Sweet 16 Previews: Can NC State do to T-Rob what Purdue did?

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On Sunday night, Purdue very nearly pulled off an incredible upset of No. 2 seed Kansas, eventually succumbing to the Jayhawks as Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson turned three turnovers into fast break baskets in the final 70 seconds.

Up until that point, however, Kansas had only held one lead in the entire game, when Johnson hit a three at the 3:04 mark to put Kansas up 57-56, and trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half.

Much of that credit falls onto the shoulders of Robbie Hummel, who wowed the nation with one final display of his shooting ability, scoring 22 of his 26 points in the first half and sparking the surge that gave the Boilermakers their lead. Hummel wasn’t completely alone, either, as DJ Byrd hit a pair of first half threes and Ryne Smith, Terone Johnson and Byrd made big shots in the second half to help Purdue sustain the lead for so long.

As good as Hummel was leading his team offensively, it was the defense that he played on Thomas Robinson that was more impressive.

A contender for National Player of the Year, Robinson was held to his worst performance of the season on Sunday, finishing with 11 points on 2-for-12 shooting from the field. Hummel spent much of the game matched up with T-Rob. How did a jump-shooting power forward with one good leg mange to keep the nation’s biggest bully on the block in check for 40 minutes?

Easy.

He brought his friends with him.

Purdue spent the majority of the game bracketing T-Rob with (at least) two defenders. Here’s an example of a typical possession. With the ball in Tyshawn Taylor’s hands on the far side of the court, you’ll see Sandi Marcius bodying up Robinson despite being on the opposite block. Hummel is sloughed off of Travis Releford on the same side of the floor as Robinson:

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After the ball is swung around the perimeter, you’ll see Terone Johnson in the lane as Robinson is attempting to post up. Hummel is playing a good five feet off of Releford, who has the the ball, to prevent an entry pass:

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When Robinson finally does get the ball in the post, he is not only double-teamed by Marcius and Hummel, but all five members of the Purdue defense are in the paint:

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Here are a couple more examples of just how much attention Robinson received from Purdue. Here, Robinson is bracketed on the far block while Teahan is left wide-open in the corner with no defender even concerned about Johnson on the near side of the floor:

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Naadir Tharpe has the ball on the far side of the floor, and Anthony Johnson is daring Tharpe to shoot while basically doubling Robinson to prevent a post touch. Also not where Hummel is in help-side:

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Robinson has three people circling him before he even gets a touch. Hummel is completely disregarding Kevin Young:

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Robinson actually has the ball on the far block. Yes, that’s a triple-team:

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Who needs to send a triple-team when you can just double-team Robinson before he even gets a touch:

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The Jayhawk’s strategy was simple: make someone else beat us. And it almost worked. Tyshawn Taylor was 4-for-11 from the floor, with two of those field goals being breakaway dunks in the final minute. Releford had 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting, but the majority of his damage was done early in the first half. Connor Teahan was 2-for-8 from the field. Withey and Young combined to go 1-for-7 from the floor.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Elijah Johnson, who had 18 points and scored 13 in the final 13 minutes, Purdue would be preparing for NC State right now, not the Jayhawks.

I hope Mark Gottfried was taking notes, because that is precisely what the Wolfpack are going to need to do on Friday night.

The good news for NC State is that their front line is going to be bigger than Purdue’s. Richard Howell and CJ Leslie have more size, more strength and more athleticism that Marcius and Hummel. The bad news? They still aren’t going to matchup that well with Robinson and Withey.

Out of curiosity, I went back and watched the tape of NC State against UNC (with and without Henson), Virginia and Florida State. The Wolfpack didn’t double the post against the Cavs or the Noles, opting to allow their big men to try and defend one-on-one against Mike Scott and Bernard James.

But against UNC, the Wolfpack sent a double-team every time Tyler Zeller or John Henson got the ball on the block with their back to the basket (they didn’t double-team James Michael-McAdoo). The example I’m showing you is of Kendall Marshall making the post-entry … :

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but regardless of who threw the pass into the post, the double-team was coming off of Marshall (or Stilman White or Justin Watts, depending on who was in the game):

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The strategy didn’t exactly work, as NC State went 0-3 against the Tar Heels. In the first game, Zeller had 21 points and 17 boards. In the second game, Zeller and Henson were held in check, but Marshall destroyed NC State to the tune of 22 points, 13 assists and no turnovers. And in the ACC tournament, despite Henson not being available, Zeller still finished with 23 points and nine boards.

Not exactly a great omen for the Wolfpack.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.