After the second Ohio State game, we all knew that Iowa had a tough three game stretch coming up. Two in a row on the road against regular Big Ten championship contender Wisconsin and a young, talented Purdue team and then back to Iowa City for a rematch with the Badgers. Most people didn't expect Iowa to beat Wisconsin in Madison, but I don't think most people saw them getting spanked in such horrific fashion either. Thankfully that game is done and over with and Iowa now takes on a Purdue team that has some legitimate strengths, but also has some glaring weaknesses.
This Boilermaker team has some nice talent on it, but they are still very young and very mistake-prone. The roster includes one senior and two juniors, while the rest of the team consists of underclassmen. That means this squad displays glimpses of greatness, but they will also confound you with some absolutely terrible plays. This is a very winnable game for Iowa, but this Purdue team should not be taken lightly or overlooked for the looming rematch with Wisconsin. If the Hawkeyes do fail to show up in West Lafayette, this could easily be a second consecutive disappointing bus ride back to Iowa City.
When Iowa has the Ball
Note: All Kenpom rankings are from Thursday (when I was writing this), so if they are slightly different at the time you are reading this, that is why. Also, a reminder on how to read this chart: 100 = Division 1 average. Anything above 100 is above average, while anything below 100 is below average. The bigger the number, the better.
Outside of reverting to their non-conference ways against Wisconsin in the last game, this Iowa offense has still been very good in conference play thus far. The chart above includes non-conference games, so Iowa's recent offensive success isn't coming through all the way in it. Kenpom has Iowa's raw points per possession (PPP) in Big Ten play at 1.11, but they have played a tough schedule up front, and adjusted numbers have them at 1.26. Currently, in Big Ten play, Iowa is above average in every single category, including in shooting. The Hawkeyes actually have the second best eFG% in conference play sitting at 51.4%, compared to their season average of just 47.3%. They are also second in the conference in offensive rebounding and first when it comes to getting to the free throw line. Despite Iowa shooting 51% from the field in conference play, I think the consensus among Iowa fans is that they shouldn't just rely on their shooting abilities to be successful. Instead, Iowa's offense needs to also focus on offensive rebounds and getting to the line. Purdue will most likely limit one of those things on Saturday, but one of them should be there for the taking.
The defense for this Purdue team is hard to get a gauge on. Kenpom ranks them as the 108th best defense in the nation, and their raw defensive PPP allowed in Big Ten play is currently 1.01, but they have played some good offenses thus far in conference. Once you account for that, their adjusted defensive PPP looks better. The defense really seems to play about as well as Purdue's two big men, Hammons and Haas, play. Purdue is good at contesting shots and is currently third in conference play at doing so, but that's not because teams can't make threes against them. In fact, teams are hitting 37% of their three point attempts vs. Purdue this year, and that number is still at 36.7% since the Big Ten schedule started. Rather, thanks to their gigantic rim-protectors, Purdue is very good at contesting and blocking two point shots, as teams are only making 42% of them on the year (#17 in the nation) and 41% in Big Ten play (#1 in the conference).
Furthermore, Purdue is simply average at forcing turnovers. However, their two bigs help limit offensive rebounds for the opposing team, and that could be an issue for Iowa's offense if they aren't making their shots. But the glaring weakness for this Purdue defense is their fouling problem. They are allowing opponents to attempt about 41 free throws per every 100 field goals attempted on the year, which is 237th in the country, and things don't get any better in the Big Ten, where that number goes up to almost 49 per every 100 (13th in the conference).
So, what should Iowa look to do on offense against this Purdue defense? Well, first and foremost, they should probably attack Hammons and Haas early and often. They will probably get some of their shots blocked, but they may also be able to get them into foul trouble. Aaron White is a ninja when it comes to getting to the free throw line (12th in the country), Gabe Olaseni isn't far behind, and Adam Woodbury is fairly decent at drawing fouls too. If they can get Purdue's bigs in foul trouble, it could not only lead to easy points, but it could force Purdue to go to a smaller lineup; something they have only done 2.4% of the time in their past five games, according to Kenpom. Purdue almost always has Hammons or Haas on the court, and even if they can't get them both on the bench at the same time, getting them in foul trouble should force them to play a little less aggressive on defense.
Second of all, because offensive rebounding may be limited and because Purdue contests two point shots so well, three point shooting could be key for Iowa in this one. I'm not saying they need to come out bombing Purdue from long range, but good shooting nights outside from Jarrod Uthoff, Peter Jok, Josh Oglesby, etc. would help offset the fact that Purdue clogs the paint pretty well.
I don't know how the second key will go because Iowa's outside shooting is so hot and cold, outside of the relative stability of Uthoff. However, I'm pretty confident that Aaron White and company can take advantage of Purdue's fouling issues and help offset the two point shooting difficulties by making free throws.
