Jaden Ivey and the Beautiful Machine: Purdue offers a unique set of defensive challenges

As NC State gets set to play No. 1 Purdue, led by future lottery pick Jaden Ivey, the Wolfpack must be prepare to face the top offense in the country.

The Boilermakers are loaded. With Matt Painter pulling the strings, this is an elite team in terms of scheme and offensive concepts, too. Put it all together: stopping Purdue will be a bear of a challenge for NC State, or any other team ahead on the schedule.

Despite the offensive electricity, high-level opponents — North Carolina, Villanova and Iowa — have been able to give Purdue a run for the money. Of course, the Boilermakers responded to each of these separate challenges. For now, there isn’t a full roadmap for defeating Purdue; however, there’s an outline.

That process begins with Ivey.


Jaden Ivey: Tormenting The ACC

As Purdue has jumped out to an 8-0 start, the Boilermakers have claimed the No. 1 ranking in the country, and currently sit No. 2 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metric. During that stretch, Purdue defeated two ACC teams by a combined 37 points, although Florida State’s 28-point loss in West Lafayette is doing most of the lifting there.

While going up against ACC competition this season, Ivey has averaged 20.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks.

Ivey’s done all of this while shooting 15-of-28 from the field (53.6 FG%) and 6-of-12 on 3-point attempts. During the wins over North Carolina and FSU, Ivey shot a combined 7-of-9 (77.8 FG%) at the rim, including three dunks.

The sophomore is one of the premier talents in college basketball: a dynamic shooting guard with ridiculous burst, the ability to change speeds with ease and terrific vertical bounce.

With Ivey operating as its go-go force, Purdue’s offense ranks No. 1 nationally in rim field goal percentage (77.4 FG%).

Ivey, of course, is also the son of Niele Ivey, who played college basketball at Notre Dame (1997-2001) and is the current women’s basketball coach at Notre Dame. She was also an assistant coach for the legendary Muffet McGraw (2007-19). During her time in South Bend, the elder Ivey won a national title as both a player (2001) and as an assistant coach (2019).

Despite all of this, the younger Ivey picked Purdue over Notre Dame and Butler. Now, he has his sights set on a third ACC team this season.


Contain Jaden Ivey: Easier Said Than Done

Ivey returned to West Lafayette for his second season as one of the top NBA prospects in the country. After a strong close to his freshman year, Ivey put together a solid summer while playing for gold medalist Team USA in the U-19 World Cup.

During the first month of his sophomore campaign, Ivey has continued to grow as a player. He’s a constant source of advantage creation; Ivey’s start-stop/jab change-of-direction game is simply scintillating. When Ivey touches the paint, he’s made strides to improve his craft as a live-dribble finisher, too.

Ivey isn’t a passing savant; however, those pick-and-roll splits and paint touches force defensive rotations. Given all of the attention he brings as a slasher, Purdue’s army of spot-up shooters get to feast off kick-out passes.

With all of this combined, Ivey’s draft stock has climbed. Ivey looks like a top-five pick and is arguably the No. 1 guard prospect for the 2021 draft. However, there are ways to defend Ivey: scheme-based and on an individual level.

Opponents will want to show numbers vs. Ivey, especially if he’s attacking off advantage. Help-side defenders must rotate. Ivey’s aggression as a driver can be used against him.

If Purdue runs side ball screens, try to Ice those looks and keep Ivey away from going middle. Even better: keep him on one side of the floor and force him give the ball up.

Not every team is capable of doing this, but if you have the defensive personnel, switch and try to keep the ball in front.

Ivey is capable of driving left, but working to funnel him in that direction is a good strategy. That doesn’t mean he won’t be able to get skinny and get into gaps; he’s more than capable of getting to his spots. However, that’s better than him racing downhill to his right hand.

If possible, try to turn Ivey into a shooter. Ivey’s shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc this season (on good volume). He’s looked better shooting off movement, too. From the UNC game: Ivey drains a 3 out of Purdue’s Loop action.

