Basketball Prospectus: Unfiltered Everything Else is Fluff.

February 22, 2010

Weekend in Hoops: Purdue’s clueless homers

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 10:31 am

As Robbie Hummel is my witness, I will convince the hoops world that the story on Purdue in 2010 concerns their strikingly skilled and, yes, talented offense. But I do realize that my task is a formidable one….

“There are no John Walls here, no Wesley Johnsons, no Evan Turners. But nobody outworks and imposes their will on an opponent like Purdue.”

“It’s all about effort and grit.”

“Purdue has that old-time college basketball feel.”

Aggressive. Physical. Tough. Smart. A host of adjectives have been used to describe the defense that has helped Purdue reach a No. 4 national ranking.”

Mind you, this is from the Boilers’ own home-turf media. Even at close range Matt Painter‘s team is being misunderestimated. When friendly media types who think they’re praising you plainly have no earthly idea how good you really are, you’re officially suffering from an image problem.  

The reality is way more fun. (It always is, which is why I’m pretty pro-reality.) Yes, Purdue has a very good defense. Then again: 1) They pretty much always have a very good defense; and 2) Ohio State, to pick one example, has played even better defense in-conference, and I haven’t noticed any “It’s All About Diebler’s Effort and Grit” or “Buford Has That Old-Time College Basketball Feel” headlines.

Simply put, the news about Purdue this season is their offense. Compared to last year it’s improved significantly and powered this team’s climb to the top of both the Big Ten and the national polls.

No one outscores and imposes their points on an opponent like Purdue 
Conference games only, 2010 figures through February 21
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

               W-L   Pace    PPP   Opp. PPP   EM
This year     11-3   64.4    1.08    0.97   +0.11
Last year     11-7   63.6    1.02    0.95   +0.07

Take Saturday. Purdue beat Illinois by a comfortable 10-point margin, even though the Illini shot exceptionally well against this defense that’s allegedly the second coming of Milan ’54. How? By being ostentatiously good on offense, to the tune of 1.18 points per trip. For a group that’s portrayed as plucky overmatched underdogs, the offensive triumvirate formed by Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson sure looks formidable to me. The Boilers’ three featured scorers make a collective 54 percent of their twos. No other trio of featured players in the Big Ten can match that number. 

Indianapolis Star says black (“Purdue’s D Puts it Back on Top”). I say gold: It has in fact been Purdue’s offense that has landed the Boilermakers where they are today.

(Note: I had this section half-done before I saw that Mike Miller had already made pretty much the exact same point. Mike, please stop being right faster than I am.) 

BONUS misadventures in program stereotyping!
During Saturday’s KentuckyVanderbilt game Dick Vitale repeatedly asserted that the Commodores’ strength is making three-point shots. This despite the fact that his own broadcast partner had noted correctly that the Vandy offense has become more “balanced” since Shan Foster‘s day. Last year the ‘Dores attempted fewer threes in-conference than an average SEC team. And this year only Georgia and Alabama have been less likely to attempt a three-point shot in conference play than Kevin Stallings‘ group.

Then again if you shot threes the way Vandy did on Saturday against Kentucky (2-of-20), you’d stay away from them too. I credit much of that abysmal shooting to the Wildcat D: Jermaine Beal and Brad Tinsley had few if any open looks. Pundits and fans still talk in terms of “stopping Kentucky” in a given game, but–like Memphis in the old days–I think a much more accurate way to talk about this team is to consider how an opponent is going to score enough points to win. While Vanderbilt and Florida have both scored more efficiently than John Calipari‘s team in-conference, no SEC defense comes close to Kentucky. Stop worrying about their dribble-drive and start worrying about how you’re going to make shots against this team.

Won’t you pay attention to the nation’s top-ranked team, please?
is just four Big 12 wins away from doing something that hasn’t happened in seven years, running the table in a major conference. (Yes. Seven years. You can thank Matt Sylvester that it’s not merely five.) The Jayhawks’ remaining games are:

vs. Oklahoma (tonight)
at Oklahoma St.
vs. Kansas St.
at Missouri

I’m going to have more to say on KU in the coming days, but for now let me note that should Kansas get that far a season-ending road game against your NCAA-bound arch-rival is the perfect venue for this to be decided one way or the other.      

In today’s less historic venues….
Villanova’s “weird, needless, suicidal fouling,” continued!
 Yesterday Pitt beat ‘Nova 70-65 in Pittsburgh, as the Wildcats put the Panthers on the line 34 times in a really slow (62-possession) game. Granted that’s not all on Jay Wright‘s team. Pitt just happens to lead the Big East in getting to the line. Still, the home team enjoyed a 15-point advantage over ‘Nova at the foul line in a game that was decided by five points. And the Cats’ “hack factor” has ticked up to a robust 2.54. Also Dan Hanner has some further thoughts on Villanova’s WNSF…. Repetition aids comprehension. Repetition aids comprehension. I know I’ve said this before but UTEP is the class of CUSA….It’s hard to out-Marquette Marquette, but: If Dayton is left out of the NCAA tournament there will be 65 teams breathing a sigh of relief. The Flyers have actually outscored the A-10 by more than Syracuse has outscored the Big East, but at just 7-5 in-conference Brian Gregory‘s team is edging ever closer toward bubble land. Dayton’s five conference losses have come by four, one, one, three, and two points. The three-point loss at Saint Louis went to two overtimes, and the two-point loss yesterday at Duquesne was particularly ill-advised….Memphis never did this. How come you’re doing this? To me the single most amazing aspect of the Calipari-era domination of CUSA by Memphis was that they so rarely played to the level of the opposition. Middling opponents were reliably ground up into dust. Which brings me to Gonzaga, clearly the best team in the WCC this year and, just as clearly, a team that is bound and determined to lose to inferior opponents. On Thursday the Zags lost 74-66 at Loyola-Marymount. Mark Few‘s team has handled the stiff opposition in the West Coast–Saint Mary’s and Portland–with little trouble, but his team has been tripped up on the road by San Francisco and now the Lions. It’s the kind of thing that casts doubt on otherwise glittering numbers in Tuesday Truths….Washington has told its parents: “I’m bipolar and you just have to accept that.” The Huskies started their weekend homestand by mustering just 64 points in a 67-possession game won by USC. Then on Saturday night with the ESPN GameDay crew on hand, U-Dub did a pretty fair imitation of UCLA ’73, blowing out UCLA (how ironic!) 97-68. Barring a Pac-10 tournament title for his team, Quincy Pondexter will join the likes of Ed Davis, Willie Warren, and, possibly, Stanley Robinson as a 2010 draft pick who did not play in this year’s NCAA tournament….I’m with Ken Pomeroy on this one. If New Mexico is a three-seed we could probably improve seeding by simply drawing numbers out of a hat. And it’s not just the Lobos beating Air Force by a measly three points at home on Saturday, though that certainly was notable. More tomorrow.     

Don’t just mutter ineffectually; email me!

Duke apparently donated its collapse to Virginia this year

Nice article on Duke‘s minutes. I’ve taken some time to watch a couple of their recent games–at North Carolina and vs. Maryland–and noticed there is certainly much less motion in their offense in the second half, especially from Singler and Scheyer. And when they get a big lead deep in the half, they go into about as much of a stall as you can these days.

Taking a quick peek at the play-by-play from the Maryland game, the Blue Devils had nine offensive possessions from the 10-minute mark until Singler and Scheyer came out for good with under two minutes left. No trip was shorter than 20 seconds, and actually after the first three possessions no sequence was shorter than 28 seconds. So while these guys play a lot of minutes I’m not sure they’re really as gassed as their opponents hope at this point in the season.

David S.

Thanks, David. Of course in the time period you looked at in the Maryland game the Devils were nursing a double-digit lead that whole time, so that may have been one instance where energy-conservation worked hand in hand with strategy. Though, now that you mention it, Mike Krzyzewski has indeed taken his foot off the pedal this year ever so slightly, to the tune of three trips per ACC game.

By the way all this talk was triggered by an article that appeared last week in the Duke student newspaper, The Chronicle. I was interviewed by the bright young people at said paper as part of a follow-up piece on the ensuing discussion. Watch for it there tomorrow or so.  

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