No. 13 Purdue, Nebraska tinkering with lineups
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.-- As college basketball programs across the nation transition from their nonconference schedules into league play, it is not uncommon to see teams experiment with different roster rotations.
No. 13 Purdue is no exception.
The Boilermakers (14-2, 3-0 Big Ten) have one of the more experienced rosters in the nation, starting four seniors and prolific sophomore Carsen Edwards, but coach Matt Painter is still making adjustments heading into Saturday's game against Nebraska.
Over the course of its last two games, Purdue has had eight players average double-digit minutes, while only one player -- Carsen Edwards in a 98-66 win over Lipscomb on Dec. 30 -- has eclipsed the 30-minute mark.
Often such distribution of playing time indicates a struggling team, but the Boilermakers are riding a 10-game win streak and have beaten their last three opponents by at least 30 points, which has never happened in the 120-year history of the program.
The most notable of Purdue's recent lineup tweaks is the simultaneous use of 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas and freshman forward Matt Haarms, who stands 7-foot-3.
Haas averages nearly 15 points per game and is Purdue's go-to scoring option in the post, while Haarms averages 3.1 blocks per game, which ties for second among the nation's freshmen. At the start of the season, the two big men seldom saw the floor together, but have shared the court more in recent weeks.
"I like it because it provides a lot of length on defense," Haas said of playing with Haarms. "It allows us to get more spread out in our coverage on defense."
Haarms, who averaged nine points, 6.7 rebounds and nearly four blocks per game over that stretch, also enjoys the lineup and views it as a learning experience.
"For me, it's more about learning to play the four a little more," Haarms said. "I'm not really used to playing that position that much. Just kind of learning a little bit more and really locking in on the plays at the four and learning the spots more."
Painter does not expect that lineup to become the norm, but did acknowledge its effectiveness.
"Matt makes things work," Painter said of Haarms. "Matt can defend. Matt can move his feet, so he can guard different people. He can go out on the court and guard people, he can guard people on the interior. ... We don't like pulling him away from the rim because he's such a good shot blocker, but it does put him in different situations as far as helping."
Nebraska (11-5, 2-1) has also been cycling through lineups, which paid off Wednesday in a 70-55 win at Northwestern.
The Cornhuskers snapped a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats, and seek back-to-back wins over Purdue, having defeated the Boilermakers 83-80 in Lincoln last season.
Point guard Glynn Watson Jr., who had 19 points, six assists and six rebounds against Northwestern, enjoys playing with a lengthy lineup.
"It's really easy (to score) because now (opponents) have to pick their poison on what they want to do," Watson said. "It makes teams have to change their lineups, so it's big, and it helps us a lot."
The Cornhuskers typically rotate centers Jordy Tshimanga and Duby Okeke with forward Isaiah Roby, who stands 6-foot-8 and shoots 39 percent from 3-point range.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles intends to utilize a similar rotation Saturday in order to stretch the floor and combat Purdue's size and versatility.
"Not only is Purdue great inside ... they're a great 3-point shooting team, they're a great ball-handling team, and they defend really, really well," Miles said. "I think you have to look at stopping the inside game. It's just such a high percentage play for them. The good news is we've got three posts I feel very comfortable playing."
Updated January 5, 2018