The Purdue Boilermakers have lost two of their last three games, with a weird game sandwiched in between. Is there a reason to start worrying in West Lafayette?
The Purdue Boilermakers have lost two of their last three games. Should they be worried? My short answer, just to get out ahead of everything, is no. This is still one of the top four teams in the country without a doubt. Even with dropping two of the last three games, Purdue boasts one of, if not, the best resumes in the country. Every team in the country has had a similar moment to Purdue, Purdue’s has just come last out of them all.
They sit at 23-3 overall, and 12-3 in Big Ten play. They hold a two-game lead in the loss column over second-place Northwestern. Obviously, this is a down year at the top end of the Big Ten, but regardless, this Purdue Boilermakers team would be competing for a Big Ten championship in most seasons.
And although I think it is very fair to hold this team to a higher standard now, I think it is good to take a step back. This team was largely projected to finish between 5th and 7th in the Big Ten in preseason rankings. Now they control their destiny in both the Big Ten, but also a 1 seed come tournament time.
Now I do also recognize that Purdue fans have almost always had the other shoe drop. West Lafayette can become an anxious place around March, expecting something to go awry. I can’t guarantee that won’t happen this season, but I think this is one of the best spots Purdue has been in.
Even with the past few games not being great, there is no reason to really start panicking yet. However, that doesn’t mean there are not things to take away from these games, specifically the Indiana, Iowa, and Northwestern games. These aren’t things that necessarily are terrible, just things I will be monitoring going forward for sure.
This is probably the most noticeable area. Purdue has had three of their six highest turnover percentages in their past three games. They had a 24.7 TO% against IU, 23.9% against Iowa, and 24.4% against Northwestern. I know against Iowa the big concern was the press (which Purdue handled fine). What worries me is teams that can really pressure in the half-court. Iowa couldn’t pressure in the half-court, and Purdue dominated that game. The three losses that Purdue has? Rutgers, Indiana, and Northwestern. Three teams that really want to pressure guards in the half-court and make it a physical game.
Purdue is such a timing-based offense with two smaller guards in Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer, they need to be able to get in rhythm to do so. Teams have really started bumping them, throwing off some timing of the offense.
Here are some of the key stats from the past three games in terms of turnovers.
- 16 turnovers (24.7 TO%)
- 11 steals for IU
- 12 fastbreak points for Indiana
- No turnovers against the press
- 17 turnovers (23.9 TO%)
- 11 steals – 12 fastbreak points for Iowa
- 18.9 TO% in half court
- 16 turnovers (24.4 TO%)
- 5 steals – 12 fastbreak points for Northwestern
- 2 turnovers against the press
The big thing I take away from that is live ball turnovers (steals). Purdue has really crept up in live ball turnovers. They have the worst live ball turnover percentage in the conference but are 7th in dead ball turnovers. Couple this with the weakness of Purdue being transition defense, and teams are able to really score.
Indiana and Northwestern (especially late) did a great job of really applying pressure in the half-court, forcing Purdue into turnovers. Smith has also been playing a ton of minutes and has seemed pretty gassed late in games.
On top of that, Edey has had five, two, and six turnovers respectively in those games. Teams are really bodying him up with double teams on the catch, and it is forcing him to have to throw passes he normally would not want to.
Even after looking at how many points Purdue has given up from turnovers, there is also the flip side. Purdue is one of the best offenses in the country. They are 69th in eFG% and #1 in ORB%. So basically any shot is a good shot because it either goes in or is rebounded. That is why turnovers are even more critical because Purdue is so good at scoring when they don’t turn it over.
I mentioned in an article here why Purdue was a better shooting team than the percentages shown. This was a month ago, and Purdue has primarily shot the ball well since then. They shot 37.0% from three (10/27) against Iowa and won. Against Indiana and Northwestern, they shot 6/18 (33.3%) and 5/22 (22.7%) respectively from downtown. In the Rutgers loss earlier this season, they shot 7/23 from deep (30.4%).
This team shot above 37% from three in every game from January 5th to February 1st. They struggled in the two losses, but I think it is more just bad variance than anything.
Purdue does not necessarily need the 3-pointer always, but they can’t be having turnovers as well as shooting poorly. Purdue is going to get good looks from three with how much attention Edey demands. Against Northwestern, 11 of Purdue’s 25 threes were open, catch-and-shoot looks. These are the best threes in the game for an offense. What did they shoot on those? 2-of-11, one of their worst performances on the season. Now I know that this can be said for both sides of almost every game, but if Purdue makes even one or two of those, they probably win.
The difference between Indiana and the Northwestern game was Edey had single coverage against the Hoosiers and doubles (or triples) against the Wildcats. So although threes weren’t falling a ton against Indiana, they were able to let Edey eat. Against Northwestern, they were sending two or three guys to Edey which opened up a ton on the perimeter.
