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Replacing Biggie With Boogie: Purdue’s 6-foot dynamo, Carsen Edwards, has turned a team full of seniors into a title contender

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P.J. Thompson knew.

It wasn’t all that hard to figure out, really.

This C-Boogie kid?

He was going to be good. He shot it well. He was tough, athletic, “had a fire to him,” as Thompson put it. He saw that on his recruiting visit. He saw that in captain’s practices. He saw it in the way that this 6-foot kid from Texas worked, the way that he carried himself. Humble but confident. Unfazed by the hype machine, concerned with improving himself more than celebrating his successes.

He fit in the culture that Thompson and his teammates had built at Purdue. Thompson and the rest of this senior class committed to a program in the midst of their second straight losing season. They’ve been to three NCAA tournaments and look to be the favorite to win their second straight Big Ten regular season title as seniors.

Carsen Edwards?

The kid known as C-Boogie?

He fit.

But Thompson knew there was more there. He figured it out during one of Purdue’s first practices in Edwards’ freshman season, when, in a 4-on-4-on-4 drill, the right-handed Edwards drove the lane and threw down a left-handed dunk on Purdue’s 7-foot-3, 290 pound center, Isaac Haas.

“It was nasty,” Thompson said. “You can see on the camera, everyone going crazy. It was a pretty cool dunk. Well, Isaac probably didn’t think it was cool.”

“That’s when we knew.”


Carsen Edwards (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Purdue’s ascension into college basketball royalty this season was not something that many people predicted.

A season after winning the Big Ten regular season title and advancing to the Sweet 16, the Boilermakers were faced with the arduous task of trying to replace one of college basketball’s best players: Caleb Swanigan. A first-team all-american and the only player that really challenged Frank Mason for National Player of the Year, Biggie’s departure left Purdue devoid of 18.5 points, 12.5 boards, 3.1 assists and a low-post hoss that shot 44.7 percent from beyond the arc.

“Anytime you have a player of Caleb Swanigan’s ability, everybody made a big deal in terms of where you ranked us and where you put us because we lost him,” head coach Matt Painter told NBC Sports. “But man. We had so much back.”

And he’s right.

Purdue returned four seniors that started at least 15 games last season, including Vincent Edwards, who was a third-team all-Big Ten performer as a junior. They also returned Carsen — the two are not related — who started 21 games. One of the problems that Purdue ran into last season was that they more or less had six players deserving of a starting spot.

Without Biggie, that issue goes away.

And, frankly, it allows those five remaining starters to play roles that they are better-suited for. Thompson, Carsen and Dakota Mathias can all play on the perimeter together while Vincent can slide into the small-ball four role that he is so well-suited to. Haas, who is impossible to stop one-on-one when he gets position on the block, and fellow 7-footer Matt Haarms can rotate through at the five, giving Purdue a dream scenario: four guys that shoot the cover off the ball around a center that has to be double-teamed.

“The thing that stuck out to me last season was that I didn’t like our team when we were really big,” Painter said. “When it was Isaac, Vince and Biggie all in the game. I thought we had to play two of those three guys,” even if it meant that he couldn’t get his five best players on the floor.

This year, that is not an issue.

And Carsen, who is averaging 17.0 points, 4.2 boards and 3.1 assists, may be the biggest reason why.

Given his size, Carsen is going to have to be a point guard if and when he gets to the NBA, but that hasn’t always been the way that he’s played. He’s an attack-minded guy, not necessarily someone with a score-first mentality but certainly a kid whose biggest strength has always been finding a way to put the ball into the basket. When he is able to share the court with Thompson and Mathias, he is freed up to play that way. Thompson is the quintessential ‘pure point guard,’ a guy who facilitates offense, who knocks down open threes (51.2 percent on the season), who doesn’t turn the ball over, who is a pest defensively.

