WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — How mighty is Purdue? The numbers so far are positively staggering.
The 3-0 Boilermakers are outscoring opponents by 33 points a game, out-rebounding them by 21. The gap in second-chance points is 57-11. They have reached 90 points in all three victories and Purdue hadn’t done that in 21 years. They have broken 50 in three consecutive first halves, which hadn’t happened since 1969. They have blocked 15 shots, but have had only one of their own blocked.
Since Matt Painter has elected to serve his star posts one big body at a time, they have an all-Big Ten first-teamer coming off the bench. Trevion Williams is a 6-10 monster for opposing defenses, but going out for the opening tip is 7-4 Zach Edey. Put together, they are 14 feet and 2 inches of trouble, combining for 30.3 points, 19.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 72.7-percent shooting. As Painter said, “You get Zach Edey in there wailing on you for four to five minutes and you want a break, and here comes Trevion Williams, and he’s fresh. We’ve got more than five starters. That’s just the way it is.”
Just when beleaguered opposing coaches worry about doubling down on the twin towers, they notice there’s another 6-10 guy in the lineup in freshman Caleb Furst. Meanwhile, outside, Jaden Ivey was preseason all-Big Ten selection, and Sasha Stefanovic is 11-for-19 from the 3-point line, and Isaiah Thompson has played nearly 66 minutes and still hasn’t made a turnover.
Listen to the victims.
“They’re incredibly deep and very physical,” Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said after losing 96-67.
“All the hype is legit, and they have a chance to be the last team standing,” Indiana State coach Josh Schertz said after losing 92-67.
“I think a lot of teams are going to struggle stopping them,” Wright State coach Scott Nagy said after losing 96-52. Wright State was picked to finish second in the Horizon League this season, but the Raiders were steamrolled Tuesday night. Purdue had more rebounds than Wright State had points. Three Boilermakers produced double-doubles, a first for the program in 44 years.
How mighty is Purdue? We’re about to start finding out.
The coming holiday tournaments and classics will tell us a lot.
We’ll see who is King of the West — and probably the rankings — when No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA go at it in Las Vegas, 7 ½ months after their Final Four epic. We’ll see if Gonzaga is steely enough to then handle Duke three days later.
We’ll see how the Baylor rebuilding is going when the Bears meet Arizona State and then possibly the likes of Michigan State and Auburn in the Bahamas. How Illinois looks with the return of Kofi Cockburn in Kansas City against Cincinnati and maybe Arkansas. Where Alabama is, should the Tide face Kansas in Orlando.
And we’ll see if the Boilermakers are truly the masters of destruction they so far have seemed. They’ll be facing North Carolina Saturday in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off in Uncasville, Conn. Then either Villanova or Tennessee the next day.
“We try to play the same way no matter who we’re playing,” Edey said. ”We’re always going to try to box out defensively, we’re always going to try to crash the glass offensively. It’s not an adjustment. It’s obviously going to be tougher. They’re obviously bigger, stronger, faster. But the game plan doesn’t really change.”
Here’s what we already know about the Boilermakers: They have a very special situation inside. Partly, because of the sheer size and talent of Williams and Edey. Partly, because of the very level head Williams has on his shoulders. He just passed 1,000 career points and is a preseason All-American. Not every college basketball player in the nation with such stature would take well to coming off the bench and sharing minutes.
“It’s a maturity thing,” he said the other day. “If you’re worrying about playing time and you’re worrying about stats, you’re worrying about the wrong thing. If Purdue wins, that’s all that matters.”
Clearly, his body and his game are bigger than his ego. There he was Tuesday night passing the 1,000-point line and not even knowing it. “I just found that out five seconds ago,” he said. “I’m glad to reach that milestone, why not add more to it? But for Purdue though.”
Painter is not unaware of the tricky ground this could be. But conditions mandate it, so he can deliver a brief soliloquy on the subject.
“I don’t think he agrees with it, but he buys into it,” he said of Williams. “I don’t want them to agree with me. I want them to be professional about it, I want them to understand the big picture about it and then go out, knowing it’s not personal. Their job when they came to Purdue wasn’t to start. Their job when they came to Purdue was to help us win.
“I think it’s hard to go through that, especially when you’ve started before. But if they’ve been around me, they know nothing’s final, nothing’s concrete. I’m not going to do it to appease somebody. I’m going to do what I think is best for Purdue. It does say a lot for Trevion how he’s handled it. You can see if they handle it maturely by how they play. They show their maturity when they play well. If you come off the bench and you’re really upset about it, you normally don’t play well. You’ve got to have a clear mind.
“They time share anyway. Look at our stats.”
Yeah, just look at them. These two have put up 44 shots so far, and missed 12. Together, they average a rebound every 1.9 minutes. All the second-chance points they produce is a bonus for Purdue and a burden for the opponent. “We’ve got a scoring chance every single time someone shoots the ball,” Edey said, “and then we’ve got a scoring chance every single time someone misses the ball.”
Painter is big on rebounding drills. “He’s all about the basics, and sometimes people forget about the basics,” Williams said. Makes you wonder what it’s like in practice when these have a go at one another.
Painter: “A lot of fouls. They foul each other, they complain. I ref practices so they say stuff to me.”
Edey: “We just beat each other really. It’s not like we’re taking anything off in practice. We go just as hard in practice as we do in the games. We’re trying to maybe play a little harder in practice because you don’t have refs. We just hit each other. . . it’s how it helps us for the game. We’re used to getting beaten up.”
Williams: “That sounds really bad, the way he said it. That’s how it really is, though. We can’t get better if we don’t push each other. I tell Zach all the time, 'off the court I love you, but when we’re on different teams I’m coming for you.’
“We probably won’t get anywhere if we don’t push each other in practice. There’s a reason for everything.”
So far, the product of all this chemistry and labor has been utter domination of the out-manned. Now comes the hard part.
“If we just stick together,” Williams said, “there’s no ceiling.”
Purdue will find that out, starting Saturday.