This became an issue when Purdue was not making the shots. Purdue was having success running the pick-and-roll against Northwestern since they were really collapsing in. Smith was making the right read to get guys open threes. However, they were not making them, so I think Purdue went away from it a bit down the stretch, trying to get it to Edey. But there is only so much he can do when he has two guys on him.
Snug Chicago action (and the mid-range)
The clip below is an example of this Snug Chicago action. It is a pindown into a direct handoff, but it is happening near the elbow and not on the perimeter.
Northwestern got a floater here. Indiana went to it some with Jalen Hood-Schifino to get him a pull-up. It is a tough act to guard because of how tightly congested everything is. Ethan Morton really has no space to really get through the screens at all. With Edey in drop, it opens up these 10-15 footers.
Now some have said this “exposed” Purdue, but in reality, these are the types of shots Purdue has given up all season. The only difference is Indiana and Northwestern had players that could actually make them.
In terms of actual strategy, maybe Morton tries shooting the gap or going under on the second screen? But then he is susceptible to the guy (Buie in this case) flaring out and getting an open jumper. Luckily I’m not a coach and don’t have to come up with a definitive answer.
The other part is comparing the process to the results. For defenses, forcing tougher mid-range shots and floaters is a good process regardless of makes or misses. But in the tourney, what if someone gets hot? I legitimately don’t know. In general, I subscribe to process > results because, in the long run, it will be better. Over the course of the season, Purdue has been one of the best defenses in large part because they force teams to take mid-ranges.
But if the sample size becomes the last five minutes of a game, that puts the team in a real bind. Do you change your strategy to take away the mid-range that a player has made a lot of in a game? Do you continue to play percentages even if someone stays hot? How do you value process vs results when the only thing that matters is the final 3 minutes of a game? These are all questions that I think provoke good thought (and maybe I should write about that at some point?).
But they are all relevant to these past few games. IU went 9-for-14 (64.3%) on mid-range shots per cbbanalytics. Northwestern went 6-for-15 on these shots (40%). Purdue only allows teams to shoot about 37% from the midrange on the season. These are shots Purdue wants teams to take.
It is an interesting concept and one that is really shown in the Snug Chicago action. If teams have guys who can make tough shots, I fully expect them to run it against Purdue. How will Purdue adjust if needed?
Freshman growing pains
Something I forget is that Purdue is starting two freshmen in the backcourt in Smith and Loyer. They are both a bit undersized, but both phenomenal players who have to play a ton of minutes. Smith has seemed really gassed at times in the past three games, partially because he is tasked with doing so much for this team. Defenses have really started being physical with Loyer and trying to take him off of his spots.
There are also growing pains for any freshman, and this little stretch may be what the backcourt duo needed. They (the rest of the team included) came out super flat against IU. They were by far the better team for the first 17 minutes of the second half but could not quite overcome the lead.
This duo has lost 3 times in their college careers, with a current winning percentage of 88.4%.
The first two losses came when Purdue came out flat. They had double-digit deficits in both games going into halftime. In both games, Purdue clawed its way back but lost a close one. The Northwestern game was the first time all season that Purdue let a lead slip away and lose. There have been close games or games where a lead started to slip, but they never lost it. Now the freshmen have that experience under their belt, and although it was not fun to watch, I really expect both Smith and Loyer to bounce back from it.
Overall, this is fun. It’s fun because Purdue is good. Not every team in the country right now gets texts or tweets from friends after every loss for their team. Not every team gets court-stormed for every road loss. The Purdue Boilermakers do because they are good and important.
They have the NPOY in Edey, two legit freshmen in Smith and Loyer, and a great surrounding cast. They are 23-3 overall and a projected 1 seed in the tourney.
Yes, these past three games have been Purdue’s worst stretch of the season, but there is still plenty of time to bounce back. I’d rather this happen now than in a month. It happening now could help Purdue in the long run. This also is not like Purdue has lost to some really bad team. They lost to two tourney teams on the road, with both having their biggest crowd of the year. Coming into the season with Edey as the center point of the team and two freshmen starting, people would have expected Purdue to lose those games.
Now that Purdue has proven itself, things have changed, and that’s a positive. Yes, Purdue has things to improve, but they know that. Purdue is still one of the best teams in the country with as good of a chance as any to make a deep run. Anyone who titles videos or articles talking about how maybe Purdue is legit or should be worried is just looking for clicks to an extent *stares at own title and shrugs*
This is a fun and good team, and I think this season is going to finish that way too. Three home games and two road games before the tournament. Win the home games and splitting the road games puts Purdue at 27-4 heading into post-season play.