The #25/21 Iowa Hawkeyes (11-2, 0-2) face the Purdue Boilermakers (8-5, 1-1) tonight as both teams resume conference play after going undefeated in non-conference play for the first time in 32 years.
Purdue, as you can tell by their lackluster record, had a bit of a bumpy go of it throughout the early winter. While their record is not pretty, the advanced analytics still like them. With losses to Virginia Tech, Florida State, Michigan, Texas, and Notre Dame all away from home, with only the Michigan loss coming by double-digits. Their strength of schedule ranks 15th, according to KenPom with their out-of-conference portion ranking 43rd and the toughest in the Big Ten.
The story for Purdue begins and ends with Carsen Edwards, which is a blessing and a curse. The junior leads the conference in scoring at 25.8 points a game, which is lapping James Palmer and Ethan Happ, who are at 19.6 and 19.2. He’s scored over 20 points in all but three games and had 19, 19, and 20 in those three. He’s going to get his, and it could be a lot of his, if Iowa’s perimeter defense against Bryant is any indication.
Supplementing Edwards has been the concern throughout Purdue’s season. With each of their other 2017-18 starters graduating, there’s been a void. Ryan Cline has done pretty well, averaging 13.1 a game on 43.0% shooting (38.1% from deep). His performance hasn’t necessarily dictated a Purdue win or loss, with a scoring average of 14.4 in losses and 12.3 in wins. He also lives outside, with 74% of his shots coming from deep.
Purdue has recently switched up their starting lineup to a smaller one, with grad transfer Evan Boudreaux nominally filling in for Matt Haarms. Purdue’s Nicholas Baer - aka Grady Eifert - and Nojel Eastern will round out their starting lineup. Other than Edwards, Purdue’s other starters each run 6’6” or above. You know they’ll bring the effort on defense to make Mackey Arena hell once again - Iowa is just 1-5 there under Fran McCaffery.
Whether they make Iowa defend is going to be the question.
Purdue’s Peter Jok?
It is probably unfair to put these two in the same category in terms of college player, but here me out. Throughout the non-conference slate two years ago, Iowa relied just a little too much on Jok’s ability to put the ball in the basket, resulting in a stagnant offense with few open shots. Edwards is putting up All-American numbers and is nearly unguardable but he’s been taking 38.8% of Purdue’s shots when he is on the floor and accounting for 36.1% of their possessions. Both rank in the top six nationally.
Now, it might not matter against Iowa. The Hawkeyes have to prove they can stop Edwards. Iowa’s had some success against guards this season - Oregon’s Peyton Pritchard, UConn’s four-guard lineup, and UNI’s A.J. Green all stick out - but they have also struggled. Bryant and Pittsburgh each gave the Hawkeyes fits.
Carsen Edwards and company is a step up. If they force Iowa to defend penetration across the perimeter and not just focus on Edwards, though, they will be much more difficult to stop. Right now, Purdue shoots 47.8% of their shots from three - the most in the conference - and has a FTA/FGA ratio of .262 - the lowest in the conference. If they continue to play like that, it turns into a “make or miss” game which may benefit Iowa, especially if players not named Carsen Edwards are missing.
Get it to the Big Dog Let Him Eat
I am not sure if Hawkeye fans are properly recognizing the season Tyler Cook is putting up right now. Tyler Cook is the first Hawkeye to average 16 points and 8 rebounds since Acie Earl in 1993 and he’s doing it while shooting nearly 10% higher from the floor than Earl. Of course, he needs to continue this play throughout the conference season and that starts tonight against a team with a suspect frontline.
Matt Haarms, if he returns to the starting lineup to face Cook, will have his hands full. While his block rate is top 30 in the country, he also has a penchant for fouling. Boudreaux is probably just too small to guard Cook one-on-one, and both of Purdue’s reserve bigs - Trevion Williams and Aaron Wheeler - are even more foul-prone than Haarms.
Matt Painter knows all of this. Entry passes will be incredibly difficult and it will probably take some adjustments on Iowa’s side to get Cook favorable matchups. Once he has the ball, though, it might not matter.
(This issue is further exacerbated if Luka Garza is ready to go, as he appears to be a game-time decision)
This game will be an emotional one as it is the first major Purdue sporting event since the passing of Purdue student Tyler Trent. Iowa will wear shirts to honor Trent, who inspired many around the country with the way he fought cancer.
Stuart Scott’s words, which are tattooed on Connor McCaffery’s arm, come to mind when thinking about Trent: “You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.”
Cancer may have taken his life but it lost to Tyler Trent.