Game 11 Preview: Vanderbilt (7-3) at Purdue (11-1)
|Location||West Lafayette, IN|
|Series vs. Vanderbilt||Vanderbilt leads, 2-1|
|Last meeting||12/13/14; 81-71 win|
It shouldn't be too big of a surprise that Kevin Stallings and Matt Painter have similar teams.
Both are Purdue alumni, having played at Purdue under longtime coach Gene Keady. Stallings served as an assistant coach under Keady back in the 1980s. Painter was an assistant at Southern Illinois under Bruce Weber -- another longtime Keady assistant -- before spending a year under Keady himself as coach-in-waiting. In short, both Stallings and Painter are following the same blueprint on how to build a college basketball program.
They're almost mirror images of one another, right down to the similar color schemes. Per Ken Pomeroy, Purdue ranks first in the country in eFG% defense; Vanderbilt ranks fourth in the same category. Purdue allows opponents to shoot just 36.7 percent on 2-pointers (2nd in the country); Vanderbilt allows opponents to shoot 37.7 percent on 2's. Neither team is all that interested in forcing turnovers; Purdue is prone to sloppy play on the offensive end, but like Vanderbilt is very good at scoring the ball when they don't turn it over (the Boilers rank 30th in the country in eFG%, the Commodores rank 26th.)
There are, of course, some differences. Purdue is a better rebounding team than Vanderbilt, which could present some problems. And while the Boilermakers attempt more three-pointers than Vandy, Vandy is better at converting them.
*Players in bold started the last game.
Compared to Vanderbilt, Purdue actually has an even better frontcourt, starting with the rotation of Isaac Haas and A.J. Hammons at center. The two are never on the floor together, but that just means that Purdue will basically have a skilled 7-footer on the court at all times. Hammons can occasionally hit jumpers (note: his 100 percent 3-point shooting is on a total of three attempts) while Haas is a straight bully inside who gets to the line a ton. Damian Jones will need to be on point; most teams have found that essentially the only way to stop Haas from scoring is to keep him from getting the ball. Which, well, that's actually a good strategy.
Alongside Hammons and Haas are Caleb Swanigan and Vince Edwards. Swanigan presents something of a matchup problem; with Luke Kornet out and Damian Jones likely to be occupied with the 7-footers, Vanderbilt doesn't really have anyone who can body up on Swanigan -- Jeff Roberson is giving up three inches and 40 pounds. But Swanigan is turnover-prone; Butler didn't really have the size to match up with him, either, and yet managed to harass him into committing 7 turnovers (though he did go for 25 and 11.) That seems like the best course of action for dealing with him. Edwards is more of a point-forward, and his skill set at 6'8" covers a lot for the fact that Purdue's guard play isn't all that good.
Both Edwards and senior guard Rapheal Davis will shoot some threes, but the real volume three-point shooter here is Kendall Stephens. Through 12 games, Stephens has attempted 85 three-pointers and 9 two-pointers. At 6'7", Stephens is tall enough to shoot over a lot of defenders, and Vanderbilt will need to make sure to watch him on the perimeter. He only shoots 35.3 percent from three, but while that's not a great percentage, it's at least enough to keep defenses honest. 5'10" sophomore P.J. Thompson is nominally the point guard but cedes a lot of the playmaking duties to Edwards in the offense.
Matt Painter plays his bench a lot, but beyond Stephens (and, obviously, Hammons) there isn't a lot to write about. Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline are spot-up three-point shooters who can be dangerous when left open, but can't really create their own shots. UT-Arlington grad transfer Johnny Hill is more of a driver and occasional threat.
Keys to the Game
- Damian Jones. There are few players in college basketball who can man up on either Isaac Haas or A.J. Hammons; Damian Jones is one of them. Most teams simply try to deny the ball to the big men, but that can leave Purdue's other players open for jump shots. If Jones can handle Haas/Hammons on the low block, that will go a long way in allowing Vanderbilt's other players to prevent perimeter jump shots. What's more, with Purdue being strong on the offensive glass, Jones will be important to keep them from getting second chances. And Damian will need to do this without fouling -- if Damian gets into foul trouble, this matchup could become a nightmare for Vanderbilt.
- Trade 3's for 2's. Vanderbilt is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country; Purdue is one of the best at defending the three. The Boilers have only allowed opponents to shoot 27.3 percent from beyond the arc. Something has to give here. If Vandy can come out and knock down some shots from the perimeter, that will force Purdue to get away from their strength. The Boilers do attempt a lot of threes, but much of their success comes from opponents concentrating so much of their attention down low. If the Commodores are knocking down shots, Purdue may be forced to get away from their preferred method of collapsing the defense inside, because Vandy will be glad to trade 3's for 2's with them.
- Don't do anything stupid. Purdue prefers to play a very low-risk strategy on the defensive end -- they won't gamble in an attempt to force turnovers, instead trying to force you into low-percentage shots. The Boilers are #1 in the country in defensive efficiency in spite of forcing few turnovers; that means that Vanderbilt simply can't afford empty possessions on the offensive end. Purdue's not going to force you into empty possessions, but this game is not winnable if we're shooting ourselves in the foot.
All said, this is Vanderbilt's last opportunity to notch a big win before getting into SEC play. A road win over a Top 25 team (possibly a Top 10 team) will look very good on the NCAA Tournament resume. Let's do it.