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Elite Eight Preview: Virginia Cavaliers vs. Purdue Boilermakers

How can Virginia contain Carsen Edwards?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-South Regional-Purdue vs Tennessee Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Purdue Boilermakers began the season in the Top 25 of both polls and in the top-20 of KenPom’s rankings. Despite going just 7-4 over a tough out of conference schedule, they never fell out of the top-20 on KenPom. They did, however, fall out of the polls for nearly two months.

Of those four OOC losses, three came to ACC schools. There’s no shame in losing to Virginia Tech or Florida State, but losing to Notre Dame this year was bad. The Irish shot lights out in that game (11-of-21 from downtown), which highlights one of Purdue’s weaknesses, and something that Virginia might be able to exploit.

Purdue ranks just 169th nationally in three point defense. On Friday, the Tennessee Volunteers shot 12-of-24 from downtown in the Sweet Sixteen game. Tennessee scored 1.24 points per possession and lost. Virginia’s defense allowed that many points per possession just once this year, the home loss to Duke. You may recall that Duke made 63% of their outside shots in that game. That’s the kind of performance it takes to beat down the Virginia defense like that.

Over the three games of the NCAA tournament, Purdue’s opponents are making 46% of their threes. In three games, Virginia is making just 28% of their threes after making 40% on the year. A lot of that, obviously, is Kyle Guy’s 3-of-25 shooting. On the other side, Purdue is making 44% of their treys during the tourney and Virginia is allowing 37% on threes.

It’s actually kind of amazing that Virginia is in the Elite Eight despite shooting so poorly and seeing the opposition shoot so well. The Hoos have won by dominating inside, which goes against the narrative of the team. Against Oregon, Virginia attempted a season high 33 treys. But they also had 11 offensive rebounds (30% of their misses), took care of the basketball against a very long and athletic team.

Purdue has some similarity to Oregon in terms of style. Both teams play slow, both teams are long. Purdue is more of an offensive minded team, and their defense wanes at times. They are led in scoring by PG Carsen Edwards. Edwards is a second team All-American for the second consecutive year. He scored 42 points against Villanova in the second round, making 9-of-16 from deep. Against Tennessee, he had 29 points on 5-of-14 from downtown.

Both of these shots come 20 seconds remaining on the shot clock. That’s not a particularly good shot. But Edwards has that confidence and the green light. He shoots a lot of threes, but he’s not one dimensional. He takes 53% of his shots from downtown, and makes about 35%. But he’s just a 42% shooter on twos, meaning his far more dangerous from outside.

In both of those clips, Edwards is guarded by a bigger player. He’s given space because of his ability to get into the paint and either finish or dish. Kihei Clark is going to get the job of guarding Edwards. At 6’1” 200 Edwards will have a size advantage on Virginia’s diminutive PG, but not a big one. Maybe Edwards can shoot over Clark, but Clark isn’t going to give Edwards the same amount of space that he got against Villanova or Tennessee.

Clark was fantastic on Thursday against Oregon’s Payton Pritchard, who’s roughly the same size at Edwards (Pritchard had 11 points on 3-of-12 FG). Considering Edwards takes 37% of Purdue’s shots when he’s on the floor, and considering he rarely comes off the floor, Virginia is going to need a similar performance from Clark.

As a team, the Boilermakers take a lot of threes. Edwards is part of that, but SG Ryan Cline takes fully 3/4 of his shots from downtown and wing Grady Eifert takes almost 2/3 his shots from downtown. As you’ll no doubt hear during the broadcast, Kyle Guy and Ryan Cline played AAU ball together in the Indianapolis area and faced each other in High School. Cline is bigger than Guy, but their games are similar. Guy is faster and quicker. Cline is really not a particularly good defender.

Here’s Cline curling off a screen for a catch-and-shoot three. How many times has Virginia run a similar pay for Guy? The issue here is that Tennessee’s Jordan Bone is way too far off Cline. He has to run through a lot of traffic to follow Cline across the court. That’s a difference between Tennessee’s #41 ranked defense and Virginia’s #3 ranked defense. Purdue will run similar sets for a number of different guys.

