The Purdue Boilermakers fell to 5-3 after losing their conference opener at Michigan, leaving the reeling Boilermakers to a 1-3 record over the last four games. Of course none of those losses were particularly bad, with road trips to ranked Michigan and Florida State and a neutral site game against another ranked opponent in Virginia Tech. And while the 5-3 start isn’t completely a drastic departure to start the season (Purdue started 5-2 the last two seasons), it does highlight the biggest issue the Boilermakers have this season. And that issue is their offense.
Of course if you’ve spent any time watching Purdue this season you’ve likely heard the commentators talk up how great their offense is. Even after scoring 57 points against the Wolverines the Boilermakers are still averaging north of 80 points, though that number is inflated as they’ve averaged 85.8 points in five wins against teams with a KenPom ranking of 251, 108, 181, 78 and 279. In comparison they’ve averaged 70.7 points against Virginia Tech, Florida State and Michigan. Once again, not bad...until you look at how the team has played in those three losses.
Carsen Edwards is the best player on Purdue, if you watched Big Ten basketball that’s probably been beaten into your head by this point. With the Boilers losing four starters it was a given that Edwards was going to be the main weapon on offense. The problem is Edwards has taken his role as the guy on offense and gone overboard.
In Purdue’s three losses Edwards has shot 37.7% from the field while averaging just north of 20 shots. If you’ve spent any time watching him this season you’ll frequently see Edwards put his head down and dribble right into traffic for a contested and out of control layup. He’ll dribble the ball up the court and promptly shoot a contested, off center jumper. And in games where Purdue struggles he’s not hitting them. Even more problematic is Edwards has also became careless with the ball, often recklessly trying to push the ball into traffic and losing control. It’s no surprise that he has committed 19 turnovers in the Boilermakers three losses.
You could point to Purdue’s lack of weapons on offense as to why Edwards feels he has to do it all, and you’d be somewhat on track, but just because Purdue is lacking scorers doesn’t justify Edwards careless play early this season. He can hit these shots and he can get to the rim, he’s proven it in the past. But so far this season he’s been a high volume player that has been prone to going cold and making far too many mistakes. And if he doesn’t clean up his game going down the stretch it could prove to be a huge problem for Purdue.
Edwards inconsistent play is even more problematic when you realize that Purdue also has two low volume usage starters in Nojel Eastern and Grady Eifert. In the last three games Eastern, the teams starting point guard, has shot eight field goals in 83 minutes. Eastern has looked improved from last year but he shoots so infrequently at times that there’s little reason for defenses to focus on him. The same can be said for Eifert, who has played well versus the lesser opposition but doesn’t seem to be capable of doing much on the offensive front versus more talented squads.
With defenders being allowed to sag off of two starters that means they can spend even more time focusing on Edwards, making it even more difficult for the junior to get rolling on offense.
Unfortunately for Purdue those aren’t the only issues on the offensive side, either. Matt Haarms, looking to take advantage of the starting role this season, has played less than 20 minutes in every game besides one (he played 20 minutes versus Appalachian State). The 7’3” big has shown the ability to score and pick up boards, but he commonly goes long stretches without playing. Luckily for Purdue grad transfer Evan Boudreaux has been a huge addition for the Boilermakers.
Commonly the second or third offense on option for Purdue, Boudreaux has actually seen more minutes than Haarms so far this season. Averaging just north of 10 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, Boudreaux has been one of Purdue’s main inside threats while also being capable of hitting from three. He had a rough day at Michigan, but was shooting 55.6% from the field prior to the trip to Ann Arbor.
Boudreaux has also been huge for Purdue because he’s basically the only player consistently contributing from the bench so far. Eric Hunter Jr. could score at will at the high school level but has struggled immensely so far this season, going 2 for 19 from the field in 100 minutes over the last seven games. Trevion Williams has largely been an afterthought, playing only 25 minutes so far this season. Aaron Wheeler pieced together a solid performance against Michigan, but he was 1 of 8 from the field in 40 minutes the last four games. Purdue’s other redshirt freshman Sasha Stefanovic has actually done a solid job in his role as three point specialist, hitting 45.4% from three in his role off the bench. He’s only averaging 2.8 three point attempts per game, though.
The problem for Purdue is one that many people mentioned during the offseason. Who will step up besides Carsen Edwards? So far Haarms has been limited in his minutes, Eastern/Eifert have been ghosts on offense and Matt Painter has gotten little from his incoming freshmen class. While redshirt freshmen Aaron Wheeler and Sasha Stefanovic have done modestly so far this year, they haven’t done enough to take any pressure off of Edwards. You could also make the argument that Boudreaux needs additional minutes and should have a starting role, but Boudreaux and Haarms both on the court doesn’t work as there’s no one to step in as the backup five.
One bright spot for Purdue so far this season has to be senior Ryan Cline. Often considered to be nothing more than a three point shooter during his first three years, Cline has actually been capable of scoring inside a bit more this season. And while he’s still mainly shooting from beyond the arc, he’s averaging 45.6% from deep and making almost four three pointers per game. Cline’s 15.3 points and 3.2 assists per game are only behind Edwards as the senior has quickly became Purdue’s second option on offense in his first year as a starter.
I know a lot of this write up seems like doom and gloom, and it does highlight a lot of the problems Purdue will face as their schedule continues to ramps up, but the team still has Carsen Edwards and enough talent to at least contend in the Big Ten and end up back in the NCAA Tournament. The question is will they be able to continue to trend towards the top of the Big Ten or will they end up more towards the middle of the pack. The reality is there’s no shame in losing to Michigan (North Carolina just got ran out of the gym in Ann Arbor) and the team could have easily won both games versus Virginia Tech and Florida State. But Edwards early season issues with bad decision making and turnovers are an achilles heel for the Boilers heading forward.
If Edwards can clean up his game and Matt Painter can find some more production on offense from his freshmen, the Boilermakers could be considerably improved as the season rolls along. If the team continues to rely almost exclusively on Edwards being able to light up the scoreboard and for the threes to fall, it’s going to be a frustrating and inconsistent year for Purdue.