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WRNL Interrogates: Hammer & Rails

Thoughts on the game Saturday night, from a Purdue fan’s perspective.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Purdue vs Vermont James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

In this Round of 32 edition of WRNL Interrogates, Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails visits us to provide the lowdown on the Purdue Boilermakers. Travis dishes on which player Caleb Swanigan is similar to, what Purdue has struggled with at times this season, what his prediction for the game is, and more.

Let’s get to it!

Kevin: Purdue boasts one of the country's best forwards in Caleb Swanigan, a double-double machine. Our staff at WRNL has been trying to come up with a good player comparison for his game, but we've been all over the place with our thoughts. Which player would you compare Swanigan to?

Travis: I would say he is a lot like Zach Randolph. I remember my HS team playing Randolph way back in 1998 and their games are very similar. Swanigan can step out and hit the three, but he is a low box banger with good post moves and old man’s game. He is a double-double machine too (28 out of 33 games this season). We are blessed to take for granted that he is going to put up a 15 and 12 no matter what. Then there are games where he finds another gear and drops a 26 and 18. He is also a decent passer out of the post. If he recognizes the double-team and finds the open shooter that is when Purdue’s offense really gets going.

Kevin: At 40.7%, the Boilermakers are one of the most accurate-shooting teams in the country from long range, even better than Iowa State (40.3%). Yet, the phrase "live and die by the three" doesn't apply to them, because they've shot damn near their average in all seven of their losses (65-160, 40.6%). If poor outside shooting isn't dooming Purdue, what's been the recipe that's given them fits?

Travis: I would say turnovers. If Haas or Swanigan doesn’t recognize the double team fast enough to find the open shooter they are prone to turn the ball over. The second factor is Vince Edwards, our third (and most versatile) big man. Simply put, if he plays well, Purdue plays well. He can create his own shot, rebound, pass, defend, you name it. We generally need him heavily involved if we’re going to win. The only game we won where he struggled scoring was at Maryland. He was scoreless, but still had 8 rebounds and 3 assists in a 1 point win.

Vince has also had an extra gear in the NCAA Tournament. This season he is averaging a 12.5-4-8-3.2, but in three career tournament games he averages 19.6-8.7-3.7. we need that Vince.

Kevin: Which player match-up do you think will have the most influence on the game's outcome?

Travis: Isaac Haas. He is probably Purdue’s most frustrating player and it is not always his fault. Many officials just don’t know how to call a guy who is 7’2” 300 pounds. He is so much bigger than everyone he has the tools to be physically dominant, but I can see a team like Iowa State exploiting him. We lost twice to Michigan because Mo Wagner (in the first game) and D.J. Wilson (in the second game) pulled him away from the basket defensively and he can’t defend the perimeter at all. They could shoot threes or drive by him.

On the offensive end, it depends on what happens early. Haas shoots 58% from the field but it feels like it should be 70% with the number of two footers he misses. Of course, it is often hard to hit any shot when 2-3 smaller guys are wailing on you with 2x4s. If Haas gets in a lather and can draw fouls he can be great offensively. Some of his big games are great. 9 of 10 from the field and 8 of 11 from the line with 26 points against Utah State. 8 of 11 from the floor for 18 points against Michigan State. Haas needs to use his size and assert himself early, but if he gets called for a cheap foul or two early he tends to struggle. With such a size advantage against a team like ISU this is even more important because I know you’ll try to exploit his defensive struggles.

Kevin: This will likely be a game where Iowa State looks to push tempo while Purdue tries to turn it into a half-court chess match. Yet, oddly, Purdue's adjusted tempo (113th in the nation) is faster than ISU's (176th) according to KenPom. Is this because the Boilermakers like to utilize their fair share of transition, or is it because their opponents have forced them to get out and run?

Travis: I think we do a decent amount of getting out and running. Carsen Edwards, our freshman PG is always looking for the slightest window to attack. The same is true with Spike Albrecht, who is the savvy veteran. He is the 45-year old guy at the Y that just runs harder than kids half his age. Also, Purdue’s offense is best when everyone is passing and moving without the ball. When we’re looking to make that extra pass we’re lethal.

Kevin: What's your prediction for how the game plays out and a final score?

Travis: Oh geez, I have no idea. It really depends. If Purdue can somehow slow the guards down and defend the perimeter I like our chances. Our half court is unique because we have so many shooters that can loosen up the middle. If Vince, Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline, Carsen, and PJ Thompson hit some threes early that opens things up in the middle. Swanigan and Haas cannot be defended one-on-one by most teams, so if ISU has to go that route they can then grind you into powder.

That said, you have quick guards that can shoot and you put for of them on the floor at the time. If we have Swanigan and Haas on the floor at the same time that creates a big mismatch because both struggle to guard the perimeter. You guys remind me of Michigan State because you have no real post presence. That might be a good thing, as we won both games with them very easily, but they didn’t have anyone to draw Swanigan and Haas from the basket. If you can do that like Michigan did, we’re in trouble.

Kevin: BONUS QUESTION - Which Big Ten school is the worst? Please explain your answer.

Travis: We have no need for Rutgers and Maryland. At least Nebraska feels like it fits the culture of the league. Rutgers and Maryland are money grabs and I still don’t know what they are doing here.

Travis, Travis, Travis. I thought I threw you the perfect alley-oop pass to put down Iowa on that bonus question... Now I’m beginning to question your hatred for the Hawkeyes!

Nevertheless, thanks for answering our questions, and good luck to Purdue on Saturday night.