Last night's game against Northern Kentucky ended favorably, but did expose some parts of this team that need to be improved before the schedule gets much harder. I've picked three instances from the game to highlight, all in the second half.
Northern Kentucky shot really well from behind the 3-point line, hitting 13 of their attempts on the night. A lot of those looks came either late in the shot clock, or with a hand in their face, but they were able to also generate some open looks for themselves. Case in point, this sequence with around 11 minutes to go in the 2nd half.
Northern Kentucky brings the ball up, trailing by three with 11:31 to go. Notice how tight Purdue's guards are covering their opponent in the half-court.
NKU initiates their movement on the perimeter. Purdue has been switching on ball screens all game, and NKU has been able to exploit that for open jumpers or uncontested drives to the basket. Sterling Carter (#1) remains in decent position.
As expected, Carter switches on the screen (actually a ball hand-off / screen combo). NKU probes the right side of the defense. Everyone's in good position, except Carter, who's struggling to quickly reverse his momentum. He's not in bad position, but the NKU ball-handler is attempting to drive hard to the basket. NKU were able to use this exact same move multiple times Friday to get an easy layup. That won't happen with AJ Hammons in, by the way.
Rapheal Davis, sensing trouble, peels off his man in an attempt to cut off the ball-handler, which he does. While well-intentioned, it means that he leaves his man, #33 at the bottom, wide open behind the 3-point line. With Hammons in, he might not make this move. Funneling opposing guards to one of the Big 10's leading shot-blockers isn't a bad idea at all. But with Hammons out, Davis is over-aggressive with his help defense, which is just the thing that NKU was able to exploit quite a bit last night.
Yep. #33 creeps to the corner to give him even more space. Davis has no hope of catching up as he sets up for a wide-open 3-pointer.
Splash. Tie game. NKU's ability to hit timely 3-pointers killed Purdue yesterday. Give credit to NKU; they were able to manufacture good opportunities for themselves.
Ronnie Johnson has shown a lot of progress; I was really encouraged by his ability to hit a pair of open 3-pointers yesterday, and he certainly hasn't lost a step with his speed. He does still have some issues around ball security and shot selection. This situation illustrates some of those shot selection issues.
Ronnie Johnson brings the ball up. Note the game situation. 1:36 left in the game, Purdue down by one, so this is a critical possession for Purdue. Purdue is just getting set in their half-court offense.
Jay Simpson sets a screen for Ronnie Johnson and creates a decent amount of separation. Let's review his options here: 1.) Pull back for a 3-point attempt 2.) Look for Jay Simpson cutting to the basket 3.) Drive into the lane and look for a layup 4) Pull the ball back and reset the offense 5.) Take a low-percentage long two-point jumper.
Uh oh. Ronnie's setting up for a long jumper. He's open, but just because he's open doesn't mean that he should shoot it. Purdue's down one, and there are 30 seconds left in the shot clock. Purdue should be able to generate a better look than this.
Ronnie lets fly. Why is this a bad shot? If you look at shooting percentages at different zones on the court, you'll notice that the average shooting percentage at that very spot is pretty low; just a few percentage points higher than a 3-point shot. Ronnie is open enough (and quick enough) that he could attack the basket and shoot a much higher percentage shot and still get two points, or take a couple dribbles back and shoot a three with roughly the same odds of making it (except he'd get three points instead of two, obviously). Additionally, long shots tend to produce long rebounds, which are harder for the offensive team to rebound. And again, we're less than 10 seconds into the shot clock; plenty of time to generate a better look.
The ball bangs off the back of the rim, right into the waiting arms of an NKU defender with a ton of time left on the shot clock and Purdue still down one. This is problematic. NKU has the ball and can extend the lead to three or even four. Which they do, and that's what I'll show next.
Purdue had been switching on the ball screen all night. To produce their last made basketball, NKU exploits this, and with the help of a little luck, go up by four with less than a minute left.
NKU sets a pick on Kendall Stephens, and Purdue switches with Terone Johnson. Things are starting to get serious, as there's now 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
NKU loved the ball hand-off (also illustrated in the first use case above) because it acts as both a pick and a pass. Here, they set up for another hand-off to #1 at the bottom.
As expected, the ball is handed off to #1, and as expected, Terone Johnson switches and is once again guarding the ball-handler.
We're setting up for another hand-off here. Except it's not really a hand-off, it's more of a backwards pass, as the NKU players are too far away from each other. Notice how far away from his man Jay Simpson is. Simpson is practically in the paint, while his man is several feet behind the 3-point line. Simpson is comfortable guarding perimeter players, but not comfortable enough to press them on the perimeter. Had he not been switched on a prior pick, Kendall Stephens would probably be guarding that man, and you'd see a different approach.
The ball is handed off and Simpson stays where he is. What should he have done here? Hard to tell. He was far enough away from his man that the previous ball-handler was unable to set a pick on him, as was typical with the ball hand-off, which would negate the need for Terone Johnson to switch and take the new ball-handler. But Purdue was switching all night, so it was reasonable to assume that Terone would switch. However, look at Terone's position. He's clearly not expecting to switch, maintaining close proximity to his man instead of jumping out at the ball handler. Five seconds left on the shot clock.
As the NKU player rises to take the shot, Terone realizes that he is the only one who can contest that shot, so he peels off his man and tries to get into position. This is a tough shot to guard because the NKU shooter is so far away from the basket, far enough where you wouldn't expect him to shoot. Except for the fact that there's less than five seconds on the shot clock. There's a lot to keep balance of mentally during the game, but knowing that your opponent has to get a shot off in a matter of seconds is an important piece of information, and should force you to defend him a little different than if there were, say, 20 seconds left on the shot clock.
The shot is good. An amazing shot, from far away, at a crucial moment, with a defender coming out at you. Tip of the cap to NKU for that. Purdue could have defended that better, and NKU took advantage. Also noteworthy: Kendall Stephens is out of position for the rebound. In his defense, his man is much bigger than him, but NKU was able to use superior positioning throughout the night to snag 17 offensive rebounds.
The important thing is that Purdue won, and the coaching staff is well aware of some of the work that this team needs to put in. So while it's a little concerning that Purdue had such a hard time with a team that is so new to Division-I basketball that they aren't even eligible for the NCAA Tournament yet, I feel confident saying that Purdue does not win this game last year. With Hammons back now, some of these issues will go away. They'll adjust; they're still young and learning, and in that sense, last night's win was important for a lot of different reasons.