When Purdue has the Ball
Purdue's offensive success also depends pretty heavily on getting production out of Hammons and Haas. There are a couple pretty good outside shooters on the team, but, as a team, they are average at best and have only been the 11th best three point shooting team in Big Ten play so far. Instead, what helps keep their shooting percentage afloat is their success on making two pointers, and a lot of that has to do with how well the two centers are shooting from inside the paint.
Besides scoring, Purdue relies heavily on their big men for offensive rebounding and getting to the foul line. Both Hammons and Haas are both ranked inside the top 100 for Kenpom when it comes to hauling in offensive boards, and so far that has materialized in them being the best offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten to date. They are also a good at drawing fouls and making trips to the charity stripe. Haas is better at this than Hammons, but the latter is still pretty good. And in this category, Purdue actually has some other guys who have a knack for attacking the rim and getting hacked too. The only issue for Purdue is that they are a terrible free throw shooting team, and that largely stems from Haas being a 64% shooter from the line and Hammons only making 51% of his free ones.
As for Iowa, this defense is a mess right now. Yes, Iowa has played some tough Big Ten opponents early on this year and the teams will get lighter, but once you adjust for schedule, the Hawks are still allowing 1.03 PPP in Big Ten play. So no matter whether you want to adjust for strength of schedule, Iowa's defensive efficiency has been the worst in the conference through their six Big Ten games. That basically means that we have to do the opposite of what we did with the offensive chart, and instead of adjusting the numbers upward, we have adjust Iowa's defensive numbers downward.
The one thing they are still doing well is keeping opponents off the line in Big Ten play, but opponents are shooting an eFG% of 51.9% against them (#13 in the Big Ten), forcing turnovers on just 13.5% of opponent possessions (#12 in the conference), and allowing opposing offenses to come away with 35.4% of their missed field goal attempts (dead last in the conference). Purdue is not a great shooting team luckily and Iowa does a pretty good job of not fouling, but the defensive rebounding is very concerning going up against this Purdue team.
Iowa's priority in stopping this Boilermaker squad should probably start by addressing their big guys. Purdue is not a great outside shooting team, so if Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni can't handle Hammons or Haas by themselves, bringing another defender over to double team may not be a bad idea. Doing that against Kaminsky and Wisconsin would be suicide, considering all the shooters they have, but this may work against Purdue. That doesn't mean that Iowa can leave guys wide open from long range because there are a few guys who can shoot from outside. However, Purdue is a team that likes to feed the ball to the post, and they have a bunch of perimeter guys that like to drive the ball to the basket, so contesting shots in the paint will be imperative for Iowa to win this side of the ball.
All of that being said, I can't pick this defense until it shows me something better than it has in the last six games. So I'm going with Purdue.
Team Shooting Tendencies
(All shot charts are courtesy of Shot Analytics.)
Purdue has some decent shooting spots from beyond the arc, but they take a below average number of attempts from outside. Instead, it's that orange portion in the middle of the lane that Iowa should really be worried about.
Again, we have another team that shoots better from the field than Iowa, but not when it comes to the free throw line. Although, if we are just looking at conference play, Iowa is actually outshooting Purdue from the floor and the free throw line, so that's something.
Like I said above, Purdue is really two point-heavy when it comes to shooting. In fact, they are even more so than Iowa, and that has held up even since conference play began.
When it comes to scoring, Purdue relies on two pointers and free throws more than the average Division I team. Iowa, on the other hand, relies much, much more on points from the free throw line.
Defensively, Iowa's opponents score mainly from the field, as they rarely allow access to the free throw line. Purdue, on the other hand, has seen their big men erase quite a few attempts at two point baskets, but their fouling issues have allowed about just as many extra attempts from the line.
Opposing Players to Watch
Keeping with the theme, A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas are probably the first two guys we should discuss because Purdue feeds the post a lot. This preview from UM Hoops is about three weeks old at this point, but it notes that Purdue throws the ball into the post three times as much as the average Big Ten team does. That may have changed slightly since, but I doubt it's changed all that much in just three weeks.
Haas is the starter, but Hammons plays more minutes per game than the freshman does. Yet despite only being on the floor for 16 minutes, Haas is averaging 9 points per game. Both he and Hammons are good when it comes to finishing right at the rim, but Haas seems to shoot his jump hook better from a little further out.
And when he is on the court, Haas uses almost a third of Purdue's possessions on offense. Part of that comes from a turnover rate that is a tad high, but a lot of it comes from the fact that he puts up about 1 of every 4 field goals that Purdue attempts when he's on the court. And with a 60.9% eFG% and a free throw rate that rivals Aaron White, it's not hard to see why Purdue feeds him on a regular basis. The only weakness on offense beyond turnovers, is that he is only making half of his free ones when visits the charity stripe.
As for non-scoring talents, Haas is great rebounder on both sides of the court and he's a very good shot-blocker. The one issue he has on the defensive side of the ball is not getting whistled for a foul. He is a freshman after all.
