clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bama Basketball Breakdown: #4 Purdue

Alabama is north of the border for a showdown that will begin a brutal three-game gauntlet

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

We are now over a week into the final month of the calendar year, so you know what that means - Nate Oats is about to send his squad into the fire to see what they’ve got. If you are just now joining us, the Alabama Crimson Tide (6-2; NET: 14; Kenpom: 13; T-Rank: 10) have had a bit of a bumpy start to the 2023-24 season - almost entirely due to the defensive side of the court, where Alabama currently ranks 70th in Defensive Efficiency. However, the Tide’s second-ranked offense continues to keep the fellas afloat, scoring 89 points or more in every game except one thus far this season. Still, things are about to get ratcheted up quite a bit.

Today, the Crimson Tide are in Toronto, Canada for a match-up with the #4 Purdue Boilermakers (8-1, 1-1 Big Ten; NET: 4; Kenpom: 2; T-Rank: 1) and defending Naismith Award winner, Zach Edey - who will be playing in front of his hometown crowd. This match-up with arguably the most dominant player in college basketball is just the start of an excruciating three-game stretch away from home where Alabama will play a trio of top-ten teams, with true road games at #10 Crieghton and #1 Arizona on deck next. Oats has made this a staple of Alabama’s non-conference schedule, with a large degree of success the prior two years:

Still, this is going to be a tough task for the Tide. Matt Painter has had his issues in the NCAA Tournament, but he’s made Purdue one of the most successful regular season programs of the last 15 years. Last year’s team was the perfect example of this, as Purdue went 29-5 and swept both Big Ten titles before becoming just the second #1-seed to ever lose to a #16-seed when they were stunned by Fairleigh Dickinson - who had needed a play-in game win in Dayton just to set-up the match-up with the Boilermakers.

The thing is, Purdue was a really young team last season. Nearly everyone of note is back for Painter, and they haven’t wasted any time showing exactly why they earned that #1-seed a year ago. They were upset just last week at Northwestern, but Purdue has already beaten #7 Gonzaga, #8 Marquette, and #17 Tennessee this season. Edey is well on his way to defending his Naismith trophy, and this team could easily be the one to finally get past the Sweet Sixteen ceiling that Painter has had in West Lafayette (sidenote - we feel you, brother).

This is a massive opportunity for the Tide. And as referenced above, Oats hasn’t wasted very many of these in the past. Can Alabama right the ship and get a huge win away from home in Charles Bediako’s home province? And yes, that’s why this game was scheduled.

The Roster

Starting Five

Braden Smith (#3, SO, G, 6-0): 11.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 7.1 APG

Lance Jones (#55, SR, G, 6-1): 11.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.1 APG

Fletcher Loyer (#2, SO, G, 6-4): 10.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.3 APG

Trey Kaufman-Renn (#4, SO, F, 6-9): 6.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.1 APG

Zach Edey (#15, SR, C, 7-4): 23.7 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.1 APG

Off the Bench

Myles Colvin (#5, FR, G, 6-5): 4.9 PPG, 0.4 RPG, 0.3 APG

Ethan Morton (#25, SR, G, 6-6): 1.0 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 2.0 APG

Mason Gillis (#0, SR, F, 6-6): 5.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.1 APG

Camden Heide (#23, FR, F, 6-7): 3.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 0.6 APG

Caleb Furst (#1, JR, F, 6-10): 3.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.6 APG

I’ve already mentioned Edey multiple times, so I guess I’ll start there. This guy is a beast. Matt Painter has always seemingly had a dominant big man, but Edey is the best of them. His Offensive and Defensive Rating split might be the most ridiculous one I’ve ever seen (141.6 ORtg; 89.6 DRtg), he rebounds over one of every five shots that’s attempted (21.9% REB%), and that’s only if he hasn’t already blocked it (10.5% BLK). Alabama has had serious issues on the defensive interior, so this should be loads of fun.

What really makes Purdue so tough to stop though is that their trio of guards can really make you pay if you over-commit to Edey on the inside. Smith (42.3% 3P%), Jones (36.2%), and Loyer (38.5%) are absolutely lethal from the perimeter. And the bench can make it rain from downtown as well. Smith was one of the best freshmen in the country last season, and he continues to run the Boilermaker offense like a pro with an insane 40.2% AST%. The team as a whole as really bought in defensively as well, ranking 8th in the country in Defensive Efficiency, to go along with their 4th-ranked offense.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Neutralize Edey’s Impact. You can’t beat Purdue unless you have some sort of gameplan for the big man. As of this writing Grant Nelson is questionable to play today, which would be a massive loss in more ways than one. Not only is he arguably the Tide’s best player, but he provides Oats with a unique angle in his ability to play out as the five. If I’m Oats, I’m making Edey guard Nelson and putting him in conflict - either exit the lane or give up the uncontested three. Defensively, doubling Edey hasn’t worked out extremely well for Purdue’s opponents over the past year because of how good their shooters are (16th in the country at 39.7% 3P%), but you certainly can’t just let Edey get one-on-one matchups in the paint. Traps and positioning will be huge in this game, and defensive communication will be key.
  2. Turn Up the Tempo. As is the case with most Big Ten teams, Purdue doesn’t play with a whole lot of pace. When you are as efficient in the halfcourt as the Boilermakers are, that makes a lot of sense. Alabama will need to make Purdue uncomfortable and make this a full court game. For as skilled as their guards are, they do lack a certain level of athleticism that Alabama can take advantage of. And of course, it’s hard to get Edey one-on-one in the paint if the ball doesn’t make it down the court consistently. Oats hasn’t been known to run many presses or traps, but I wouldn’t be stunned to see some different looks today.
  3. Win the Three-Point Battle. If you go back and look at Purdue’s losses over the past two seasons, there is one thing that definitely stands out - poor shooting nights. While the Boilermakers are quite good from beyond the arc normally, everyone has an off night or two. Alabama needs to help make that a reality today with at least a decent effort on defense, but more importantly, the Tide needs to be making those shots on the other end. The Tide is 10th in the country itself from long range at 40.9%. If Alabama can get hot from downtown, they can beat just about anybody. We may just have to accept that this year’s team is going to have to out-shoot some teams if they want to win.

Another December, another hoops gauntlet for the Tide. Purdue is every bit as good as the Houston and Gonzaga teams that Alabama has battled with the past couple of seasons, so it will obviously take the Tide’s absolute best today in Toronto. With that being said, Nate Oats seems to live for this and totally thrives as an underdog, just as the Tide was in all three of the games I linked above. With Alabama’s offensive prowess, any game is within reach.

Still, Alabama is a 6-point underdog today for a reason - the defense has outright stunk this season. As much as I would enjoy a win no matter how it came, that area of the game needs significant improvement, and it would be nice to see some today. Alabama’s guards are more physically gifted players than Purdue’s, so the opportunity to guard and get by the Boilermaker’s backcourt members is there.

It should be a fun one either way. Nick Pringle is expected back from his suspension, and the Tide will certainly need big bodies in the post. The game will tip-off at 12:30 PM CST and will be televised on Fox.