Ivey’s a committed driver, but if you can goad him into shooting contested, off-dribble 3-pointers, then it’s a victory of sorts.

There’s also a tendency, when Ivey drives, for the star sophomore to seek contact while also playing a little too upright. This can force Ivey into some difficult, off-kilter shots. Ivey will make some of those looks; however, opposing defenses can’t let him have the straight-line drives. Give that up and Ivey will roast your defense.

Again, it’s easy to say this, but: be physical, show numbers at the rim and rotate like crazy. Defenses can’t take away everything, especially against Purdue’s diverse personnel, but the focus should be on curtailing Ivey as a driver.

This applies in transition, too.

Before Ivey starts rocking-and-rolling in transition, defenses must race back and try to wall off the basket. Of course, even when the transition defense does its job and gets in front of Ivey, he can still weaponize the extra attention and find his teammates for efficient fast-break looks.


Avoid The Big Mistake

Purdue’s defense doesn’t force many turnovers; the Boilermakers prioritize gap containment, closing off the paint, limiting opponent trips to the free throw line (à la Mike Brey and Notre Dame) and cleaning up the glass. Painter’s club currently ranks No. 8 nationally in opponent free throw attempt rate and 29th in defensive rebound rate.

However, Purdue’s most obvious source for turnover creation is Ivey.

During his career, Ivey has averaged 1.5 steals per 40 minutes — up to 2.2 steals per 40 this season. Ivey is one of only three players on the roster with a steal rate above 2.0 percent.

Ivey’s steals are different from just about every other player in the country, though. He’s an elite grab-and-go player; as soon as Ivey picks off a pass, he hits the jet boosters for a transition rack attack.

Opponents must be aware of Ivey’s defensive presence at all times. The Purdue staff has clearly given Ivey some latitude to roam the floor as a ball-hawking defender.

Make an errant pass in his general vicinity: Ivey will look to pounce.

In these situations, Ivey is prone to gambling, which is something opponents will undoubtedly look to pick at this season.

This calculated risk — from Ivey and Purdue — is well worth the payoff, though. (This also assumes Ivey isn’t developing bad habits, which would be more of a concern for him in the NBA. On the next level, his athleticism won’t be such an outlier trait and the shooting is just too good to gamble and lose.)

These types of transition opportunities are especially detrimental for opponents: the transition defense isn’t able to get ahead of the ball. If a defense is unable to show Ivey numbers in transition, it’s a done deal. Ivey flying downhill is the spookiest (or most fun, depending on your rooting interests) sight in college hoops.

Beyond the X’s and O’s, Ivey going nuclear in transition gives Purdue energy. The grab-and-go dunks count for only two points, but those moments are also a shot in the arm for the Boilermakers.

Pressure The Guards

It’s not easy to find a weak spot on Purdue’s roster. This team is deep, tall, stocked with great shooters and organized by a superb coaching staff. Of course, Jaden Ivey is the ceiling-raiser, too. That doesn’t mean it’s impenetrable, though.

During the second half of Purdue’s win over Iowa, the Hawkeyes made things tight late in the game by going to a press. The guards were shaky with the ball; Iowa turned Purdue over 17 times in that contest (22.4 percent turnover rate), while outscoring the Boilermakers 26-16 over the final 10 minutes.

Junior point guard Isaiah Thompson is having an excellent season. He’s a solid point-of-attack defender, who can pressure the ball without fouling. On offense, he’s more of a low-mistake caretaker (11.8 percent usage rate): he brings the ball up, gets Purdue into its sets and looks for catch-and-shoot opportunities (60.9 3P%).

For the season, he has more 3-pointers (14) than turnovers (5). Thompson also had more 3-pointer than free throw attempts (12).

Thompson can shoot off movement some, too. With that said, he’s not a breakdown point guard, capable of going north-south at will and getting into the paint. That’s Ivey’s job.

Eric Hunter Jr. is another of Purdue’s half-court ball handlers. He’s a very good perimeter defender, but Hunter is also the weakest shooter on the roster (26.9 3P% the last two seasons). At times, Hunter can be a liability with the basketball, too: 27.1 percent turnover rate.