Mathias plays that way as well. He leads the team in assists this season while essentially playing the three, shooting 45.8 percent from three as one of, if not the best perimeter defender in the Big Ten. And to hear Painter tell, what Mathias does better than anything else is recognizing what the right play is. They can run actions for him because they know a shot is only going to go up if it is a good shot; he’s more than willing, and capable, as a playmaker.

That frees up Carsen to … well, to be himself.

“I think my teammates trust me,” he said. “They trust my ability.”

It creates an unusual dynamic within the locker room.

The hierarchy of many, if not most, college teams is simple: Seniority prevails. If you’ve spent two or three or four years paying your dues, by the time you get to be a senior, it is your turn to be the star. You get to take the shots. You get to be the leading scorer. You get to be the guy that is on the cover of gameday programs. With this Purdue team, the four senior starters have not only ceded the starring role to Carsen a year after they did the same for Swanigan, they’ve embraced the youngster and what he is capable of.

“We know how special of a player C-Boogie is,” Thompson said. “Our senior class, we have no egos. We want to be stars in our roles. It’s only a handful of stars in the world, but you can be a star in your role, perfect it and do it to the best of your ability. We have a lot of guys on our team that do that.”

Painter took it a step further.

“They like it, he said.” He has some things that we need. You try to piece your team together, and he’s the final piece. You [look at our] four seniors, what do we lack? If we were playing four-on-four with those four seniors, what do we lack? All of Carsen’s attributes would be the answer. He’s fast, he’s explosive, he can score, he can put pressure on the ball and use his quickness.”

“We’re driven by so many people that think they gotta do individual things to make themselves shine. We live in that basketball landscape. In reality, you’ve gotta win. There’s way more individual attention getting shelled out to people that win than people that don’t. I don’t care what you score, how you do it. There’s a leading scorer on every team. They’re fighting to be the leading scorer, we’re fighting to win.”


Via Purdue Basketball

The NCAA has a rule that allows college basketball programs to take one overseas trip every four years, and for the most part, these trips have less to do with the actual basketball than they do with taking a vacation.

The competition is rarely competitive, and the best part about the trip from a coach’s perspective is the chance to get those 10 extra practices in and manufacturing the team-bonding experiences the players get while spending time in a place where they speak a different language and the cost of international data is enough that, hopefully, the kids spend more time communicating than they do scrolling.

Purdue went on one of those trips in the summer of 2016.

They also took a trip this past season, but it was very different than a typical foreign tour. The Boilermakers were Team USA’s representative in the World University Games in Taipei. Not counting the two exhibitions that they played against Canada prior to leaving for Taiwan, Purdue spent two weeks abroad, playing a total of nine games in just 12 days.

“A lot of times you go on those trips it’s more educational than it is about basketball,” Painter said. “It was a basketball trip.”

And the competition was really good as well. Notre Dame’s Martinas Geben played for Lithuania. Florida’s Egor Koulechov and Gorjok Gak played for Israel and Australia, respectively. These were 22 and 23 year olds playing playing in a national team structure that they’ve played in for a long time. Purdue came home with a silver medal and it wasn’t all that big of a deal that they didn’t win gold.

Put another way, the Boilermakers got an 11 game head start on trying to figure out how they were going to move on without Swanigan.

The other part of it, however, was that there were no excursions. They weren’t visiting museums or going on group hikes or experiencing everything that the city of Taipei has to offer. It was a basketball trip, the by-product being a lot of downtime living in what amounted to an Olympic Village with mobs of athletes that didn’t speak English and no TV or Netflix to binge on.

So what did Purdue do?

Well, they played a lot of cards.

“I didn’t know how to play euchre,” Thompson said, “but now I’m a stud and they can’t beat me. Texas Hold’em. Tonk. All that.”

Those are the moments where the real team-bonding happen. Those are the moments where friendships are started, where freshmen become teammates and teammates become brothers.

