Purdue 69, Wake Forest 58
Two teams filled with gold/black bedecked players tussled last Tuesday night in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Purdue Boilermakers outlasted the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 69-58 in a battle between two programs that crossed paths while seemingly headed in different directions.
Despite recently sending two players to the NBA, Wake has not won an NCAA game since 2005. Purdue completely started over with Matt Painter in 2005, but has already collected four NCAA Tournaments wins.
IMPRESSIONS – PURDUE: The Boilermakers have all the ingredients for a Final Four run. Coach Matt Painter’s team has experienced guards (senior, senior, junior), an NBA talent (JaJuan Johnson), and clutch FT shooting (74%). With exceptional perimeter defense and smothering ball pressure, Purdue should win the turnover battle almost every game.
The three-guard offense employed by Painter features two seniors and a junior. The junior, E’Twaun Moore, has started every conference game in his career. The trio has 235 games started combined.
Keaton Grant, Moore, and Chris Kramer play well off of each other. While Kramer almost never shoots, Moore nearly always shoots. And it works.
Through the first week of December, Moore heaved 29% of Purdue’s shots, as Kramer hesitantly took 5%. Booo-ya.
The symbiotic relationship shows the great amount of trust between Boilers. Group cohesion and team balance go a long way. When you care about a teammate, passing to him or helping onto his man becomes second nature.
By starting all three of his healthy, experienced guards at once, Painter chooses to have a completely unproven bench. Injured sophomore Lewis Jackson would help, but his recovering foot has him sidelined indefinitely.
The reserves, Kelsey Barlow and D.J. Byrd, are talented in spite of their collective inexperience. Byrd and Barlow are nice pieces.
The minutes currently being eaten up by guards Mark Wohlford and Ryne Smith are forgettable. Other than knocking down occasional wide open triples, the two offer almost nothing.
Johnson will be an NBA power forward in 2010. He displays elaborate post moves and tenacious offensive rebounding. Robbie Hummel, Moore, and Barlow might make the pinnacle of their sport.
Johnson’s footwork is above average, as is his touch around the rim. Most impressive is the ferocity with which JJ gets to the offensive glass. The guy has matured from a young, gangly puppy to Best in Class in two short years. At 19, JJ could only run and dunk. His current arsenal, however, makes Painter’s paint presence a terror.
Free Throw Frequency
A college famous for its engineering department surely understands the intricacies of the free throw. Last season PU managed 70% shooting from the charity stripe. This year that mark stands at nearly 75%.
Teams ordinarily shoot high free-throw percentages when their forwards shoot well. Hummel (87%) and Johnson (71%) are both very reliable. Regardless which player is fouled with the game on the line, odds say he is going to knock down the key shot.
IMPRESSIONS – WAKE FOREST:
At every position except center, Wake runs out a faster than average player. Al-Farouq Aminu, descendant of Nigerian kings, projects as a lottery pick in June’s NBA Draft. Listed as a power forward, Aminu runs with the gait of a gazelle. Beautifully agile and exceedingly comfortable on the ball, Aminu already possesses All-American skills.
Unwisely, Wake plays one-on-one constantly. Aminu and teammate Ish Smith end up taking a lot of forced shots in this system. Smith really ignites the offense from the point-guard position. He began his career with a breakout frosh campaign only to see his minutes taper off with the emergence of Jeff Teague.
Smith is now running things in his final college season. His end-to-end speed enables Wake to put nearly instantaneous pressure on the defense. Make or miss, Ish is in your face dribbling full bore.
Wake can start four seniors, all of which bring tangible basketball skills to the table. Smith, Williams, David Weaver, and Chas McFarland all have valuable experiences upon which to draw
The quartet has seen the program come from 15-16 in its freshmen year to 24-7 a year ago. The team even registered an AP ranking of #1 midway through the 2008-2009 season.
Experienced, senior-driven teams win tough road games.
Playing on the road against a top 10 team, Wake Forest truly stood tall, proudly playing PU even into the second half of the second half.
E’Twaun Moore’s three-point bomb with 8:56 remaining opened up a 51-44 lead for Purdue and from that moment on, the “boilered up” boys charged to the finish line, victory assured.
Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio, however, needs to be very pleased with his guard play against the perennially stingy Purdue defense. PU has allowed fewer than 60 ppg for nearly two years now. The 58 total points managed by Wake comes as no surprise to Painter and pals, despite the uptempo game they utilize. Wake gets up the floor after a made basket as fast as UConn or Michigan State.
Seniors Smith (7-15 FG) and L.D. Williams (5-8 FG) scored efficiently. Unfortunately for Wake, the starting guards coughed up nine turnovers between them. Overall Smith had a nice game. He forced tempo on offense, consistently stabbing into the lane and penetrating deep.
The telling statistic for the Wake-Purdue matchup was turnovers. Purdue forced 25 turnovers while only committing nine. That damning stat nearly always tells the tale, and Purdue earned 12 more field-goal attempts than Wake Forest by way of the turnovers.
NCAA TOURNAMENT PROJECTIONS:
PURDUE: This should be an Elite 8 team. With a few breaks, the Boilers could get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1980.
In that fateful year of both my birth and the eruption of Mt. St. Helens (listed in ascending order of importance), Purdue played in Indianapolis for the National Semifinals.
Naptown once again hosts Final Four weekend this season. Purdue would feel right at home as four Boilers grew up inside the bypass loop of I-465. All of these players would love to leave their Maker’s Mark on Indy.
A likely seed for Purdue is a 2-4. You can be sure a few losses–or more–await the thin Boilers in the Big Ten, one of the top three conferences in America this year.
WAKE FOREST: The Demon Deacons play a very tough schedule, with North Carolina twice, Duke away, Georgia Tech twice, Miami twice, Richmond, Xavier, Gonzaga, and Purdue. A decent team, which Wake is, would still lose between 10-12 games with that schedule.
Unfortunately, a 16-12 record will not cut it this year. The SEC and Big Ten are improved and Conference USA could get three bids this season. In a different conference, WF might make a run at the Big Dance.
Look for them to fall off the national radar in late January amidst a series of ACC stumbles, never to return.