Guy’s shooting started to come around the other night, making two big threes in the second half against Oregon. He’s due for a big game. We know what he’s capable of, so if he can go off and knock down a few treys, that really changes things for the team. Guy has knocked down at least four treys 10 times this year, but he’s just 5/30 from downtown over the past four games. He’s better than that, and you’d think just by regressing to the mean he’d have to be better against Purdue. Maybe going against his old buddy will help get him going.

Eifert is a former walk-on who is the #1 player in the nation in offensive efficiency. His brother, Tyler, is a TE for the Cincinnati Bengals. Grady is 6’6” 220, is very strong on the glass and obviously can shoot the rock. He’s also a willing defender.

One of the keys to this game will be Tony Bennett’s defensive matchups. Does it make sense to put DeAndre Hunter on Eifert, who averages fewer than 4 shot attempts per game? Or does Hunter guard Nojel Eastern, a combo guard who can’t shoot from outside (0/4 on the year), but is a slasher and finisher inside. Both are around the same size, but have very different games.

On the other end, Eastern is going to be on Hunter. That’s basically a given. Eastern is a very good defender, one of the best in the nation. He’s strong and tough and physical. Hunter was bothered by Oregon’s length, which Purdue can’t really match. He’s faced strong, physical defenders before, but maybe not one with Eastern’s defensive skills. That’ll be a key matchup for Virginia. Eastern also leads the team in rebounds.

The Boilermakers frontcourt is basically 7’3” Matt Haarms. The Dutch big man is fairly mobile for a guy that size, but not nearly what we’ve seen from Jay Huff. He’s more physical than Huff, and will use his size to shoot over smaller defenders inside. He’s left-handed, and favors going over his right shoulder. With how well Mamadi Diakite has been playing, expect him to get the start. He’s giving up six inches to Haarms, but he’s a very good interior defender and he’s faced bigger guys before.

Here’s an example of Haarms’ mobility. He shows the screen, but slips it and rolls to the rim. Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield is caught flat footed and can do nothing. This is something Virginia needs to be wary of. Virginia’s big men can get too focused on hedging the ball screens. That hedge blocks the pass to the roll man. In this case, the guard makes the pass before the screen, so there’s nothing blocking the pass.

Virginia will also see freshman big man Trevion Williams. The 6’9” 280 big man is much more of a bruiser than Haarms. We haven’t seen much from Jack Salt during this tournament run, but he will be useful against Williams. In nine minutes spelling Haarms against Tennessee, Williams had four offensive boards and four points. Good luck getting that against Salt. At this point in his career, Williams is a poor defender. He is a shot blocker, but gets caught off his feet and commits silly fouls.

Three other freshmen get minutes on the wings, including redshirt freshmen Aaron Wheeler and Sasha Stefanovic. Stefanovic is just a shooter, but Wheeler has game. He’s scored 18 points in the three tourney games on 7/10 shooting in 32 minutes. He also fouled out in just 7 minutes against Villanova.

Purdue is a very different team than what Virginia has faced in a while. They are probably most similar to Virginia Tech, a team that Virginia beat twice. You may recall from above that the Hokies actually knocked off the Boilermakers early this season. They did it by matching Purdue’s three point shooting and winning the battle inside. The Hokies got to the FT line 26 times, which is a weakness for Purdue. Neither Virginia nor Purdue get to the line much, but this is a place Virginia can exploit. Virginia does not foul, while Purdue gives up too many FTs. If Virginia can consistently get the ball inside, they’ll be rewarded with free throws, and that could turn this game.

Amazingly, Virginia has reached the Elite Eight without really playing their best basketball. But now things are getting real. Oregon was a young team that had never been in this situation before. Purdue made the Sweet Sixteen the past two years, finally breaking through this year. Purdue isn’t going to fall apart down the stretch like the Ducks did. If Virginia is going to win, they’re going to need to play better. That should start with Indiana-born Kyle Guy.