“Oh yeah,” Carsen said, chuckling when asked if the trip helped him get to know his teammates better. “We stayed in a village apartment, and there was six of us in a room. And wherever you go you’re with your teammates. You have no choice. Looking back on it now, I have a lot of memories from it, just small memories with my teammates.”

What the younger guys learned about the seniors on this team was simple: They came to Purdue to turn the program around. That had already happened, but their story wasn’t complete yet.

“We’ve done what we wanted to do here at Purdue,” Thompson said, “and now we have to finish it.”


USA Basketball

The trip to Taipei wasn’t the only international trip that C-Boogie took this summer.

Young for his age, Carsen was invited to tryouts for USA Basketball’s U-19 team. He made it. He played for John Calipari and alongside the likes of Cameron Reddish and Brandon McCoy and Hamidou Diallo. He led the team in minutes and assists, finishing fifth in scoring at 10.4 points despite coming off the bench in all but one of the team’s games.

“Carsen Edwards was the one guy that went in and changed the game because of his intensity,” Calipari said of his lone Boilermaker, “and he was dragging people with him.”

That aggressiveness has never been an issue for Carsen. It’s ingrained in him. What he needed to learn was to pick his spots, to develop the kind of decision-making that would allow him to be the go-to guy for a team with Final Four aspirations. As a freshman, Boogie took more shots-per-minute than Biggie, Purdue’s All-American first round pick, and he did it while being the least-efficient player on the Purdue roster and while committing two more turnovers than assists on the season.

That wasn’t going to work this year.

He understands, Painter says, that he can be the star for this team without needing to force shots anymore.

Purdue is unselfish. They make the right pass. They make the right play. Carsen knows that if he gives the ball up, he’s either going to get it back with a cleaner look at the rim or one of his teammates will end up with a better shot. This group understands the roles they are being asked to play, and they understand the roles their teammates are being asked to play.

Carsen’s role?

Go-to guy.

He’s not intimidated by it, by the responsibility of shouldering the load offensively for a team ranked No. 3 in the nation. He’s not intimidated by much, it seems. Not by trying out for Team USA. Not by leading his college team into an international competition. Not by trying to dunk over a 7-foot-3 center that is built like combination of Mr. Incredible and The Mountain.

It seems that the only thing he’s scared of is … riding a camel?

“I’ve ridden horses and it’s not the same at all,” he said. “You’re so much higher off the ground and when it walks you’re moving. It’s a really scary experience.”

Luckily for Purdue, that seems to be the last time that anything has intimidated C-Boogie.

Via Carsen Edwards

Tumble continues for Oklahoma as No. 8 Kansas cruises to win

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Oklahoma desperately needed a win. Not even necessarily in the classic sense of the term of outscoring your opponent. The Sooners just needed something, anything, positive to build on in a season that’s suddenly crumbling around them.

Unfortunately for Lon Kruger and his team, Allen Fieldhouse is not the place to go when you’re in need of a pick-me-up. It’s a place more suited for realizing your worst nightmares.

Eighth-ranked Kansas eviscerated the Sooners in a 104-74 beatdown that not only exposed Oklahoma’s problems but exacerbated them to the point where the NCAA tournament no longer looks to be assured.

Oh, and it set up a potential Big 12 title game in Lubbock later this week with a 13-year streak on the line, but more on that later.

The headline here is that Oklahoma and the man who set college basketball ablaze, Trae Young, look broken. And maybe beyond repair.

Oklahoma has now lost six in a row, tumbling from burgeoning Final Four contender to potential First Four hopeful. Things are spinning out of control fast.

The person who will draw the bulk of the blame, fair or not, is Young. The freshman from Norman North looked like the college basketball’s answer to Steph Curry while carrying his hometown university to a 12-1 start to the year, leading the country in scoring, assists and jaw-dropping plays and performances. The substance of his game matched the style, which was no small feat for a guy who routinely would splash shots from 35 feet out.

