IOWA (11-2) VS. PURDUE (8-5)
We probably spend too much time talking about Kenpom on here, but for those who don’t subscribe to the single greatest college basketball website of all time, it includes a system of grading the quality of opponents called “Tiers of Joy”. Games against opponents who would be in the national top 50, adjusted for home court advantage, are graded as “A” games; games against opponents in the adjusted top 100 are “B” games. So far this season, in thirteen contests, Iowa has played four graded opponents: Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa State. Over the next two months, the Hawkeyes are scheduled to play eighteen more games. As it stands at the moment, SIXTEEN of them are graded. THIRTEEN are “A” games. The undefeated non-conference season was great, but the season really begins now.
It begins with Purdue in Mackey Arena, not exactly an ideal situation for the beginning of the Big Ten schedule proper. Iowa last won at Mackey three years ago yesterday. It was Fran McCaffery’s only win in West Lafayette in six attempts, and it launched Iowa into the stratosphere. Within two weeks, the Hawkeyes would be the top-ranked team in the nation. Thursday night’s game isn’t quite that — Purdue isn’t even in the top 25 at the moment — but wins are going to be so difficult to come by in the Big Ten this year that it might as well be.
Purdue has already suffered five losses this season, none of them particularly egregious. Four losses (Virginia Tech in Charleston and away games against Michigan, Florida State and Texas) were against teams in the Kenpom top 30 at the time. The fifth, against in-state rival Notre Dame, wasn’t far off that level. On the other hand, Purdue’s only win of note was a home game against Maryland; the Boilermakers have essentially lost every game against the nation’s top tier of teams and won every game against the others, Notre Dame being the exception.
Their profile generally looks a bit like Iowa: Excellent offensively, questionable on defense. Purdue is eighth nationally in offensive efficiency, but rather than being excellent in one or two areas, the Boilermakers are generally solid across the board. They don’t get to the free throw line much, but otherwise, Purdue shoots well (54.5% effective rate), rebounds well (they get more than a third of their own misses), and protects the ball well (17% turnover rate, 7% steal rate). They take a ton of three-point shots, with nearly one of every three attempts coming from behind the arc. Defensively, they like to slow opponents down and force bad shots, and they rebound the misses better than most. Purdue is not a great perimeter defensive team, which has been exploited: The Boilermakers’ opponents take more threes than any other Big Ten team (second-most of all Power Six teams, behind only Oregon, because Bol Bol) and get 41% of all points on three-point shots.
You probably shouldn’t get this far into a Purdue preview without talking about Carsen Edwards, but here we are. Edwards (6’1″, 200) is behind only Ethan Happ among Big Ten players in the overall player of the year race. He plays 33 minutes a game, scores about a third of Purdue’s points (25.8 ppg), shoots 40% from three, makes 89% at the line, doles out 3.5 assists per game, and grabs a few boards here and there (3.2 rpg). Three out of every eight Purdue possessions ends with Edwards doing something, usually scoring; that’s the highest rate of possession usage of any player in the Power Six, higher than Ethan Happ and noted ballhog R.J. Barrett.
Edwards is joined in the Purdue backcourt by senior shooting guard Ryan Cline (6’6″, 195), who is playing just as many minutes as Edwards at about half the production (13.1 ppg). Between the two of them, Edwards and Cline have taken a staggering 231 three-point attempts in 13 games, nearly 18 attempts per contest. Freshman Sasha Stefanovic (6’4″, 195, 3.2 ppg) provides additional shooting off the bench.
Of course, it’s Purdue, so there has to be some seven-footer somewhere. This year, it’s Dutch import Matt Haarms (7’3″, 250). Where the Boilermakers traditionally prefer old-school battleship centers like Isaac Haas, Haarms has shown some versatility. Still, he’s there to rebound (4.7 rpg) and block shots (1.8 bpg) because Purdue gonna Purdue. Forwards Nojel Eastern (6’6″, 220, 5.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Grady Eifert (6’6″, 220, 4.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) are solid defenders who provide help on the glass and not much else on the offensive end.
The good news: Bryant hiccup notwithstanding, Iowa has been an excellent perimeter defensive team this year. The defensive breakdowns so common last year are largely gone, and opponents have largely had to rely on two-point shots to stay with the Hawkeyes this year. Iowa’s opponents are shooting just 30 percent from behind the three-point arc this year; if that holds Thursday night, Iowa will almost certainly win.
Still, Iowa is going to need Bohannon, Moss, Weiskamp and Baer to make shots if they’re going to be competitive. Purdue has too many bodies and too much size for the Hawkeyes to simply rely on Tyler Cook getting to the free throw line, especially with Luka Garza banged up. Purdue is going to force this game onto the perimeter, and Iowa has to be able to match them there on both ends of the court.