This is partly out of necessity. Purdue’s other guards — Sasha Stefanovich and Brandon Newman — are gifted movement shooters. Stefanovich and Newman can play with the ball, too, but they’re better suited running off screens, spotting up or making quick decisions as perimeter ball-movers.

In order to unlock that off-ball activity, players like Hunter must be willing to handle the ball and look to drive vs. frisky on-ball defenders, which can lead to turnovers. The question is: can you force guys like Thompson and Hunter to beat you?

Outside of Ivey, Purdue’s perimeter contingent is pretty damn good. However, you can pressure this team’s guards and force turnovers. Do that, while also managing to corral Ivey, and you have an opportunity to slow down the offensive machine. (There are no guarantees with this, either. Purdue can just as easily mash you in the post and on the offensive glass with Zach Edey and Trevion Williams.)


Don’t Skip The Instructions: Post Passing

When Purdue gets into its half-court offense, the Boilermakers like to invert things and run actions through the post. Trevion Williams comes off the bench for Purdue, but the 6-foot-10, 255-pound center is incredibly skilled for a player his size. Sharing the center spot with Zach Edey, Williams is averaging a ridiculous 25.7 points, 18.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per 40 minutes.

Williams has the power to finish through contact on his own. If you apply only one defender to Williams, his combination of strength and footwork are enough to cook single coverage. Williams can work a hook shot, or drop-step, spin on a dime and shoot a baseline layup.

As daunting as that sounds, Williams is just as dangerous as a passer. If a defense throws a double team at Williams, it must come hard and fast — and from a location that’s not in his direct sightline.

When the double is too predictable, Williams can make easy reads like this all night.

Getting into his vision cone isn’t easy, obviously. After a post entry pass, the senior center is excellent at positioning his body so that he can scan the entire floor. As soon as he catches the ball, Williams will look middle for a cutter.

Freshman forward Caleb Furst is really good with these vertical, middle cuts. According to Synergy, Furst is shooting 80 percent on cut field goal attempts this season: 1.36 points per possession.

There isn’t a player in the country that’s more fond of flinging skip passes than Williams, especially from the post.

Opponents must be ready for these looks: If the double comes, and the middle cut is occupied, Williams will look to skip the ball.

This is also where an enterprising weak-side defender, like Dereon Seabron (3.7 percent steal rate), could look for a steal. Williams puts good velocity on his passes, but those skips must travel a long distance. Stay alert, be on the lookout for the skip, and try for the interception when the opportunity presents itself.


The Importance Of Ebenezer

As good as Williams is, he’s only one part of arguably the top center rotation in the country. Sophomore center Zach Edey, who starts for Purdue, is also a monster. The 7-foot-4 Edey is much improved from one season ago; due to his size, he’s a crisis matchup for opponents when he’s able to carve out deep post position.

For the season now, Edey is shooting 72.3 percent on his 2-point attempts (No. 37 nationally). Unsurprisingly, he does most of his work around the basket: Edey is shooting just under 85 percent at the rim — with 18 dunks.

NC State sophomore center Ebenezer Dowuona is one of the most improved players in the ACC. Dowuona’s development has made NC State functional on defense sans Manny Bates — something that seemed impossible mere weeks ago.

The sophomore center plays like someone that’s seen a lot of Bates in practices over the last year or so. For the most part, Dowuona has kept his head above water guarding the pick-and-roll — coming to the level of the screen, then dropping to protect the rim.

Dowuona is also blocking shots at a ridiculous rate: 10.3 percent block rate, which ranks inside the top 45 nationally.

This is perfect for NC State’s defensive scheme: switch 1-4 on screens/exchanges and use the center to drop in pick-and-roll coverage. Essentially, keep the ball in front, limit spot-up 3-point attempts and funnel drivers to the rim protector.