He’s been a bit of a disaster during this six-game slide, however. Young is just 11 of 56 (19.6 percent) from 3-point range and 27 of 57 (47.3 percent) from inside the arc during the losing streak. He’s also turned it over 25 times. He’s still distributing at a high-rate, but that’s not enough to offset his shooting numbers. His teammates don’t score it well enough to pick up the slack. They also can’t create for Young. He’s got to do all of it himself – get looks and dole them out.

Young and Oklahoma’s issue runs deeper than just the makes and misses of their offense, though. The Sooners’ defense has become a massive liability. Kansas took a sledgehammer to it and blasted it to smithereens in front of 16,300 witnesses in Allen Fieldhouse and millions more in their living rooms.

The Jayhawks shot 60.9 percent for the game. They made 16 of 29 of their 3-point attempts. That’s 55.2 percent from deep. Nineteen of their buckets came from layups or dunks and averaged 1.444 points per possession.

It was as if the Sooners weren’t there at all, which actually might have been of some consolation to Kruger because that would at least mean no one could see their baffling lack of effort, cohesiveness and pride on the defensive end. It was really a sight to behold for the rest of us, though.

Young is as big of culprit here as anyone. Yes, he carries an incredible offensive burden with a 39.6 usage rate. No one is expecting him to be Jevon Carter, but he has to offer some resistance some of the time. Against the Jayhawks, he died on screens again and again or simply didn’t even put up a fight too often when guarding the ball.

He’s not alone, however, as the Sooners looked disconnected as a unit. They were simply incapable of even slowing Kansas. The Jayhawks got hot, sure, but Oklahoma can’t write this off as just catching a team on a night they couldn’t miss. The Sooners had as much to do with it as anything.

That’s the area that’s got to get fixed. Young may not be able to put up the absurd numbers he did for long stretches earlier this season, but his talent is so immense that it would be foolish to expect this slump to stay this bad for too much longer. Without a superhuman Young, however, they’ve got to get some stops. Without them, Young may join the ignominious list of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz as pheoms who failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Now, back to that Big 12 title game in West Texas.

Assuming Texas Tech can get in and out of Stillwater with a win over Oklahoma State – potentially without Keenan Evans – the Red Raiders and Jayhawks will be tied atop the Big 12 with matching 11-4 league records with Kansas making the trip to Lubbock.

The Jayhawks, you may have heard, have won 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships. It very well could be decided Saturday if there will be a 14th.

After a two-game hiccup of losses at Texas and Iowa State, Chris Beard’s team won seven-straight before falling to a resurgent Baylor on Saturday. They’re undefeated at home and possess one of the country’s best defenses. They’ve been the biggest threat to Kansas’ streak since they knocked off the Jayhawks in Lawrence in January.

The Jayhawks will go into the game with their best offensive performance of the season. Devonte Graham finally looked like he may be the Big 12’s best player – he certainly bested Young – and Svi Mykhailiuk, LeGerald VIck and Malik Newman looked like the more-than-capable secondary options this Jayhawks team desperately needs. Silvio De Sousa even looked serviceable for the first time, putting up 10 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. Which is also to say nothing of Udoka Azubuike being one of the Big 12’s toughest matchups.

Kansas is a flawed team, but once again the Jayhawks have put themselves in enviable position and appear to be rounding into tip-top form toward the end of February. It’s their conference, and they’ll have the chance this weekend to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is just trying to stay out of playing Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners sure could use a win. Of any kind.

Bubble Banter: Oklahoma in danger of missing tournament?

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

MIAMI (RPI: 33, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 8): Miami added a fourth Quadrant 1 win on Monday night by going into South Bend and picking off Notre Dame. The Hurricanes are in the conversation as a bubble team for a two reasons — they have a Quadrant 3 loss to Georgia Tech, and they had lost three in a row entering Monday night. What’s interesting with Miami’s profile is that they don’t really have any elite wins. They beat Middle Tennessee State on a neutral. They won at Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Notre Dame. That’s it. Those are their four Quadrant 1 wins. Their profile is probably strong enough to get them in, but I do think there is a world where they get a lower seed than you might be expecting.

