Basketball Scouting Report: Purdue
No one can say with certainly how good a win Purdue would represent for the Vanderbilt men’s basketball team, but the Commodores need to tuck this one away if they want their resume to have some degree of balance and diversity three months from now. In the event that Purdue makes its way to the NCAA tournament, a victory over the Boilermakers would offer a noticeable boost to the Dores.
There wasn’t a lot of mystery as to why Vanderbilt failed to win its most recent game – it got destroyed in the realm of three-point shooting on both sides of the divide. The Dores couldn’t hit the long ball (3 of 17), and they couldn’t defend it. (Baylor hit 10 of 18 shots.) The Commodores generally defended without fouling, keeping the Bears’ free throw opportunities to a minimum, but the three-point line wiped away the good things VU did in terms of minimizing cheap points at the charity stripe.
The encouraging aspect of this situation for Vanderbilt is that if you asked a panel of basketball pundits right now, you’d probably get a majority (though maybe not unanimous) opinion that Baylor is better than Purdue, and will be at the end of the regular season. If the Commodores could play Baylor even, they might very well be able to top Purdue. It all gets back to perimeter defense, for reasons that will be elaborated on in the overview of the Boilermakers’ starting lineup.
Purdue coach Matt Painter has a lot of work to do. The Boilermakers were an NCAA tournament regular for several seasons, but in each of the past two seasons, Purdue has failed to put on its Dancing shoes. At Purdue, that’s plainly not acceptable – basketball is much too important in the state of Indiana to allow consecutive seasons removed from the main event. Painter might not be squarely on the hot seat, but his position in West Lafayette is less than 100 percent secure, and if he fails to make the tournament this season, his job status is certainly going to be questioned.
What kind of team is Vanderbilt facing today? It would be a reach to claim that Purdue has a clear-cut identity at this point.
You’ve seen Michigan lose to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. You’ve seen New Mexico lose to USC. You’ve seen Ole Miss lose to TCU. You’ve seen a lot of confounding results in the first month of the college basketball season. The chaos is normal, and it underscores how volatile early-season competition is in any college sport. Professional-level consistency just can’t be anticipated. With so many teams trying to settle into a comfortable identity, Purdue fits into this pervasive pattern instead of standing apart from the pack.
We don’t know what the real Purdue is. Good Purdue beat BYU in Maui in overtime and then topped North Carolina State, collecting a couple of wins that could mean a lot come March. Bad Purdue lost to Kansas State in Maui and dropped a decision at home to North Florida, a game that could really kill this team in March. The Boilermakers have a promising young player on the perimeter, but they are saddled with a continuously erratic low-post player. You’ll meet them and others in this overview of the Boilers’ roster.
Center – A.J. Hammons – Junior, 7-0, 261 2014-15: 10.1 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, 3 blocked shots per game
Hammons is the embodiment of Purdue the past few seasons: He is a story of uncertainty, defined by a lack of confidence and unrealized potential. Hammons is blessed with a body that should be able to accomplish so much on the court, but has not been able to post the kinds of results Painter has been feverishly looking for. Size, length, mobility – Hammons possesses those qualities, but they are not channeled into the feel and flow of competition. His work ethic is sorely lacking, his fire rarely if ever able to burn brightly. With a locked-in Hammons, Purdue is easily an NCAA team. With the version of Hammons Purdue currently has, no one can say with conviction or clarity what this team is… or what it will do. Vanderbilt’s basic task – as is the case for anyone who plays Hammons – is to make him work for everything at the offensive end of the floor… because Hammons has shown over two-plus seasons that he won’t work hard enough on offense to do what it takes. Give him this much, however: He is blocking shots and showing attention to detail at the defensive end.
Forward – Vince Edwards – Freshman, 6-7, 220; 2014-15: 10.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg
Edwards is giving Purdue a great deal of effort as a freshman. He’s posting numbers similar to what Hammons is putting out, only with much less experience and a lot less size and length. Edwards has made Painter smile this season, and yet the youngster’s highly productive first month must make Painter inwardly cringe, because such output reminds the Boilermaker coach that Hammons should be averaging something in the area of 18 points and 11 rebounds, not 10 and 6.