Like a lot of young shot blockers, Dowuona will have his issues with fouls, although he managed to stay on the floor for 46 minutes in the four-overtime win over Nebraska. Dowuona is eager to block shots; occasionally, that aggressiveness can be used against him.

Dowuona has great size: 6-foot-11, 225 pounds. However, bigger plays with more functional strength have been able to push Dowuona around at times. This, too, can lead to fouls and high-percentage looks. Here, Kenny Lofton of Louisiana Tech goes to work out of hi-lo action.

So far, Dowuona has committed fouls at a rate of 4.7 per 40 minutes. That’s actually not too high of a number. With that said, though, Purdue’s centers could elevate that rate, quickly.

According to KenPom, Williams has drawn 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes this season (No. 57 nationally), while Edey has drawn 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes (No. 14). Edey is also a solid free throw shooter: 81.1 percent from the line.

This is a game where NC State will really miss Bates. Hypothetically: a double-headed center rotation of Bates and Dowuona would be ideal to throw at Purdue. That option, however, isn’t available, which is a problem. Instead, Dowuona must have the game of his life and play 30+ minutes.

According to Pivot Analysis, NC State’s defense has held opponents to only 100.9 points per 100 possessions with Dowuona on the floor this season. That’s a great number. The Wolfpack are also +71 in those 213 minutes.

However, when Dowuona sits, NC State’s defensive rating balloons up to 114.3 points per 100 possessions, a massive increase. Additionally, opponents have outscored NC State by 26 points in the 127 minutes with Dowuona on the bench.

This is from a small sample. These types of numbers can be very noisy. To some extent, though, it speaks to both the performance of Dowuona and the issues of his two backups: Jaylon Gibson and Ernest Ross.

During the matchup with Purdue, Villanova had some success when the Wildcats went small, played Jermaine Samuels at the 5 and switched as many actions as possible. NC State could try this, too.

During the 2020-21 season, NC State dabbled with Jericole Hellems as a small-ball center option. The Wolfpack were +20 in 29 minutes with Hellems as the de factor center last season, per Pivot Analyis.

When Edey heads to the bench, Kevin Keatts could try this option, while looking to preserve Dowuona’s minutes, although Williams is a load to deal with on the low block, too.

Regardless, this is another lineup combination for Keatts, if he’s worried about minutes with Gibson or Ross at center vs. the No. 1 offense in the country.


High And Low Times

Purdue makes a concerted effort to utilize its centers. Edey and Williams both have usage rates above 31 percent, which is wild. Their usage pathways, however, are different than you see at a lot of other programs. The Boilermakers run very little spread pick-and-roll. Instead, Painter opts to play through the post — with an emphasis on hi-lo action.

Purdue runs this set a handful of times every game.

It’s a Box Set look. The actions starts with the guard (at the elbow) located on the same side of the lane as Edey sprinting out to the opposite wing. After that wing pops out to receive a pass, they immediately flip the ball back to the point guard, and run off a flare screen for the power forward. As this happens, Edey will slide in from the low block and seal his defender, thus creating the hi-lo passing window.

When this action happens, multiple defenders must be keyed in. The center — Dowuona for NC State — will want to front the post. The interior defender can’t just let Edey sink deeper into the paint and play with his back to the basket.

According to Synergy Sports, Edey is shooting 67.4 percent on post-up attempts this season, while scoring 1.26 points per possession — No. 2 nationally among players with 50+ possessions.

Edey has drawn a shooting foul on 15.5 percent on his post-up possessions, too, per Synergy.

However, if the defense fronts the post, then back-side defenders must be ready to help. The Boilermakers pass the ball so well, and Edey gives them a massive target. If you front the hi-lo action and don’t rotate behind the play, it’s a lob pass and Edey is about to dunk the ball like an average-sized person would do with a doughnut and a cup of coffee.

When the rotations are there, though, you have a chance to poke the ball away from Edey when he brings it below his chest on the gather. Edey and Williams both have turnover rates above 19.5 percent.

