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The Importance of the Purdue Freshmen

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How have Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern played significant roles on this team?

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

The Purdue Boilermakers seem to be somewhat of an endangered species this season. A team featuring four seniors in the starting lineup of a team that has had plenty of success the past few years simply isn’t something you see anymore in an era of players leaving early for the professional level.

On a team that features four seniors and three juniors, two freshmen have fit into their roles very well, and have helped Purdue turn into one of the favorites in the Big Ten. Matt Haarms and Nojel Eastern have done their part to make Purdue look like a team that could make a deep tournament run in a year where plenty of the blue blood programs of college basketball have seemed very vulnerable.

First, let’s look at the contributions of Matt Haarms:

Haarms being on campus halfway through the year last season has proven to be invaluable in his progression as a player. Battling with Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas in practice every single day for half of a season will definitely make a man out of you, and it gave him a sneak peek of the intensity and passion that is required to play at this higher level.

As I wrote in a piece last week, Haarms has seemingly become one of the emotional leaders on this senior laden team, pumping up the Mackey Arena crowd(s) with a fiery celebration following a blocked shot or a two handed slam.

Haarms also provides a massive boost on the defensive end, with his size at 7’3” and his quickness and instinct all leading to him being a natural shot blocker. He is averaging 3.1 blocks per game this year in only 18.5 minutes per game, and already has six games of four or more blocks this season; Haarms ranks sixth in the country with his 16.2% block rate.

Nojel Eastern has the body of an NBA shooting guard, but he serves as the backup point guard for the Purdue Boilermakers. A natural point guard with a 6’6”, 220 pound frame, fantastic vision and good athletic ability leads to a player who can develop into a really, really good point guard in the Big Ten conference.

Over the years in the Purdue program, player development has been something that has occasionally been overlooked. Players like Carsen Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Dakota Mathias all took nice leaps in their sophomore season from their freshman year. Purdue fans are obviously extremely hopeful that Eastern will make a similar developmental leap in between this year and next.

However, despite gushing over his potential, he’s helping Purdue win right now as well. With his size, Matt Painter can use him to pressure the opposing point guard in the full court defensively, and also opens the offense up to the possibility of running Eastern down in the post with his size and passing ability.

The biggest step needed for Eastern to continue to get better is the shooting touch. From two point range, Eastern shoots 51.6%, certainly not a bad number. However, the issue comes from beyond the three point line and at the free throw line; from three, Eastern shoots a woeful 28.6% and an even more troubling 38.9% from the charity stripe.

With that being said, if Eastern continues to accept his shortcomings offensively and stick to his role with his team loaded with weapons, he will continue to contribute nicely to wins, though his contribution may not always show up in the box score.