AJ Hammons is a big, big dude. - Elsa
The last time these two teams played, Xavier pieced together one of the great comebacks in program history. Down 19 with less than ten minutes to play, Xavier closed 30-8 to stun Purdue and complete a stunning victory. A year on, almost all of the important players from those two squads have moved on. This year's Xavier-Purdue matchup will only resemble last year's in the uniforms visible on the floor.
Both of these teams had almost historic levels of talent on the floor last year, and both have almost completely turned over their rosters since. Despite this, Xavier is one egg laid at Pacific away from matching their perfect 6-0 at this point last year. Semaj Christon has emerged as an offensive force, and the interior players have taken turns making meaningful contributions on both ends.
Purdue has looked the part of a team trying to find its way, dropping close and winnable games against Bucknell and Villanova on their way to a 3-3 record. Things came together for Purdue in a major way on Wednesday, as they opened up a can on Clemson on the road. DJ Byrd was on fire from deep in the first half, and Purdue opened up a lead they never relinquished. It is on this high that Purdue will host Xavier tomorrow.
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Purdue's offense focuses on getting the ball inside the arc and finding advantageous scoring positions inside. Purdue only shoots 29% from deep, but they take fewer than 30% of their shots from long. The Boilermakers are not a great shooting team and are actually a bit below average at avoiding turnovers, but their offense is propped up by an elite performance on the offensive glass, where they pull down 41% of their own misses. Holding Purdue to one shot will be the top defensive priority for Xavier.
Defensively, Purdue is smothering in the half court. They are 28th in the country in EFG% and hold opponents to under 27% from behind the arc. They also block almost 12% of opponents' two-point shots, just in case you were thinking they could be hurt inside the arc. Like Xavier, the Boilermakers don't force too many turnovers, instead focusing on forcing bad shots, cleaning the glass, and getting out of the defensive end.
Purdue is insanely deep. They get 37% of their minutes off the bench, a number bested by only 44 teams in the country. They are also huge inside, with an effective height of +1.8". Their bigs are bulky, too, with the three tallest players on the roster weighing in at an average of 272 pounds. Five freshmen get regular minutes for Matt Painter's squad.
Eleven different players have started at least one game for Purdue, so don't be alarmed if they run out a lineup on Saturday that doesn't exactly match what I have here.
Senior wing DJ Byrd has historically been an effective shooter for Purdue, though he's posting only a .387/.349/.722 on this young season. He banged six threes in the first half the last time out, though, so he's definitely capable of getting hot and shooting his team through a game. He averages 12.7/4.3/2.8 per game and leads the team in minutes.
Terone Johnson is a 6'2" junior combo guard who averages 11.4/3.0/3.4 per game on .373/.471/.647 shooting. Johnson is shooting ten times a game despite his relatively inefficient showing from the floor. His younger brother is a freshman on this year's team, but we'll get to him in a minute.
The other guard position is manned by Anthony Johnson, who is not Terone's brother. The 6'3" sophomore is averaging 8.2/4.5/2.3 on a shooting line of .396/.278/.600. His assist rate is not as good as Terone's and his turnover rate is significantly worse, so look for him to spend less time on the ball against Xavier.
Despite skills that apparently only merit fifteen minutes of playing time per game, Jacob Lawson starts at the four. He is shooting .688/.000/1.000 on his way to game averages of 4.0/3.2/1.0 on the year, but the place to watch out for Lawson is on the offensive glass. Of his 19 boards this year, 10 have come on the offensive end. He also leads the team with an average of 1.5 steals per game.
Holding down the center position is freshman monster AJ Hammons, who stands 7'0" and tips the scales at 280 pounds. Hammons shoots .500/.000/.769 and averages 9.0/5.5/0.8 despite getting only 18 minutes per game. Hammons' playing time has been increasing since he went for 20/8/3 in 21 minutes against Oregon State. He will suffer from the usual freshman lapses, but he is an enormous and enormously talented player.
Guard Ronnie Johnson is Terone's brother and averages 7.5/4.8/3.5 in and 1.3 steals in 26.7 minutes off of the bench. His shooting (.311/.105/.652) isn't exemplary, but his assist rate (23.4%) keeps him on the court. Donnie Hale and Travis Carroll are a pair of 6'8" forwards who come off the bench to average 10.2/5.8/0.5 in their combined 28 minutes spelling the front line.
Sandi Marcius is notable for his size (6'9", 268) and his ability on the offensive glass, where he has grabbed 8 of his 12 boards on the year. Six-foot-nine freshman Rapael Davis gies for 3.7 and 2.7 per game and rounds out the 10 Boilermakers getting at least ten minutes per game.
-Which Jeff Robinson will show up? Unless this is the first Xavier game you have watched in the past four years (and if it is, welcome), you know the Jeff Robinson story. A superlative athlete with enough ability to change the game, he instead drifts in and out of contests like a ghost, leaving witnesses to wonder exactly what it was they just saw. If he comes correct tomorrow, that will go a long way towards mitigating the size of the Purdue front line.
-Can Xavier shoot better than Purdue can defend? The middle of Purdue's defense is stout, but they are also quite adept at locking down the perimeter. Coach Matt Painter said that the Musketeers will be his team's toughest test yet in terms of being able to shoot the Boilermakers out of their shell. Dee Davis, Brad Redford, and Justin Martin need to come prepared to let fly.
-Is Xavier ready for the road? After three home games and three neutral site contests, this becomes Xavier's first true road game. Purdue wilted down the stretch in front of a hostile Cintas Center crowd last season, a fact that I'm sure the Purdue faithful have not forgotten. The Muskies are going to need an extra dose of composure in West Lafayette tomorrow afternoon.
-Fight on the glass. Purdue is not a great shooting team, but boy do they ever make hay on the offensive boards. Allowing an offensive rebound wastes a stop by the defense and second-chance points are demoralizing results of possessions that ended with a missed shot. Taylor, Robinson, Philmore, and Stenger need to be ready to get big and hold Purdue to one shot possessions as often as possible.
-Make the extra pass. Against a top-level defense like Purdue's, a player's natural tendency to try to be a hero for his team often ends in wasted possessions. To keep the Boilermakers honest on defense, Xavier has to keep the ball moving rather than forcing solo efforts. This will open up opportunities for spot-up shooters on the perimeter and quick buckets inside. If you see Xavier getting assists on 60% of their buckets, be encouraged.
-Run. Aside from the whipping they put on a hapless Hofstra squad, Purdue has lost their three fastest games of the season. Xavier's big men are long and athletic, and getting them into the paint while Purdue's tanks are still making their way down the floor is a great way to neutralize Purdue's weight advantage. If Semaj and Dee see the opportunity to push the ball up the court in a hurry tomorrow, they should do just that.