Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan may be gone, but No. 5 Purdue still presents plenty of big problems.
And it all starts in the interior, where the Boilermakers enter Tuesday’s tilt at Michigan leaning on the talented frontcourt duo of 6-foot-8 forward Vincent Edwards and 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas.
While previous matchups traditionally have pit Purdue’s daunting size and strength against Michigan’s speed and ability to spread the floor, Edwards’ versatility and athleticism — something Swanigan lacked — will provide an added layer of difficulty for the Wolverines.
“Caleb was a great player,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Monday. “He gave us so many problems. But at the same time, the way we play with four guys who can go, that presented matchup problems for them at times and Caleb was so good. I don’t want to say that’s why we won but it’s different now that they have our type of four man, whether it’s when Zak (Irvin) or D.J. (Wilson) or Glenn (Robinson III) was playing the four.
“Edwards, he’s that four who can guard another tough four, and he can guard on the perimeter as well if you have more of a skilled four. That’s a big challenge for us when he’s their four man and it will be (Tuesday).”
Edwards entered Tuesday’s game averaging 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, with roughly three of those boards coming on the offensive end, to go along with seven double-doubles.
Michigan has several options to throw at Edwards, whether it’s freshman Isaiah Livers, forward Duncan Robinson, wing Charles Matthews or a combination of all three. But whatever plan of attack Beilein uses, he’ll learn whether Michigan’s defensive rebounding, which ranks second in the Big Ten at 75.4 percent, is really as good as the numbers indicate.
“His offensive rebounding numbers are huge for a perimeter four,” Beilein said of Edwards. “It’s not Swanigan sitting on the block. He’s out on the perimeter and he’s just diving in there to get rebounds.
“That will be a big telling factor, again, if we can keep him with one or two offensive rebounds, Haas with one or two and keep (Purdue) under seven or eight offensive rebounds. That will tell me that we can rebound in this league.”
A lot of it will also fall on the shoulders of centers Moritz Wagner and Jon Teske. The duo will have their hands full fending off Haas, who has improved in every area as a senior and is averaging career highs with 14.7 points on 64.3 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 21.6 minutes per game.
But it doesn’t get any easier when Haas is off the floor, with 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman Matt Haarms lurking on the bench.
“Good luck,” Beilein said of his advice to Wagner and Teske. “We’ve seen it over and over again. We’re not going to concede any baskets, but there are going to be some times where we’re just not going to be able to stop it. The other kid, Matt Haarms, he’s bigger than (Haas) is. Longer but more of a shot blocker.
“You got to try and stay one step ahead of the (entry) passes. And this is what we’ve been watching for 10 years, 11 years now. They always got a big post guy and they’re going to find ways, the angles to get them (the ball). Some years when they haven’t had the success, they haven’t had either the passers or shooters on the perimeter. They got the whole package right now. It’s a beautiful basketball team right now.”
Sophomore guard Zavier Simpson has elevated his play on both ends of the court over the last month.
Through 17 games, Simpson is shooting 53.2 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent from 3-point range, but is only averaging 5.1 points and attempting roughly four shots per game.
However, Beilein said Simpson doesn’t need more shots. Rather, he needs to keep doing what he’s been doing.
“It’s tough for him to get his own shot,” Beilein said. “That doesn’t mean you’re not a good player, it means he finds others or he waits to ge t— he might need a little bit more space and time than other people. He’s working on that every day.
“But his whole thing right now is to run the team, hit the open shots, take the ball to the basket really aggressively and then defend the heck out of one of their best players. That’s a good formula for him for right now as we continue to develop that part of the game where he can get a little more elevation on his jump shot.”
… Beilein will be featured on CBS Sports Network’s “Men of March” series at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday following the broadcast of the SMU vs. Temple game.
The series highlights coaches of the NCAA Tournament in 30-minute specials. Beilein will be the third coach in the installment, following South Carolina’s Frank Martin and Virginia Tech’s Buzz Peterson.