Coming into the season, Purdue looked like a team that was going to compete for the Big Ten championship. They seem to have fallen off of many people’s minds, but that could also be caused by Michigan State’s lead atop the standings. Last year, Purdue was a big surprise as they went 15-3 in the conference with a very young team. That was the reason for much of the optimism coming into this season. Unfortunately, losses to Oklahoma, Duke, Illinois and Penn State have taken the attention away from Boilermakers. That, and their only tournament quality wins are over Davidson and Wisconsin at this point.
Purdue had a very good season last year for a few reasons. They played great defense, they took care of the basketball, they hit threes, and they could do what no other Big Ten team could do and that is beat Wisconsin. This year they have actually improved defensively, but their shooting has cooled off. The rest of the Big Ten has also improved, so beating Wisconsin is not the only thing they have to worry about.
Last season, three guys took the bulk of Purdue’s three point shots, and they were all close to shooting 44% from behind the arc. Keaton Grant shot 44.0%, Robbie Hummel shot 44.7%, and E’Twaun Moore shot 43.4%. This year, Grant is shooting 32.6%, Hummel 40.8%, and Moore 34.2%. Maybe it’s the law of averages or maybe the move to a further three-point line has affected them. Whatever it is, Purdue is no longer scorching opponents from behind the arc. And this has definitely affected the overall offense which averaged 1.12 points per possession a year ago but is down to 1.07 points per possession this season.
Purdue has seen great improvement from their inside scoring, as JaJuan Johnson has really become a force inside, grabbing offensive rebounds, getting to the free throw line, and finishing plays inside. Without him, the offense could have seen even more of a drop off.
Even though Lewis Jackson is a freshman point guard who has had occasional games with a few too many turnovers, Purdue takes very good care of the basketball. Except against Northwestern. So, though are not giving away possessions, as they are likely to at least get a shot attempt, but the shooting has just fallen off this year and that has hurt the offensive production.
On defense is where Purdue shines. Last year they were an outstanding defensive team, but this year they are an elite team on defense. They are currently 5th in the country in defensive efficiency, allowing just 0.83 points per possession, behind only Louisville, Memphis, Duke, and Wake Forest.
The name of the game for the Boilermakers is field goal defense, both inside and out. They lead the country in opponents’ 2-point field goal percentage at a mark of just 38.0%. This is where the JaJuan Johnson’s length has really come into play as a shot blocker and disrupter. Also credit the increased minutes of 6’9” forward Nemanja Calasan and of course the decorated Robbie Hummel who can play defend inside as well. Johnson isn’t the most intimidating 6’10” center, but he is blocking 10.1% of opponents 2-point attempts while he is on the floor and that puts him amongst outstanding company.
Purdue is also quite strong defending the perimeter, where opponents only make 31.8% of their threes. Chris Kramer is a lockdown defender and reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, but the overall team defense is what stands out. E’Twaun Moore and Keaton Grant are big athletic guards that can disrupt teams on the perimeter. When Robbie Hummel at 6’8” and Marcus Green at 6’6” guard out on the perimeter it takes it to a whole new level.
Finally, Purdue’s pressure defense also forces teams to cough the ball over at a very high rate. They forced a turnover on 25.5% of opponents’ possessions last year, and they are forcing a turnover on 23.9% of opponents’ possessions this year. So that’s not quite as good, but still amongst the best in the country.
Purdue has also improved quite a bit in the rate at which they send opponents to the free throw line. Last year they were atrocious in that regard, as teams attempted free throws at a rate of 42.6% free throw attempt per field goal attempt. That number is down to 31.4% this year. Purdue is getting into position better this year, and they have cut down to the hacking that results from being caught out of position.
In summary, Purdue is under the radar right now as they appear to have slipped offensively. That is the result of slumped shooting percentages, especially from the perimeter. JaJuan Johnson has really become a force at both ends this year, and his impact has led to some outstanding defense inside. That defense is matched by terrific defensive play on the perimeter that forces misses and turnovers without fouling. We should see if the Boilermakers can keep it up with a tough stretch of games coming up with 5 out of their next 7 on the road.