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Purdue Basketball Fan Day Scrimmage Primer: What to look for

Purdue will play in front of a crowd in Mackey Arena for the first time this season on Saturday.
Purdue will play in front of a crowd in Mackey Arena for the first time this season on Saturday. (GoldandBlack.com)

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Saturday in Mackey Arena, Purdue basketball holds its annual fan day event, with the men's and women's teams signing autographs for roughly an hour beginning at 11 a.m., followed by the men's team scrimmaging beginning at 12:30.

Historically, the scrimmage portion has been comprised of three, 10-minute, split-squad games.

Below, a look at a few items worth watching in what amounts to the 2019-2020 Boilermakers' first public competition.

Style: Look, this is just a scrimmage, and the split-squad nature of it means that combinations and lineup variations will be all over the map, but Purdue's figuring out now how it's going to play, and after running as guard-centric a scheme as can be last season, this year's team is expected to be built around its bigs — Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams, notably — and that may include lineups that feature them playing together as more than just a situational gimmick. And Evan Boudreaux will primarily play the 4 position now after being a center last season. That in itself constitutes a "bigger" lineup in general.

While it stands to reason to suggest Purdue would scheme to get the ball inside exponentially more than last season, it does view Haarms and Williams as good players and not just good big men, and with Williams being an outstanding passer for a post player and Haarms being such a pick-and-roll threat, you should see more action set up to put them in position to make plays, and not just necessarily score. Haarms may be more of a three-point threat this season, too.

Purdue is going to want to get Nojel Eastern in more positions to score and the same for Aaron Wheeler, who Matt Painter says needs "as many dunks and threes as possible."

Purdue's not going to tear up its playbook from last season's Carsen Edwards- and Ryan Cline-carried offense, but this is a very different team and Saturday may at least give some modest indications of how Purdue's coaches intend to use it.

Purdue's not going to reinvent college basketball offense this season or anything like that, but it is worth noting, too, that new associate head coach Micah Shrewsberry could bring some NBA influence to the table as he succeeds Greg Gary in overseeing the offense.

Isaiah Thompson is one of three new guards who'll factor into a retooled backcourt.
Isaiah Thompson is one of three new guards who'll factor into a retooled backcourt. (GoldandBlack.com)

Guard Play: Nojel Eastern is a known commodity, obviously, but aside from the veteran, Purdue is retooling in the backcourt and on the wing, and while Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter have played, things do change for them, both in the developmental gains and empowerment that might come with experience but also the expansion of their roles.

Stefanovic goes now from bit player to potential starter and carrier of big minutes; Hunter will play more than one position for Purdue this season after playing mostly as its No. 2 point guard last season, and says he expects to show the benefits of significantly increased comfort and confidence.

But the more interesting players are the newcomers.

This event won't count for anything, but it is grad transfer Jahaad Proctor's first time playing in front of a crowd in Mackey Arena. He'll have every chance to be an impact player for Purdue, a player it may really lean on for backcourt scoring.

Additionally, freshmen Isaiah Thompson and Brandon Newman.

Thompson has been a hit at both ends of the floor since he showed up in June, and gives Purdue quickness and speed and shooting range probably one of a kind on this roster, and it's expected he'll help Purdue this season. With Eastern and Hunter at the point, though, and a good number of guards in general, now it begins to be determined just how much Thompson helps.

Newman is a big-time shooter who's been looking the part in practice, and he too stands to carry meaningful minutes this season, provided the freshman learning curve is navigated smoothly.

This could be Interesting, and fits both the guard-play and scheme categories: Purdue has two big physical guards in Eastern and Proctor who it'll look for scoring from. Does Purdue leverage that element, and if so, how?


Sasha Stefanovic shot better than 40 percent from three on low volume last season. Now, volume should increase.
Sasha Stefanovic shot better than 40 percent from three on low volume last season. Now, volume should increase. (GoldandBlack.com)

Shooting: Purdue has had some great shooting teams who've shot awful in these events, so perspective there may matter, but Purdue likes its shooting arsenal, though it's largely unproven.

And, remember, the three-point line moves back about 18 inches now.

You will likely see a more free-wheeling, quicker-triggered Sasha Stefanovic during a preseason in which he's shot very well, by every account; a more confident and assertive Hunter; a healthy Proctor (after his shooting last season at High Point was affected by a shoulder issue), a known commodity in Wheeler (though his shots may come differently this season) and two capable freshmen in Newman and Thompson.

Also, does Haarms shoot more threes? And does Boudreaux's ability to stretch defenses matter as much as the 4 as It would the 5, where he had advantages away from the basket against bigger players? All of Purdue's 4s — Wheeler, Boudreaux and freshman Mason Gillis — can shoot threes.

Lastly, Nojel Eastern's success this season will not be determined by his jump-shooting. But if he can do enough to command some measure of attention, maybe make defenders go over screens against him, that could set up other parts of his game, too.

Zone Defense: Just kidding.

Actually, there's something to be said for this, because Purdue will play some scout-team-caliber zone probably on Saturday for the purpose of working on zone offense.

Purdue has been pretty zone-proof the past few years because it's had such effective shooting.

It expects to again this season, but Painter has often been one to believe in getting the ball inside vs. zone to collapse it, and that means Haarms and Williams should loom large too in zone offense, whether It's In the high post or low post.

Some coaches believe that the extended arc could lead to more zone.

Stay tuned to GoldandBlack.com Saturday evening for coverage, analysis and video from Purdue's fan day scrimmages.

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