The struggling Maryland men's basketball team faces its toughest foe of the season on Wednesday — No. 3 Purdue. The Terps squared off with the Boilermakers back in December, but Matt Painter's squad wasn't firing on all cylinders at that point. The Boilermakers have now won 17 straight games, which could spell trouble for a Maryland club that's lost five of its past seven.
When the Boilermakers came to College Park in early December, they were 6-2 and unranked. But they defeated the Terps 80-75, and now they're 21-2 and the No. 3 team in the country. How has Purdue turned its season around after those early hiccups?
The Boilermakers have turned it around by not panicking. They're a team led by four seniors — Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson — who understand that not everyone has to have double-digit scoring or grab the most rebounds. When Haas struggled against Wisconsin and Iowa, the rest of the team stepped up and unleashed their three-point shooting power. When the Boilermakers shot 27.8 percent from beyond the arc at Indiana, Haas realized he had to score in the paint for the team to have a shot at winning.
Players understand what each guy is good at and how to make in-game changes. If their opponent is shutting down their perimeter shooting, they change the offensive scheme and push the ball to the lane. By having four veterans who have developed and grown together, they understand what it takes to win, what each player's individual strengths are and how to not let the national attention get to them.
Sophomore Carsen Edwards may be Purdue's secret weapon this season. He's on many shortlists for Big Ten Player of the Year, because he can do it all. He's averaging a team-high 16.7 points per game, he shoots the three consistently for an undersized player, he's grabbing more rebounds than the 7-foot-3 center and he's even dunking over his opponents. Many teams focus on stopping the seniors, but Edwards has started every game and is flying under the radar.
Purdue finished the 2016-17 season at No. 15 in the AP poll, thanks in large part to Caleb Swanigan. Even though Swanigan left for the NBA, the Boilermakers have improved from last year. How did they take the leap without their best player?
Each player has embraced the many roles Swanigan excelled in last year. In Swanigan, Purdue had a rebounding specialist, an aggressive post player who could put in a layup at any time and even a decent three-point shooter for his size. Now that he's gone, Thompson can run the court and not have the pressure of getting it to such a reliable scorer, Haas and Matt Haarms can focus on their post game and Vincent Edwards can play more of the four position.
On that note: Vincent Edwards has really turned on the jets — he came into that Maryland game shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, and since then he's at 52.1 percent/46.8 percent. What has Edwards done to get so much better in his final college season?
This is Edwards' last chance to play for his school and make a case for his draft stock. He has nothing to lose by putting it all on the court and giving the team everything he has. He just won the first Big Ten Player of the Week award of his career after averaging 24.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 61.5 percent shooting and 82.4 percent free-throw shooting against Michigan and Indiana. He isn't afraid to be the leader when the team needs him.
For as much size as the Boilermakers have this year, they haven't been all that great on the glass — they're fifth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin. Why hasn't the team with two 7-footers in Haas and Haarms grabbed more boards?
This has been a big talking point this season around Purdue, but most people don't realize that the team is almost on pace for the same number of rebounds as last season. In 2016-17, the Boilermakers averaged 37.7 rebounds a game. At this point in the season, they're at 36.7.
The key is that they're spreading out the boards. Last season, Swanigan was the only players to average more than five rebounds a game, at 12.5. This season, Vincent Edwards is averaging 7.7 a game and Haas has 5.3. Haarms — all 7-foot-3 of him — is actually fifth on the team in rebounding, behind Mathias' 4.0 and Carsen Edwards' 3.8.
What Purdue lacks in rebounding, it makes up for with few turnovers and an incredibly high scoring margin. The glass is arguably the Boilermakers' biggest weakness, but they've found a way to make it work. The past four games, the team has been out-rebounded, yet still won — because it's able to rely on bench points, consistent free throw shooting and points off takeaways.
Purdue hasn't lost in Mackey Arena since Jan. 1, 2017. What would it take for the Terps to pull off the road upset?
Off the court, Mackey Arena is consistently named one of the hardest places to play in the Big Ten, and the nation. Over its last 54 home games, Purdue has gone 51-3. With the team being ranked No. 3, fans are coming out in huge number to support it — all the remaining home games already being sold out. The atmosphere at home already makes it a challenge for opponents.
For Maryland to win here, it'll take a complete team defensive effort — Mark Turgeon's team will have to stop Purdue's numerous shooting options. Vincent and Carsen Edwards can drive, shoot the three and grab boards. Mathias can catch and shoot from any spot on the court. The post presence of Haarms and Haas — who can both block shots, take up space and easily drop in a high amount of points — gives the team a whole different advantage.
What challenges opponents is that they can take out one aspect of Purdue's offense, but not all of them. While the Hoosiers were able to lock down the Boilermakers' perimeter shooting, they couldn't stop Haas in the lane. If the Terps can figure out a way to do both of those things while not letting Purdue's defense shut them down, they will end the Boilermakers' 17-game win streak.