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:


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.

Harvard lands a commitment from top 100 point guard

Tommy Amaker
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Harvard once again has one of the top recruiting classes in the entire country, and they added to it on Thursday.

Bryce Aiken, a top 100 guard out of New Jersey, committed to the Crimson on Thursday afternoon. The 6-foot point guard announced the decision on his twitter account.

“Most difficult decision of my life but here it goes: I have decided to commit and spend the upcoming four years of my life at Harvard University,” he wrote.

Aiken, who is ranked 100th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, ultimately picked Harvard over Miami and Seton Hall. He’s the fifth member of Tommy Amaker’s recruiting class, joining Rivals top 150 forwards Chris Lewis and Robert Baker, three star wing Seth Towns and Christian Juzang.

Aiken will likely play behind Siyani Chambers as a freshman, as Chambers left Harvard this season in order to preserve his final year of eligibility. He’ll compete with Tommy McCarthy for the starting point guard spot down the road.

CAA Preview: Hofstra, James Madison head balanced field

Ronald Curry (AP Photo)
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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the CAA.

There may not have been a conference in the country that was more competitive at the top than the CAA a season ago. Four teams shared the regular season title and seven finished within three games of first place.

It doesn’t get more competitive than that, and while a couple of those teams lose some critical pieces, we’re staring down the barrel of another CAA season that won’t be decided until the final game.

On paper, Hofstra looks like the best team, as they clearly have the most talent. Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, the best 1-2 punch in the conference are arguably the best perimeter pairing in mid-major hoops, are both back for their final season. Sharp-shooter Brian Bernardi returns as well, as do a couple of big bodies inside, but the issue for the Pride this season will have nothing to do with how well they can score.

Can they get stops? The Pride were 49th nationally in offensive efficiency last season. They were 249th in defensive efficiency and struggled throughout the year to get critical stops on key possessions.

That leaves James Madison, who won a share of last year’s regular season title. The Dukes have the league’s best pure point guard on their roster in 6-foot-4 Ron Curry. Curry averaged 13.9 points and 4.3 assists as a junior and was the catalyst in a number of important wins. Matt Brady also has the best big man in the conference in 6-foot-9 Yohanny Dalembert. Throw in a pair of snipers on the wings and a handful of quality role players, and JMU has a real shot at winning again.

The key for this group is going to be team chemistry. In 2014-15, their season turned when they dismissed Andre Nation, arguably the most talented player on the roster, in December.

Northeastern, William & Mary and UNC Wilmington all lose critical pieces off of last year’s roster.

Northeastern will be without big man Scott Eatherton, a key piece in their near-upset of Notre Dame in the opening round of last year’s NCAA tournament, but they bring back four key seniors from last year, including Quincy Ford and David Walker. They’ll be in the mix down the stretch despite Eatherton’s graduation, but the same cannot be said for William & Mary.

The Tribe run a Princeton-esque offensive system, and they run it well, which should help them overcome the loss of Marcus Thornton, one of the most dynamic guards in all of college basketball last season. They also return a promising wing in Omar Prewitt, but there are some real concerns. Can Prewitt handle facing an opponent’s best defender on a nightly basis? And without Thornton, do they have someone they can turn to if their offense breaks down?

UNCW loses their two leading scorers and three of their top five players. Kevin Keatts is a terrific coach, but the Seahawks look primed to take a small step back this season. As will Drexel, who lost Damion Lee as a graduate transfer to Louisville.

There are two teams to keep an eye on in the middle of the league: Delaware and Towson. The Blue Hens were dreadfully inexperienced last season and dealing with a coaching staff that was left in contract limbo. They still managed to finish 9-9 in the league, returning the league’s two best freshmen in Kory Holden and Chivarsky Corbett. They’re probably a year away from truly being a contender.

Towson lost leading scorer Four McGlynn, but John Davis and Byron Hawkins both return while Wake Forest transfer Arnaud William Adala Moto will be eligible this year.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule


  • Favorite: “Hofstra is probably the most talented team. But Hofstra was really talented last year, too, and with [Green and Tanksley] they only finished 10-8. Can they defend a little better? That was their Achilles’ heel last year. I also like James Madison. Ronald Curry is the best point guard in the league, and [Yohanney] Dalembert is the best big.”
  • Sleeper: “I really like Delaware. I think they’re a year away, but I hate to play them. If Kory Holden has it going, they’ve got two guys that can score inside and if Chivarsky Corbett progresses on the wing? I like their chances.”
  • Star to watch: “Juan’ya Green. He just plays wit such a pace. Big guard, can score at all three levels, make threes, mid-range, scores at the rim. He’s got a feel for the game. Old man game, it looks like he’s coasting until you see the box score. He’s a terrific player. Far and away biggest difference maker in the league.”


I’m not sure what I can add here that wasn’t mentioned in the Coach’s Take. Green, who transferred into the program from Niagara, averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 assists and 4.3 boards. The knock on him — like the rest of the Pride — is his effort on the defensive end of the floor. But even with those concerns, Green is the best player on the team that can win the league.


  • Ronald Curry, James Madison: Curry has improved every year he’s been in college, averaging 13.9 points, 4.3 assists and 3.8 boards as a junior. As he goes, JMU goes.
  • Ameen Tanksley, Hofstra: The second-part of Hofstra’s dynamic Philly duo. Green is the playmaker for the Pride, Tanksley, a 6-foot-5 wing that averaged 16.5 points last season, is their pure scorer.
  • Terry Tarpey, William & Mary: A 6-foot-5 guard, Tarpey averaged 12.0 points, 8.4 boards and 3.2 assists as a junior. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the league last season. A winner through and through.
  • Yohanny Dalembert, James Madison: A junior from Haiti, the 6-foot-8 Dalembert should be the best big in the conference this season. He averaged 11.6 points and 5.9 boards a season ago.



1. James Madison
2. Hofstra
3. Northeastern
4. Delaware
5. William & Mary
6. Towson
7. UNC Wilmington
8. Drexel
9. Charleston
10. Elon