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Purdue Boilermakers hit stride as conference play nears

How have the Boilermakers rounded into form approaching conference play?

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It was November 23rd of this year, and the sky was seemingly falling in West Lafayette. The Purdue Boilermakers, thought to be among the class of the Big Ten during the preseason after representing the USA so well in the World University Games, had just lost their second game in as many days, this time to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament.

How did this happen? What will they do without Caleb Swanigan in the post? Can they rebound from this huge bump in the road?

Just over a month later, those questions seem like such distant memories. Purdue has rattled off eight consecutive victories, with five of those victories coming over teams that fall within the top 60 of the KenPom system. Purdue now has six wins total over top 60 teams, the most in the country.

How has this team shown that even with the two losses early in the year, they are still one of the top teams in the country?

1. Carsen Edwards has been dominant

During this eight game winning streak, sophomore guard Carsen Edwards has been playing like a definite First Team All Conference selection for Matt Painter. He’s averaged 18 points while shooting 58.1% from the floor. While some fans, and even Matt Painter, recognize that Edwards can at times be aggressive to a fault, his aggression often opens up so many things for the rest of the guys on the floor.

Edwards can collapse a defense seemingly going one on five, and with a simple pass out to the perimeter has the entire opposition caught in a rotation that crisp ball movement will beat every time for an open three or layup for one of the best shooting teams in the country.

He’s also become a much better defender on and off the ball this season. His aggressive play style applies to both ends of the floor, and his speed and athleticism lead to him being able to pressure the ball handler and force turnovers or play the passing lanes.

2. Going along with Edwards, the balance has been marvelous

While it’s always fun to watch a player get into an individual zone where they’ve simply taken over and can’t be stopped, for a basketball purist it is just as entertaining, if not more, to watch five guys completely on the same page and clicking on all cylinders.

The Purdue Boilermakers are the epitome of balance on the offensive end to complement their top offensive weapon, Carsen Edwards.

Led by Edwards at 17.7 points per game, the Boilermakers have three others averaging in double figures with Isaac Haas at 14.5, Dakota Mathias at 13.4 and Vincent Edwards at 13.2. The final starter, P.J. Thompson averages 9.5 points per game.

Purdue is also one of the most efficient teams in the country. They rank in the Top 50 in the country in shooting percentage from the three point line, free throw line and two point range. On top of that, they are one of three teams in the country to rank in the Top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency metrics, according to KenPom.

Purdue ranks 11th in the country in Offensive Effective Field Goal Percentage at 58.7%, while defensively they rank 13th in the country allowing an EFG% of 43.2%.

3. Matt Haarms has been a sparkplug

Coming into the season, a lot of interest that swirled around the Purdue team was what kind of role the 7’3” big man Matt Haarms would serve in.

It’s become very evident now that Matt Haarms is a defensive marvel, and his surprising nimbleness leads to him being able to defend the pick and roll and pick and pop very well. His offensive game is still looking to become more and more polished, but that will come as he gets more experience both in practice and in game scenarios.

Many times, Matt Painter will end up playing an offense/defense substitution pattern as often as he can in close games with Haarms and Isaac Haas, and Haarms brings passion to the defensive side of the basketball that the fan base can get behind in West Lafayette. Anybody who has been at a game in Mackey Arena can preach to the fact that as much as any arena loves offense, Mackey may love its defense even more.

Per 40 minutes, Haarms averages 12.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 6.4 blocks. That’s not a typo, 6.4 blocks per 40 minutes as a freshman with very little high level experience. His passion and excitement allows him to get the veteran Boilermakers playing with a sense of urgency and joy, and he may very well be turning into the emotional leader of the Boilermakers.