The guys at Hammer and Nails were super generous and decided to answer a few questions for us prior to the game against Purdue. Specifically, Travis Miller was our guest and he gave some fantastic insight on what to expect. Toss the guy a follow on Twitter, and check out all the notes below.
But, before we dive into the Q/A - can we take a step back and enjoy that this might be the best Texas Tech hoops team in history? It’s entirely possible we’ve got as many as four NBA players on this squad, and it’s hard to envision the talent level dropping next season. Anyway, I’m off my soap box - let’s dive into the content.
PS: We returned the favor to those guys here.
1. Purdue has won 30 games this season, can shoot lights out, and appears to have great scoring balance. Who stands out most for this team, what do they do best, and how do you see them matching up with Texas Tech?
TM - That’s been the fun thing about Purdue. When things are working well, anyone can beat you. Isaac Haas was pretty much unguardable one-on-one and could go for 25 on any given night if teams didn’t double him. If they did, he had progressed to be able to pass out to any of five other guys who could be deadly from three. I think all five starters have been the leading scorer in a game at some point this season.
That said, I think the player that stands out the most is Carsen Edwards. He has the ability and the swagger to dump 40 on a team, and he showed that at Illinois. Not only did he play with the team at the World University Games over the summer, he represented the U.S. in the U-19 World Cup in Egypt in June. That was a big experience for him. He has evolved as a scorer that can get to the rim, hit the midrange, shoot from 25 feet, or score at the line. He has confidence too. His last few games have not been great from a volume perspective, but his 40 point game at Illinois was the first 40 point game in the Big Ten in 6 years, the first 40-point game by a Purdue player since Glenn Robinson in 1994, and the first 40-point game by a Purdue guard since the legendary Rick Mount. When he is on, he is a joy to watch offensively, and his big highlight was a steal and dunk at Indiana where he did the “I’m not playin’” at the Purdue bench.
The only better thing he could have done is set their damn banners on fire.
2. A quick review of the Purdue season is highlighted by great wins over Arizona, Michigan, etc. When Purdue has struggled...what happened in those loses? And is there a blueprint to beat the Boilermakers?
TM - Purdue has struggled when it is not hitting shots. Against Ohio State we had a big lead, but only scored 10 points in the last 11 minutes. Against Michigan State the offense stalled again and tended to rely too much on Haas. Against Wisconsin everyone was awful. Offensive rebounding has also been a major concern in losses. We lost on a putback and against Tennessee they killed us on the offensive glass.
The thing is, things might be slightly better without Haas, which is odd to say. Things even got better without Caleb Swanigan, and I think it stems from going away from old school pound it low basketball to the more free-flowing slash and kick game. Vince Edwards and Carsen Edwards can both shoot the three and drive. We have great shooters on the perimeter. With Swanigan and Haas both they were so good down low you couldn’t forget them. Now with both out Our offense is even more open. Haas also was not a great rebounder or defender. His size was a huge positive offensively, but Matt Haarms is better defensively.
3. Do you see Isaac Haas playing? If so, how effective can be possibly be with a fractured elbow?
TM - I think it is very unlikely at this point. Coach Painter has said he won’t play unless he demonstrates that he can rebound with both hands above his head and shoot free throws with his right hand. That makes perfect since too. He won’t be effective with his size unless he can score. MAAAAAYYYYBE if he had broken his left elbow instead of his right things would be different, but unless he has the range of motion he need I don’t see it happening, regardless of whatever type of brace he has.
Honestly, the only way I see him playing is if the game is not in doubt either way with about a minute to 30 seconds left and he goes on the floor for a ceremonial “bow out with his fellow seniors.”
4. Tech is super athletic on the wings, and prefers to play above the rim. Can you speak to Matt Haarms as a rim protector? How does he limit a Tech team that wants to live off shots in the paint?
TM - Haarms has been an excellent shot blocker all year and one of the best in the Big Ten. He is much quicker and lighter on his feet than Haas and he averaged nearly two blocks per game in only 17 minutes because Haas was so durable (until recently). His problem has been getting a little overzealous for blocks, resulting in fouls. He has had games of 5or 6 blocks all year, but he’s not quite got the timing down to always avoid foul trouble. That will be a factor tomorrow night.
5. Who is the X-Factor for Purdue on Friday evening?
TM - I am going to go deep with this one and say redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor. He is not going to appear on many scouting reports, and with good reason. He only played 4 total minutes in the last 13 games before the NCAA tournament, and those all came in the 84-60 blowout of Minnesota. If Job were a basketball player, he would be Taylor.
Jacquil lost a year of basketball in high school during the critical summer evaluation before his senior season, and some said that had he been healthy he was a 5-star guy. His freshman year he played in a handful of games before the same injury shit him down and forced a redshirt. The next year he had few minutes because we had Haas, Swanigan, and A.J.Hammons, who were all NBA prospects, but he still had a 12-point, 10-rebound game in a few minutes of a blowout at Rutgers. Last season he missed the entire year with yet another injury, meaning he is now in line for a 6th year medical waiver in 2019-20, even though he should be a senior with our four senior starters. He played well in the World University Games when Haarms could not play since he was not a U.S. citizen, then had a stress fracture that kept him out part of October and November.
The poor guy has not stayed healthy, but will graduate in May and has already said he wants to return rather than be the rare grad transfer with two years of eligibility. He played only 7 minutes against Butler, and it was his first non-mop up action against anyone since December, but we were all surprised with how he was ready to go. He finished with two points and a rebound, but aggressively ran the floor, went hard on the glass, and had several excellent defensive plays including one that forced a shot clock violation.
Given a full week to work with the front line guys I think we can see even more. He has shown flashes in his career when he has been able to play. He is a big that can spread the floor (5 of 14 from three in very limited action), run, rebound, and defend. He’s also practiced against Hammons, Haas, and Swanigan, three guys who have either been in the NBA or will get a long look, for four years.
I know much of the story will be on Vince Edwards and Carsen Edwards and how their versatility can be successful against a great defense. How well will Dakota Mathias shoot. What will Haarms do, etc. Taylor will get playing time, and probably even more if Haarms gets in foul trouble. The guy has waited four years to make a difference through countless injuries and, even better, he is from Cambridge, Massachusetts. I want him to be an X-factor.
6. How do you see this one playing out? i.e. final score prediction
TM - It’s gonna be tight and every Purdue fan knows no lead is save, especially after what Chris Beard’s Little Rock did two years ago. Most of us never saw it coming. We also had a few blown leads during the season and even against Butler we were up 10 before they cut it to two.
I think there are a lot of variable that can tip things either way though. How well will your guards rebound? Can Haarms avoid foul trouble? Can you get to the rim when we’re a pretty good defensive team ourselves? Will we get good Vince Edwards or ghosting Vince Edwards? Can Carsen find his scoring touch again.
I’ll be a homer and pick Purdue in a close one, but it really could go either way.
7. Any final thoughts for the Red Raider fans?
Yeah, I have to say I have always loved your football teams offense. After going through the Darrell Hazell years where the end zone was lava (or, in some cases, and actual bloody sinkhole) we can appreciate fun offenses.