways to utilize Edey’s gravity to open up shots for others using ball movements and miss directions. It really is beautiful to watch.
When Purdue misses, they get on the offensive glass a ton. They have the 5th best offensive rebounding percentage in the country. Getting multiple looks with this great of offense is a recipe for success.
And last but not least, Purdue gets to the line a TON. They have the 29th best free throw rate in the country, and they have the 34th best free throw percentage in the country.
This has been an elite offense, all while really under shooting from 3.
Pick and Roll Defense
This will be the only area I really cover on defense because it is the most common action Purdue has run against them (by a lot too). Per Synergy, Purdue has had 314 pick and rolls that have resulted in some sort of shot or turnover by opposing offenses. There are only 7 teams in the country that get pick and rolls run against them more. It makes sense, teams want to put Edey into action and space. The issue this season for them is that if they do not have a 5 that can truly pop out and shoot, Edey has been great in drop coverage.
I recommend clicking here to learn more about drop coverage (and really any basketball action in general. The Basketball Action Dictionary that @bowser2bowser has created is really awesome). I will do my best here to explain it though.
Drop coverage is when the big plays a couple steps below the screen. This is the only coverage Edey runs. He will start 2-3 steps below the screen, and his entire job is to keep both the roller and ball handler in front of him until the ball handler’s defender can recover. This does a good job taking away the rim as long as Edey keeps the roller in front. It does allow more jumpers though.
Purdue is fine with that. If a team wants to take a pull up jumper, Purdue will live with it. It may burn them at times, but it puts Edey and the rest of the defense in the best possible position for success.
The above clips is an example of it. FSU goes with an empty pick and roll. Edey is a few steps behind the screen. On this play specifically, the roller gets a little behind Edey, but it is ok because Smith has already rotated as the low man to tag the roller. With Edey’s length combined with the rotation, FSU can not get the lob. They also can’t get to the rim because that would require going through Edey, and that does not sound fun. So they settle for a contested pull up jumper. Purdue lives with that.
This is less of a scheme and more of an observation. I just have thought Purdue’s defensive rotations have been very good this season. They have done a good job of rotating off of helping into the paint for the most part. Everyone has bought into their roles on the defensive end.
Morton and Newman have both been really good on ball defenders in my opinion. They have been by far the best at navigating screens, something that is critical in recovering on pick and rolls. They both move well and have good size which allows them to guard multiple positions.
Defensive Notes and Stats
Purdue has a ton of pick and rolls run against them as mentioned above. With that, teams are really really not wanting to go at Edey at the rim. Only two team in all of college basketball allows a fewer percent of opposing teams’ shots to be at the rim (Villanova and Iowa State). Teams are taking more mid range shots against Purdue than most teams in the country.
The other noteworthy stat is the 3 point defense. Purdue has done really well contesting 3 point attempts. I think this relates back to the rotations being good this season. 66.1% of all opponent catch and shoot opportunities are contested, the 24th best rate in the country per Synergy. The most efficient perimeter jump shot is a shot where someone is able to catch and immediately shoot. Purdue has done a great job contesting these, and not allowing open looks. (*teams are also missing open ones against Purdue, and Purdue never has that luck it feels like, so enjoy it while it lasts*)
The best thing about this start is that it has felt sustainable. Yes, Purdue will lose games this season, but it feels right now that they aren’t even close to bending that much, let alone breaking. This is a team that has shown they can be dominant against the best. They also have been able to gut out some wins when teams *try* and take Edey away. This is a team that is smart, connected, well-coached, and overall just talented.
Not all the players have been the highest ranked, but all the players exemplify Purdue’s basketball at its core. This is a team that is fully bought in to each other and this system. Teams will be able to find holes, but Purdue will be ready to patch them up.
This is such a fun team to watch, and they have everything you could ask from a Purdue basketball team. This should be a fun year, and I’m going to make sure I enjoy the ride.