Each week in this space, KUSports.com online editor Jesse Newell will take a statistical look at one of the 10 teams that has the best chance of taking this year’s NCAA title.
AP/Coaches Ranking: 4th/4th
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 6th
The numbers say that Purdue is strong enough both offensively and defensively to be dangerous come March. Only 10 teams nationally are ranked in the top 25 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, and PU is one of them (22nd in adjusted offensive efficiency, 10th in adjusted defensive efficiency).
Offensively, Purdue thrives by simply getting lots of shots up to the rim. The Boilermakers turn it over on just 16.5 percent of their possessions, which is the eighth-lowest mark nationally (another way to look at it, PU turns it over just 11.2 times per game).
Not only that, the Boilermakers don’t get many shots blocked, as just 6 percent of their two-point attempts are swatted away (the 15th-best percentage in the country). Purdue also is a strong shooting team from both two-point range (52.4 percent, 29th nationally) and the free-throw line (74.2 percent, 21st nationally).
Defensively, Purdue is stingiest inside, as opponents make just 41.2 percent of their twos (8th-best mark nationally) and have 13.2 percent of their two-pointers blocked (33rd nationally). Purdue also turns up the pressure, forcing turnovers on 23.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions (30th nationally). The Boilermakers’ foes have averaged 16 giveaways per game this season.
Purdue’s biggest weakness — on offense and defense — is three-pointers. The Boilermakers make just 31.6 percent of their threes (NCAA average is 34.1 percent) while allowing opponents to shoot 35.7 percent from beyond the arc.
It’s getting picky, but Purdue also isn’t a great offensive rebounding team. The Boilermakers pull down offensive boards on 32.6 percent of their misses, which is slightly below the NCAA average. Defensively, PU would help itself by fouling less. The Boilermakers are giving up 20.7 free throws per game, a number that’s not sky-high, but one that could still use improvement.
Players to watch
Six-foot-4 guard E’Twaun Moore has emerged as a candidate for Big Ten player of the year. He’s averaging 17.4 points, and he’s been able to keep up his shooting percentage (54.9 percent from two-point range) despite taking a high volume of shots. The junior has taken 30.4 percent of his team’s shots when he’s on the floor, which is the 89th-highest mark nationally. He’s also one of the best Purdue has from three-point range, making 34 of his 94 shots (36.2 percent).
Six-foot-8 junior forward Robbie Hummel is PU’s most efficient option offensively, making 53.7 percent of his twos while turning it over just 26 times all year (an average of 1.1 turnovers per game). He also has hit 88.9 percent of his free throws this season.
Defensively, 6-foot-10 forward JaJuan Johnson and 6-foot-3 senior guard Chris Kramer are the standouts. Johnson averages more than two blocks per game, while Kramer picks up steals on 3.8 percent of the defensive possessions he’s in (75th nationally).
Also keep an eye on Lewis Jackson, who has played just five games this year after undergoing foot surgery. In 2008-09, he started 30 games for the Boilermakers at point guard, led the team in assists and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team. The Boilermakers will get a boost if he returns to full strength.
Purdue has the offensive and defensive balance to be able to complete for a national championship. The Boilermakers are getting healthy at the right time and also are playing their best (seven straight victories) as of late. Though not many experts will pick the Boilermakers to win it all, it’s certainly not out of the question, especially if a few of the elite teams are upset earlier in the tournament. The Boilermakers should end up as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in March, meaning even if they aren’t a sexy pick for the title, they should at least be a strong candidate to make it to the Final Four in Indianapolis — a location that happens to be just 66 miles away from Purdue’s West Lafayette campus.