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A Weekend of Basketball Against America’s Crossroads State: A Q&A With Hammer & Rails

Travis Miller of Purdue’s Hammer & Rails sit down with me to talk about the game tomorrow.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 08 Northwestern at Purdue Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kevin (aka SpartyOnHuskers): How would you classify the season for your Purdue Boilermakers thus far after losses to the Texas Longhorns, at the Marquette Golden Eagles, and overtime Thanksgiving tournament neutral court to the Florida State Seminoles, but the big win over the defending national-champ Virginia Cavaliers at home? What’s been going well in the post-Carson Edwards era, and what needs improvement?

Travis Miller: The defense has been excellent so far. All three losses were basically because of lapses on offense. Against Texas, Purdue had the ball leading by 5 with less than three minutes left and committed three straight unforced turnovers. Two of them were unchallenged passes we just mishandled. Against Marquette, Purdue led by 18 late in the first half then forgot how to play offense. Against Florida State it was a tight game where Purdue had its chances at the end of regulation and in overtime, but couldn’t convert.

I think that is just going to be something we have to get used to this year. Purdue strangled Virginia and Northwestern to death defensively last week and looked great offensively against the Cavaliers, but things were not great against Northwestern. It will come together, but there are still too many 5-7 minute scoreless droughts for my liking. We really miss Edwards and Cline opening things up from outside.

Kevin: Purdue seems to struggle from field goal range this season. Against five P6 opponents, they’ve only shot above 40% once. Is Matt Haarms not getting fouls called on attempts, is he not getting the ball enough, or are players just not making shots, Haarms included?

Travis: Our guards are still struggling with entry passes to Haarms and teams are keying on that. We also have not been consistent from three like we were with Cline and Carsen last year. Those two really opened things up by spreading teams out and opening up passing lanes at the basket. Jahaad Proctor has been pretty good in alleviating some of that, while Sasha Stefanovic has shown some flashes about being the next Dakota Mathias/Ryan Cline.

Kevin: The Boilermakers, despite the above mentioned struggles in field goal shooting, sit at 26th in KenPom Adjusted Offense. They’re also 6th overall, and 5th defensively. In contrast, the Huskers sit at 149th overall, 147th offensively, and 168th defensively. What possible hope can Huskers fans hold for weaknesses to exploit that the basic stats don’t show?

Travis: As I said above, Purdue can just go completely inept offensively for 5-7 minutes at a time and be unable to do much of anything. Against Marquette it was particularly costly. The second half was terrible and it cost us a game we were running away with. We’ve cleaned up the turnovers for the most part, but we’re still limited offensively. As good as Nojel Eastern is on defense he literally cannot shoot. If he is not driving to the basket or playing in the paint we’re basically playing 4 on 5 offensively because he is otherwise not a threat to score. I am really looking for Aaron Wheeler to turn things on, too. He has been slumping a bit lately but his length and athleticism can be a big difference maker.

Kevin: Obviously Jahaad Proctor and Matt Haarms are the leading scorers, and Aaron Wheeler leads in rebounds. So who is a more off the radar player Husker fans should be wary of?

Travis: Isaiah Thompson has played some really good minutes as a freshman. His brother PJ was a long time starter for us and graduated with the four seniors two years ago. He is more of a shooter than PJ and can get hot from time to time. Eric Hunter Jr. has improved greatly on both ends of the floor, too. He has made a sophomore leap and almost every Purdue fan I know has been really pleased with his play. He defends extremely well and is starting to show why he was 7th all-time in Indiana in scoring with 2,583 career points in high school. Considering who all has played in this state, that’s impressive.

Kevin: Final question, what will happen on Saturday in Omaha, and what will the final score be?

Travis: I am really concerned we weren’t able to do a lot offensively against Northwestern, but Purdue’s defense is doing great at the moment. We didn’t give up more than 85 points total in our last two games, and I know Nebraska is the worst defensive team in the conference by a pretty wide margin. Purdue showed it can do pretty well at times when it had 69 against an elite Virginia defense. It is never easy to win on the road in the Big Ten, but I think Purdue pulls away late for an 8-10 point win.