Brandon Paul

Breaking Down: How Purdue slowed down Brandon Paul

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Purdue picked up a huge win on Wednesday night, knocking off No. 11 Illinois at home and helping to erase the memory of a rough non-conference season.

They did it by taking away Brandon Paul. A contender for Big Ten Player of the Year after the first two months of the season, Paul has been sensational in the biggest moments for the Illini. But when John Groce’s team has struggled, it has been the result of an off-night from their leading scorer.

Paul got off to a fairly quick start on Wednesday, knocking down his first two threes — one of which turned into a four-point play — and scoring seven points in the first seven minutes. He wouldn’t score again until the layup he made with 3:15 left in the game, a 29:46 stretch where Paul didn’t score a single point.

How did Purdue do it?

In the first half, Paul’s struggles had as much to do with his foul trouble as they did with anything Purdue was doing defensively. Paul picked up his second foul with 9:42 left on the clock, and for the rest of the half, Groce went offense-defense with him. There’s no better way to get a shooter out of a rhythm than to have him subbing in and out every third possession.

In the second half, however, the Boilermakers executed Matt Painter’s game-plan to perfection. There were three keys:

1. Ball screen defense: Illinois loves to set picks for Paul, and Groce loves to use Sam McLaurin and Nnanna Egwu in the ball-screen action. Painter’s game-plan was simple: whoever was guarding Paul would fight over the screen, trailing Paul to keep him from getting an open look at a three, while the big guarding the screener helped off his man, daring Paul to penetrate against a double-team:

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Purdue was able to ignore the screener because: a) Neither Egwu or McLaurin are much of a threat offensively; and b) Paul is coming off that ball-screen to score, not to pass.

2. Switching: Illinois also likes to use Paul in some screen-the-screener actions. Essentially, they’ll use Paul to set a back-screen for one of their big men in the paint and then have him run off of a downscreen from the other big man. To defend this play, Painter had to trust that his team would be able to recognize it early enough that the opposite side wing — in this case Rapheal Davis — would be able to switch onto Paul while the man defending Paul — in this case Terone Johnson — would slide out and cover Byrd’s man. (Video of this sequence can be found here.)

3. Terone Johnson: At the end of the day, once you get past all of the x’s-and-o’s and game-planning terminology, defense is about stopping your man one-on-one. And Johnson’s on-ball defense was simply superb against Paul. He fought through downscreens, he didn’t give Paul an inch coming off of ball-screens and it was clear that his physical brand of defense got into Paul’s head midway through the second half. In one sequence, Johnson stole the ball from Paul in the back court and found Jacob Lawson for a dunk. then he fought through two ball-screens, nearly forcing Paul into another turnover, on the next possession.

Previous Breaking Down posts can be found here.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of the action on the fringe of the NCAA tournament

Fred VanVleet
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Tonight’s bubble action. This post will be updated as the games are completed.

Cincinnati at UCF, 7:00 p.m.
Pitt at No. 12 Miami, 7:00 p.m.
No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.
Ole Miss at Florida, 9:00 p.m.
Georgia at No. 22 Kentucky, 9:00 p.m.
Arkansas at Mississippi State, 9:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: A Big 12 and a Big Ten showdown

Denzel Valentine
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 10 West Virginia at No. 6 Kansas, 7:00 p.m.

The last time these two teams got together, West Virginia actually knocked off Kansas in Morgantown. It was the third time in the last three seasons that WVU has beaten KU at home. So there’s some revenge at stake here. But there’s also the whole Big 12 title race, which West Virginia currently leads. If the Mountaineers win tonight, they’ll be up by two games on Kansas with the tie breaker and just seven games left to play. The Jayhawks regular season title streak could be over if that happens.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 8 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, 7:00 p.m.

We think the Spartans are back to their early season form after wins over Maryland (at home), Northwestern, Rutgers and Michigan. If Michigan State really wants to prove something to the college basketball world, they will go into West Lafayette tonight and get a win. Denzel Valentine vs. Raphael Davis will be fun.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. Pitt will pay a visit to No. 12 Miami in a game the Panthers could really use a win in. Pitt hasn’t been the most consistent team in the country and without adding a few quality wins they could be looking at the bubble.
  2. Duquesne will be paying a visit to No. 19 Dayton, who moved into a tie for first place in the Atlantic 10 thanks to VCU’s loss on Saturday.
  3. Georgia is right there on the bubble, and they will have a chance to try and push themselves into a better spot when they play at No. 22 Kentucky tonight.
  4. Creighton probably has to win out to have a shot of making the NCAA tournament, and that includes tonight, when they host No. 5 Xavier.
  5. No. 7 Virginia will be hosting Virginia Tech, who picked off the Wahoos in Blacksburg earlier this year.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • No. 1 Villanova at DePaul, 8:30 p.m.
  • No. 25 Wichita State at Drake, 8:00 p.m.