As for the more experienced Hammons, he's still kind of an enigma. He's a fine player, but I think Purdue fans are still waiting for him to show off his offensive skills on a more consistent basis. He has always been a force on defense and that's no different this season. Kenpom rates him the 12th best shot-eraser in the nation and the 142nd best defensive rebounder to boot. He can get called for fouls at times, but he's about as likely to get called for a foul as Woodbury or Olaseni and he's far less foul-prone than his freshman counterpart.
On the offensive side of the ball, Hammons is #77 in the nation when it comes to giving his offense second chance opportunities, but his eFG% is only 47.6%, which is very low for a big man that plays exclusively in the paint. Like I mentioned above, Hammons is great right at the rim, but if the defense can keep him from getting position that close, he cools off a bit.
Due to the lower offensive efficiency than Haas, Hammons only averages 10 points per game while being responsible for a bigger chunk of Purdue's shot attempts when he's on the court. Besides some inefficient shooting, turnovers are also a bit of an issue for Hammons, so throwing double teams at Purdue's giant tandem could be a fruitful strategy.
Moving away from the post, Kendall Stephens' play is usually a very important decider between a mediocre offensive performance for this Purdue team and a good one. Out of everyone on the roster, Stephens is the major three point threat that Iowa needs to pay attention to. He did have an injured hand in the second half of the Illinois game on Wednesday, so I'm not sure what his situation will be for Iowa. Either way, I am just going to pretend that he is healthy and playing.
Stephens is only a 30% shooter from inside the arc, but that's not a huge deal because he takes two-thirds of his field goal attempts from distance and is making 42% of them.
And he also shoots a lot. He's been responsible for 27% of Purdue's shot attempts when he's been on the court this year, which is a number that falls right between Haas and Hammons, and one that's usually good for about 11 points per game.
After Stephens, the 6'7" power forward, Vince Edwards, is Purdue's other main three point threat who plays a large chunk of minutes per game (Dakota Mathias can be a three point threat in limited time off the bench too). Just a freshman, Edwards is shooting 35% from downtown, but he only shoots from out there about 36% of the time. He is a very good shooter inside the paint, though, and his 10 points per game is impressive for a true freshman. Edwards is a decent rebounder, but his scoring ability is the main thing that really stands out this year.
Next, starting small forward Rapheal Davis is also a scoring threat, dropping 9.5 points on his opponents on a nightly basis. He does this primarily by driving to the rim and drawing fouls when he's not scoring. He worries me for the fact that Iowa has had some issues keeping similar players like Shavon Shields and Carlos Morris out of the lane this season. Additionally, from what I've seen of Davis, he also looks like a pretty good on-ball defender. He will likely be tasked with the responsibility of guarding Jarrod Uthoff in this one.
Lastly, Colorado State transfer, Jon Octeus, is the starting point guard for Purdue. He isn't much of an assist man for a point guard, but he averages almost 10 points per game in a similar slashing manner to Davis. So I would say that makes him a threat.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Ranking: Iowa #45, Purdue #78
Projected Score: Iowa 69 (47%), Purdue 70 (53%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.05, Purdue 1.06
Projected Possessions: 66
Before Iowa got stomped on by Wisconsin, they were favored against Purdue in a close game on the road. Now, the Boilers are favored by Kenpom's algorithm by one. Thanks to the close nature of the projection, Kenpom also has this as the fifth most exciting game of the day on Saturday.
If Iowa wants to beat Purdue in Mackey Arena, they need to focus on closing down the painted area. That means they need to keep Rapheal Davis and Jon Octeus from penetrating the middle of the defense and they need to limit the damage from Purdue's large center duo. That may mean that Iowa needs to send double teams whenever Hammons or Haas catch the ball, or maybe they need to focus on just absolutely denying them the ball in the post. Adam Woodbury played great post defense against Maurice Walker a few games ago, so that would be a very welcome sight again in this one. Purdue is limited from three point range, and if Kendall Stephens' hand isn't healthy, that is a big blow for the Boilermakers from beyond the arc. If man defense isn't cutting it, this may be a good game to go zone in an attempt to close off the lane and maybe force Purdue's big guys to help facilitate the offense up by the free throw line, where they are less dangerous.
Offensively, Iowa needs to get to the free throw line early and often. If they can get Purdue's big men in foul trouble that could really open up things down low for White, Olaseni, and Woodbury to operate. A nice game shooting from outside would also be a welcome sight, as Purdue's defense lives and dies by their ability to contest two point shots and by trying to keep their big guys from fouling.
Even with how badly Iowa played at Wisconsin, I'm still fairly confident Iowa can find a way to come out on top in this one. Purdue is a tough team, but they are a much younger and inconsistent team than the Badgers are. If the Hawkeyes don't allow Purdue's big men to disrupt their game plan too much, they should be able to pick up another solid road win.