Kamar Baldwin brings the ball up the court during a game this season. Baldwin leads the Bulldogs averaging 15.7 points per game. Chandler Hart/Collegian file photo.
JOSH MULLENIX | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Butler men’s basketball team will search for their first Crossroads Classic win since 2016 against the Purdue Boilermakers on Dec. 21. Despite a 7-4 record, the Boilermakers are ranked ninth, one spot ahead of the Bulldogs, at KenPom and boast a 29-point win over Virginia, the reigning national champion. Here’s what you need to know as Butler tries to put an end to Purdue’s two-game winning streak against the Bulldogs.
Who: No. 17 Butler (10-1) vs. Purdue (7-4, 1-1 Big Ten)
When: Dec. 21, 2:30 p.m.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
How to watch/listen: Big Ten Network, 93.5FM/107.5FM/1070AM
1. These are two high level defensive teams.
Expect this game to be a low-scoring, defensive affair with the one team that finds a way to be slightly more efficient coming out on top. Both Butler and Purdue are in the top 20 of KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings — the Bulldogs are 17th and the Boilermakers are fifth — and both teams find themselves in the top five in the country in scoring defense. The Bulldogs have held opponents to under 55 points six times this season while Purdue has accomplished the same task on five separate occasions.
Baskets will come at a premium in this game. Not only will both of these teams play high level defense, but they also played at an incredibly slow pace. Butler and Purdue are 341st and 343rd at KenPom when it comes to tempo, which is essentially the number of possessions a team has every 40 minutes.
In three of Purdue’s four losses, their opponents have been able to get to 65 points with the only exception coming against Florida State, who defeated the Boilermakers by scoring 63 points in a game that went to overtime. When teams find some success on the offensive end, the Boilermakers have had trouble coming away with victories. If Butler gets to 65 points in this game, they’ll have a strong chance to leave Bankers Life with a win.
2. Purdue is still learning on the offensive end without Carsen Edwards, especially late in games. And the key for Butler is to protect the 3-point line.
It’s no secret losing Carsen Edwards was a big deal. The now Celtics guard averaged 24.3 points last season and almost carried the Boilermakers to a Final Four last season. A transition period is expected on the offensive end. The team who was fourth in offensive efficiency last season is now 39th in efficiency this season. The Boilermaker offense is more of a team attack this season led by Jahaad Proctor, who is averaging 13.2 points per game this season. Proctor hasn’t scored more than 13 points, however, in a Purdue loss this season.
With that being said, Purdue’s offense is most dangerous when they shoot it well from beyond the arc. Simply, it is much easier to make up for the absence of a guy who can take over a game when the deep shots are falling. In Purdue’s 29-point decimation of Virginia, the Boilermakers knocked down 13 of their 25 threes and defeated the best defense in the country. On the flip side, the Boilermakers fell to Nebraska, a team outside of the top 100 at KenPom, by 14 and were just 6-of-35 from beyond the arc in that contest. Winning the perimeter battle is key for the Bulldogs against Purdue.
3. Matt Haarms sat out Purdue’s last game against Ohio due to a concussion. Him playing, or not, changes this game drastically. (As well as the possibility of Haarms vs. Derrik Smits)
Matt Haarms would be one of the best, and certainly the biggest, big men Butler has faced all season. That is, if he plays. The 7-foot, 3-inch junior from the Netherlands missed the Boilermakers’ last game after hitting his head against Nebraska a week ago. With him, Haarms will be a lot to handle for Butler’s starting frontcourt — Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden — who are undersized compared to Haarms. If he doesn’t play, Purdue is losing 10 points and over six rebounds worth of production and the Bulldogs will have the upper hand on the interior especially if Derrik Smits plays meaningful minutes for Butler.
If Haarms does play, Smits is, from a physical standpoint, the Bulldogs’ best option on the defensive end. Smits is easily the tallest player on Butler’s team and could be a big part of the defensive plan against Purdue’s interior. If Haarms’ sits out, the Boilermakers might really have a hard time scoring coming into this game as the 261st best 3-point shooting team in the country. If he plays, pay attention to how the Bulldogs defend him. If he doesn’t, pay attention to how Butler capitalizes on an unexpected interior advantage.