Guard – Rapheal Davis – Junior, 6-5, 217; 2014-15: 8.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.5 apg
If perimeter defense is going to be important for Vanderbilt in this game, Davis will be the player the Commodores need to allow to shoot. Davis hits under 16 percent of his threes and generally does not look for his shot. Defenses always have to make choices in basketball, and this is the guy the Dores must choose to play with more of a cushion.
Guard – Jon Octeus – Senior, 6-4, 170; 2014-15: 6.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.8 apg
Octeus became a 13-points-per-game scorer for Colorado State last season. He transferred to Purdue with the intent of getting more minutes and being more of an offensive force for the Boilermakers. That hasn’t happened so far this season, as you can see from his stat line. Where Octeus excels, though, is as a rebounder from the perimeter. Vanderbilt will need to keep him off the glass. Octeus hits 25 percent of his threes, so he’s not a huge threat, but he’s more of a threat than Davis is. Why is three-point defense such a big deal, you say? Why is this being harped on? The next player will show why.
Guard – Kendall Stephens – Sophomore, 6-6, 197; 2014-15: 12.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 49-percent 3-point field goal shooting
See that last statistic? Stephens is one of the elite three-point marksmen in the country. He went 6-of-7 from long distance in Purdue’s most recent game against Arkansas State on Dec. 10. Here’s what Painter had to say about him in an interview with Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal and Courier:
"He's probably the best good shot-maker I've ever been around. I've been around Glenn Robinson, Cuonzo Martin, Jimmy Oliver — a lot of guys in college that can really shoot the basketball. But it is scary when you break up his good shots from his bad shots. He literally shoots in the 60s on his good shots. When he gets a rhythm and he's got his feet under him, the ball goes in probably 65 percent of the time. Once he can start to understand and do that on a consistent basis, I really feel he'll be an all-conference caliber player at Purdue. I would love for him to do that now, and today he obviously did that. He got into a rhythm and he shot it, but I don't think he took any bad shots. That's so important to our team, that we can go to him and trust him throughout a game. That's a pretty valuable piece, especially when you've got some big boys in there and you're going to be able to get the ball inside."
So, Vanderbilt might want to cover Stephens closely if it doesn’t want to get torched once again from three-point range
Painter has been rolling through different combinations of lineups and different distributions of minutes, so Vanderbilt should not be too focused on defending the Boilers’ starting five relative to the bench. Stephens, Edwards and Octeus demand attention, but so do key reserves such as backup center Isaac Haas, who averages 11.4 points per game, 1.3 points more than the always-underachieving Hammons. Purdue also turns to freshman guard Dakota Mathias, who averages 5.3 points per game; guard Bryson Scott, who chips in with 4.4 points and two assists per game as a facilitator of the offense; and guard P.J. Thompson, who also adds two assists per game as well. It’s noticeable that Purdue is deep in the backcourt and has lots of players who share the ball. Given that Vanderbilt had trouble defending the extra pass against Baylor, the Dores are meeting an opponent which should test their perimeter defense once again.
Keys to the Game
1) Perimeter rotations. Going over screens. Switching. Hedging. These and other defensive maneuvers need to be polished, and they’re going to get a test after more than a full week of inactivity. How sharp will Vanderbilt be in its perimeter reactions at the defensive end of the floor? This will be both a test and a revealer of how well this team responds to practice, film study, and the coaching of Kevin Stallings.
2) Dig the long ball. Vanderbilt needs to shut down the three on defense, but the flip side is that in another home-gymnasium game, the Dores need to be able to shoot well. It’s an obvious key, but the point of emphasis here is that at home, you have to be able to get better shooting due to the familiar environment and background. If you can’t shoot well at home, it’s going to be a long season. Nerves, defensive pressure, the list of reasons for bad shooting nights is endless. When those bad nights become a pattern, though, the reality is that your team just doesn’t have much. Does Vanderbilt not have much? It’s too early in the season to say so… but another clang-fest from 22 feet and beyond will not inspire much confidence the rest of the way. It’s not an original game key, but tonight, guys just have to step up and knock down threes… at least enough to keep Purdue’s defense – and future SEC defenses – honest. Let’s not try to look for a more complicated game key when the basic ones have to be established first.
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