HOW TENNESSEE BEATS IT
Work the offense through the post; it’ll open up the rest of the court
Lol guess what it’s the same thing they’ve done all season. This is game 37, sorry if you expected something different. When you need a basket, you give the ball to Grant Williams in the post. He can score:
Or he can pass to an open shooter:
Or, hey, he can pass to another big guy:
The same thing they have done for 36 games. If you’re 31-5, a 2 seed, and you have seven wins against Q1-A competition, you do the things that work.
Get out in transition early and often
My indication is that Purdue would prefer for this game to be slower. Purdue’s average possession length on defense is 18.6 seconds, which ranks 338th of 353 teams. Slowing opponents down is a key reason for their defensive resurgence as of late, and it’s how they got through the Edwards slump. After a 70-56 loss to Maryland on February 12, they’ve given up 70+ points as many times as they’ve allowed 51 or fewer: three each. Pretty good! Notably, four of Purdue’s nine losses have come in games that featured 69+ possessions. If you think the Big Ten is another world, you’re not wrong: Tennessee’s pedestrian 17.1 second possessions on average makes for Purdue’s seventh-fastest opponent this year. They’re 5-1 against the top six, but half of those were non-conference buy games. Anyway, Tennessee is hyper-efficient when they go to the rim in transition:
And they seem to get pretty good looks from three:
I know Iowa’s defense isn’t good, but even I was surprised at how well Tennessee exploited it in transition in the first half of Sunday’s game. They could do similar stuff to Purdue’s defense, which would be ideal.
Make their post men defend out to 22 feet. We covered this above, but here’s Tennessee doing this exact thing:
Stop/slow down/mildly inconvenience Carsen Edwards
Obviously, this is a requirement for a win. In Purdue’s 25 wins, Edwards has shot 37.5% from three; in their nine losses, 27.3%. Forcing Edwards into bad shots would be excellent, though Edwards makes bad shots, too. However, any guarded shot in this game is a win; if it goes in, it goes in. At some point, you’ve done all you can do as a defender. Forcing Edwards into shots like this:
Are all ideal. Making Edwards take tough shots and limiting the amount of easy looks he gets is the best possible path to a victory. If Purdue wins because Ryan Cline got 24 points or Edwards got 37 points but took 35 shots to get there, it simply is what it is.
Defend the off-ball screens, switch well on P&R
This is the key to stuffing Purdue’s offense. Again, in wins, Purdue’s shooting 38.9% from three; in losses, 31.5%. That’s 5-6 points less per game, which could be the entire difference in what’s certain to be a fight to the end. Tennessee must be able to get around Purdue’s tough screens like they did against Iowa:
They also can’t slack off on spot-up looks; this one against Iowa was pretty egregious on a day where they mostly defended the perimeter well:
And in cases when it’s Edwards taking the ball to the rim off of a pick-and-roll, Tennessee needs to be prepared to cleanly snuff it out:
All of this is a tough ask, but this is a Tennessee defense that held Kentucky to 52 points. There’s an elite defense lurking in there somewhere.
Stop the roll/slip man
These fancy little rolls and slips that Haarms does are tough to stop, simply because Purdue’s got smart passers on the team. However, it doesn’t mean Tennessee can’t force him into a look he doesn’t like or just block the shot altogether:
Quality post defense needed; can’t use up your fouls early
Haarms is lethal in the post when he decides to shoot it, so Tennessee has to be wise; it’s either defend him legally or send him to shoot free throws at a 72% hit rate. I’d rather commit the foul, but you can also force him away from the rim into a non-rim two he doesn’t like. Basically, don’t do this: