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2017 NCAA Tournament: Kansas Jayhawks vs Purdue Boilermakers Preview

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional Practice Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas takes on a Purdue team that is ranked 144th in effective height, but poses a unique challenge to this iteration of the Jayhawks due to having perhaps the best frontcourt duo in the entire nation. Kansas will have to find a way around that in order to be the first non-Michigan team to defeat the Boilermakers since the end of January.

Offensively, Purdue ranked 2nd in the Big 10 and sits at 23rd nationally, but the relatively low rank belies their danger. They take 38 percent of their field goal attempts from three, and have made 40.4 percent of their attempts from long range. Furthermore, while they are just ok on twos, it stands to reason that would play up a few percentage points due to some of the difficulties Kansas has had defensively this season.

Purdue also turns it over roughly an average amount on the year, but again this is a double edged sword due to the fact Kansas never turns teams over. The only two real positives are the fact Purdue never gets to the free throw line, which could keep KU’s important players in the game, and doesn’t attack the offensive glass (and probably wouldn’t anyway to keep Kansas from getting out and running). Given some of the issues Kansas has had on the defensive glass this year, a lack of pressure on them in that area from Purdue bodes well. It also puts a lot of pressure on the Boilermakers to make quite a few threes, but they obviously have the talent to do so.

Defensively, Purdue is one of the more interesting teams around. They ranked 2nd in the Big 10 and 17th nationally, and like Michigan State they did it mostly by trying to force as many inefficient shots as possible. Purdue didn’t allow teams to take a lot of threes (although no one in the Big 10 took a lot of threes so it is possible that has inflated their numbers in that area), and forced turnovers on just 16.7 percent of possessions. This has to sound like a broken record by now, but this is potentially dangerous due to a lot of Kansas turnovers this year being of the shooting themselves in the foot variety, and just a couple extra turnovers could be the difference in this one.

Purdue also is 3rd nationally at not allowing teams to get to the free throw line, which has big Frank Mason implications, and they ranked 8th in the nation in defensive rebounding, so there might be a lot of 1-and-done opportunities for Kansas as well. The other interesting thing about Purdue is they rank 25th nationally in shots allowed at the rim, but 338th nationally in field goal percentage allowed at the rim. I assume this is partially due to Purdue’s big men serving as a deterrent effect moreso than rim protectors, but it does mean that Frank Mason can potentially get to and score at the rim semi regularly.

Players to Watch

Caleb Swanigan, 6-9 sophomore forward

Swanigan is certainly one of the best offensive players in the country. He shoots 55 percent on twos and 43 percent from three this year, and has shown the ability to be a good passer as well, with Purdue’s third highest assist rate. In fact, moreso than Swanigan 1-on-1 in the post, the biggest danger he represents is his ability to pass to Purdue’s shooters for open 3-point attempts.

I suspect Kansas will attack Swanigan in a variety of ways, but two to watch for are: similar to how Johnathan Motley was attacked during the Baylor games, with Kansas sending a variety of double teams and forcing him to make a quick decision, and hoping it is wrong. And there is evidence that can work, as Swanigan’s turnover rate is higher than his assist rate. But it is worth noting Purdue has better shooters around Swanigan than Baylor does around Motley, so the stakes are much higher.

The other way to attack him is to make him pay for it on the other end. Swanigan is an awful defender, especially in space, and I suspect Kansas will either run a ton of weave action to get him isolated on Josh Jackson, or a lot of Landen Lucas to Frank Mason pick and roll action to either force Swanigan into a foul, or force help off a good shooter. It is also worth noting that while Swanigan commits just 3.4 fouls per 40 minutes, he has fouled out 4 times this year and has finished with 4 fouls 8 other times.

Isaac Haas, 7-2 junior forward

Haas has played in fewer than half of Purdue’s minutes this year, partially due to some foul trouble issues, and partially due to Purdue wanting Swanigan on the floor as much as possible and there being some opponents they just can’t play them both against. I think Kansas is probably one of those opponents because I can’t see either Swanigan or Haas guarding any non-Lucas player on the floor. When he is in, though, Haas is pretty tough to deal with. He offers less than you’d think as a rebounder, but shoots 59 percent on twos and is 7th nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Kansas has had less trouble with post players like Haas as opposed to undersized athletic 4s like Reid Travis and Esa Ahmad, but he’s obviously someone who will and should draw a ton of attention.

Vincent Edwards, 6-8 junior forward

Edwards has played a lot of 4 for Purdue, and probably will be a tough matchup for Josh Jackson should he find himself guarding the KU freshman. Offensively, Edwards shoots 52 percent on twos and 42.5 percent on threes. He’s also probably the best passer on the team, making him somewhat of a Josh Jackson with a lower usage rate proxy, which is obviously dangerous. In fact, given KU’s issues with getting out to shooters this season, in a lot of ways he might be more dangerous than Swanigan.

Things to Watch For

  1. Perimeter shooting - Both teams shoot just over 40 percent from three, and both can get it rolling from deep. It’s tough to see one of these teams winning with an off day from three, and given that Kansas can abandon the shot at times, it is imperative they get off to a good start.
  2. Stealing possessions - As noted, Purdue neither really turns it over nor turns other teams over (same with Kansas for that matter). Although these are just kids, and so naturally some bad passes, bad decisions, and just general unforced turnovers will be forced. Purdue really needs to limit live ball turnovers that will let Kansas get out and run, while Kansas will want to avoid turnovers in general just to avoid giving Purdue extra possessions.
  3. Fouls - Purdue doesn’t get to the line or send teams to the line. Kansas certainly doesn’t want to get Lucas, Jackson, or Mason into foul trouble, but also Mason didn’t draw a few fouls against Michigan State that certainly were fouls. Those extra 6-10 points at the line are huge not just for Mason but for Kansas in general. Also, if Kansas can get Swanigan into some foul trouble that will certainly be a huge boost for the Jayhawks.