MARYLAND (RPI: 54, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: Out): The Terps, who won at Northwestern tonight, seem to be in the mix on most of the places that I go to read about the bubble, and frankly, I just don’t get it. They do not have a Quadrant 1 win. They are 0-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents. In a year where the NCAA Selection Committee showed us just how much they value quality wins already, I’m not sure that they can build a profile that is strong enough to get a bid unless they beat Michigan on Saturday and win a couple of games against the top of the Big Ten in the Big Ten tournament. They’re at least three wins away in my mind. Like I said, I just don’t see it, but I figured it was worth mentioning here on a slow night.

LOSERS

OKLAHOMA (RPI: 36, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: 8): Just eight days ago, when the NCAA tournament Selection Committee convened to release an early look at the top 16 seeds for the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed. They were one of the top 16 teams, according to the committee, in an event that will need 36 at-large members to complete it. Going from there to the bubble is a long, long fall, and to be frank, I am not sure that the Sooners are on the bubble yet. Hell, they’re still 16-11 overall even after that embarrassing loss at Kansas. They’re still 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents without a hint of a bad loss to their name. They’ve still beaten USC in LA. They still won at Wichita. They beat Texas Tech. They beat TCU. Hell, they beat Kansas.

For comparison’s sake, our current last team in is Syracuse. They are 18-9 overall and 3-5 against Quadrant 1 with losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.

But we can no longer ignore the fact that this team has hit rock bottom. Tonight was their sixth-straight loss. They have lost seven of eight and nine of 11. They’ve lost eight straight on the road. If the tournament was tomorrow, they would be in the field with some room to spare, but the problem is that there is absolutely no reason for us to assume that they are simply going to be able to get the job done against the teams left on their schedule. It is, admittedly, relatively easy by Big 12 standards — Kansas State, at Baylor, Iowa State — but Big 12 standards are absolutely preposterous.

No one would be surprised if Oklahoma lost two of their last three games — hell, I would be fairly shocked if they found a way to win at Baylor at this point — and if they do happen to lose two of their last three, they’ll enter the Big 12 tournament with a 17-14 record and a 7-11 mark in the league while having to play on the first day of the Big 12 tournament in either the 7-10 or 8-9 game.

If that were to be the case, they would probably have to win two Big 12 games to get to the Big Dance.

Put another way, Oklahoma went from being a No. 4 seed in the first bracket projection to needing to win three games in the next three weeks to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday.

It’s crazy how far and fast they’ve fallen.

NOTRE DAME (RPI: 68, KenPom: 33, NBC seed: Next four out): The Fighting Irish are in an interesting spot. Their profile is not exactly worthy of an at-large bid. But they’ve also been decimated by injury. Bonzie Colson is still out with a foot injury. So is D.J. Harvey. Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger have both missed tie with injuries. If Colson can get healthy before the season ends and the Irish can win a couple games at or near full strength, they will have an interesting case to make. I do, however, think that would require winning two of their last three games. One of those three games is at Virginia, so they have their work cut out for them.

Calipari defends Diallo, gives insight into own philosophy

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John Calipari was asked a question about struggling freshman Hamidou Diallo. He ended up giving an answer about his general coaching philosophy.

“Making them be responsible for who they are. In his case, I’m with Hami. He’s trying. He’s working,” Calipari said. “If he’s willing to do that and put in extra work, I’m for him. If you’re playing awful, I may not play you as much, but I’m going to play you and if you’re doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you.

“It would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly to say you’re out and i’m going with these seven I’m just not going to do that.”

Calipari likened the approach to what a well-intentioned parent might say to him about their son who is struggling.

“I would say (a parent) would say, ‘Coach, he’s responsible for himself, but please keep coaching him and let him know you love him and keep being there for him but hold him accountable,’” Calipari said. “‘If he’s not going to listen to you you should not play him. That’s what I think a parent that’s not trying to enable their son (should say).”

On the other hand, Calipari discussed what the opposite of that situation would look like.

“If they’re listening to an enabler, whoever that enabler is, I can’t help you,” he said. “I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first and I’m trying to stay that course but they are responsible for themselves.

“If they can’t perform, I’m going to play you but when they’re not performing, you can’t be in there.”

Calipari can oftentimes be full of bluster – it’s an essential part of his Always Be Selling philosophy that’s won the hearts of countless five-star recruits and a national championship. But this looks to be an honest look into the way he views his job and role with his players. Give ultra-talented guys opportunity, but keep them accountable. It’s a simple thought, but one that few execute as well and as consistently as he does.

Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans ‘day-to-day’ with toe injury

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It would appear that sixth-ranked Texas Tech may have avoided its worst-case scenario with star guard Keenan Evans.

The senior is considered day-to-day with a toe injury suffered Saturday in a loss at Baylor, and could play as soon as Wednesday against Oklahoma State, Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said Monday.

“It’s going to come down to just pain tolerance and can he move,” Beard said, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “We all know Keenan is a warrior. He’s going to do everything he possibly can to play. … At the end of the day, just kind of how he reacts to his body.”

Evans is averaging 18.2 points per game for the Red Raiders, and his health is paramount for their attempt to unseat Kansas atop the Big 12. Texas Tech and the Jayhawks are locked in a first-place tie with matching 10-4 league records with four games to play. After the Red Raiders’ trip to Stillwater on Wednesday, they host Kansas on Saturday in a game that very well could decide the fate of the Jayhawks’ 13-year run of conference championships.

While the Big 12 race is certainly front of mind, the fact that Evans is potentially going to be able to play this week is a great sign for Texas Tech. Even if Evans does need to miss a game or two to get his toe fully healthy, the timeline and conditions Beard laid out Monday suggest that he’ll be good to go before the NCAA tournament for a Red Raiders team that certainly is a contender to finish its season in its home state – at the Final Four in San Antonio.

NCAA tourney chair addresses non-conference strength of schedule and quadrant system

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The way the NCAA tournament selection committee picks teams for inclusion into the sport’s crowning event is always under intense scrutiny. It’s a national past time, really.

One of the easiest targets is the RPI, an obviously flawed metric. It was the topic of discussion recently in the Omaha World-Herald, most notably the non-conference strength of schedule component.

That post spurred a lengthy response from Creighton athletic director and selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, who defended the committee’s work with a metric that it acknowledges to be imperfect.

Here’s Rasmussen:

“Non-conference SOS is not a predominant tool in selections.

In fact, each year that I have been on the committee, we have discussed why you have to look beyond the number to evaluate a team’s non-conference strength of schedule, and even with this qualifier, non-conference schedule ranks well behind other factors such as how you did against other tournament caliber teams, did you win the games you were supposed to win, and how did you do away from home since winning away from home is difficult and the tournament games are all games away from home.

“I have argued each year that I have been on the committee that non-conference SOS should be taken off the team sheet, but until we develop a new metric it is staying. However, understand that the committee understands its fallacies (as we also recognize other weaknesses in the current RPI formula) and it is not a prominent factor in decisions.”

Rasmussen also examined the quadrant system being used:

“Many think that the first and second quadrants are silos and that every win in the first quadrant or every win in the second quadrant is treated equally.  I think it is important that while we refer to first and second quadrant wins, we also better communicate that this is only a sorting mechanism and each game in these quadrants is looked at differently. They don’t have the same value.”

So while it’s fair to question NCAA selection committee’s decisions and the way in which they make them, it’s clear there is an extensive amount of well-intentioned thought put into the process.