Earlier this season, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo discussed the challenge of stopping Purdue’s offensive approach.
“You can’t play a team like Purdue and say, ‘They’re going to go here on this play,’ because it’s more of a freelance, motion offense that’s been very effective since Gene Keady was there,” Izzo said.
Because there is no predetermined order of movement, the motion offense is difficult for opponents to prepare for and scout. It is of course the offense made famous in large part by IU coaching legend Bob Knight, who delivered three national titles running the system.
Knight of course is no longer at Indiana, and the Hoosiers no longer run a motion offense. Knight did stop by Assembly Hall for a game a year ago when Indiana played Purdue. While there are many variants of motion offense, the system that Purdue was running likely looked much more familiar to him.
Familiar is not the same as predictable, which is what Indiana’s series with Purdue has become. Indiana has lost nine straight to their in-state rival, and by and large those losses have been defined by inept IU offense. In the last seven games, when Archie Miller has been Indiana’s head coach, the Hoosiers have averaged just 58 points per contest against Purdue. In the last six meetings IU has averaged just .859 points per possession. For context, only four teams throughout college basketball are averaging a lower figure this season, and those teams have a combined 10-46 record.
The Boilermakers have seemed to use the same defensive approach each time against IU — pressure the ball full court, pack the paint, and double the post. No matter what Indiana runs, Purdue makes things difficult with those base concepts. And in the mind of at least one Purdue player, the Boilermakers are also successful because Indiana is relatively easy to anticipate.
Like their wins over IU, predictable is what Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic sees when he studies and plays against Indiana’s current ball screen and set play oriented system. Stefanovic was asked after Purdue’s 67-58 win over Indiana on Saturday how he was able to be so active in passing lanes and generate so many deflections.
“I feel like I know all their (Indiana’s) plays,” Stefanovic said. “I feel like I know what they want to do. I’ve studied them a lot, I’ve watched a lot of film on them, I kind of know the play calls that they give out, and I’m just anticipating where the pass is going and that is all it was.”
Indiana is certainly not in the minority when it comes to running both set plays and a ball screen oriented offense. The latter approach has trickled down from the NBA and gone mainstream. It appeals to players who want the ball in their hands — and thus most high school recruits. While it evolves into reads, it is an easier offense to implement because it leans more on the memorization of initial actions rather than the acquired art of interpretive screening, reading and cutting without a lot of dribbling.
Either offensive style can work, but to be highly effective at Indiana’s ball screen sets you need elite point guard play to make good reads and get downhill on the initial screens, and you need good shooters. But by and large those are not things Miller has had during his four seasons in Bloomington.
The result is a Purdue defense that never really gets broken down, and Indiana passes that are anticipated. Even when IU is reading and reacting off of ball screens, Purdue’s packed in approach makes Indiana’s next move fairly predictable.
The last resort is often to get the ball into the hands of perimeter shooters.
And Stefanovic said he has that scouted too.
“I try to look at who can really shoot the ball well from the outside and who can’t, and just play those tendencies,” he said.
And with an assist from the absence of IU’s top 3-point shooter Armaan Franklin, that worked too. Currently cold-shooting Jerome Hunter, Rob Phinisee, Trey Galloway, Race Thompson, Anthony Leal and Khristian Lander took 19 of Indiana’s 23 3-point attempts. Their results, and the outcome of the game, were predictable.
Apparently just like Indiana’s offense.
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