Of course, this is a delicate balance. Purdue is the No. 1 spot-up offense in the country: 1.14 points per possession. The Boilermarkers are shooting 44 percent on their 3-point attempts — No. 2 nationally. Purdue also leads the nation with a 62.2 percent effective shooting rate.

Back-side defenders must be ready to help on these post-up looks; however, if you stray too far from a shooter, or can’t recover and closeout in time, well, good look. You’ll need it.

Purdue will frequently use another set from a Box look to isolate Edey in the post. This time, though, the post-up will come on the side of the floor that Edey starts the possession.

The wing from the opposite block will come off a baseline cross screen from Edey and clear to the strong-side corner. Edey will set the screen and then immediately duck-in, looking for the basketball off an angled entry pass.

Seal, catch, turn, shoot. Before the defense can blink, Edey’s either spiking the ball through the rim or lofting in a high-percentage look — one that’s less susceptible to weak-side help.


Other Hi-Lo Options

There are a variety of hi-lo sets Purdue can run; it’s not sensible to to highlight every single one. However, here’s a look at a few more.

Iverson Chase Hi Lo

Iverson cut across two off-ball elbow screens, followed by a chase from the first screener, then hi lo


Iverson Pop Hi Lo


Iverson Fan Gut Pindown Hi Lo


Weave Loop Hi Lo

Weave action into the baseline runner (Loop) action, then hi lo


Weave Rip Hi Lo

Weave action into a back screen (Rip), then hi lo

Look Out Below!

Another thing to keep an eye on with Edey: designed lob actions.

Purdue will start out running some weave action to move the defense around and provide the possession with some flow.

Next, the player who dishes the final pass of the weave will then come off a baseline screen — before sprinting over to Edey in the middle of the lane.

From the looks of things, it appears as though Purdue is trying to set a cross screen for Edey — to help him get deep position position. However, Edey will instead reject the cross-screen — faking up for one step — before cutting back to the rim for a lob finish.

Stay Attached

Jaden Ivey will be the first line of every team’s scouting report on Purdue. After that, opponents must focus on stopping the post. Purdue’s offensive firepower goes deeper, though. Even if you limit the interior damage, Sasha Stefanovic is lurking around the perimeter.

Stefanovic is one of the best shooters in the country and among the best 3-point shooters in Big Ten history. Painter makes sure to squeeze as much usage out of Stefanovic’s shooting as possible. Stefanovic is constantly in motion when Purdue has the ball in the half court.

Among many different things, he’s really good utilizing Purdue’s Gut Chicago action.

Chicago action stands for the pindown screen for an off-ball player, directly into a handoff action. This forces the chase defender to run around two screens, which can provide Stefanovich and his quick release with more than enough time to get the ball in the air. (Gut refers to the action coming from the middle up the floor, up through the lane.)

Purdue has a couple of ways to create that gut handoff action, too. During the UNC game, Purdue starts in a 1-4 low alignment, shifts to a Horns set, then breaks into gut action for Stefanovic.

When extra help is shades in the direction Stefanovich on these looks, he becomes a passer — as the set flows into screen-roll action.

Whomever draws the chase assignment — and NC State’s switches freely 1-4 — must be ready to lock in and run around around a maze of down screens and handoff actions.

Put Edey In PnR Action

Lastly, one of the best defenses vs. Jaden Ivey and Purdue is a good offense. So far this season, Purdue has yet to score under 1.0 points per possession in a game. In fact, the Boilermakers have scored above 1.2 points per possession in seven of their eight games.

The last time Painter’s team was held under 1.0 points per possession in a game: Feb. 2, 2021, a one-point loss at Maryland. (Somewhere, surrounded by a golden parachute of buyout money, Mark Turgeon is smiling.)

The upshot: Purdue is super good on offense. To beat them: your offense must be ready to score a lot of points, too.

There aren’t a lot of obvious targets to attack; however, offenses can make Edey uncomfortable by putting him in a lot of pick-and-roll scenarios. Edey isn’t a stiff; he moves pretty well for a 7-foot-4 center. Usually, Purdue also asks Edey (and Williams) to play to the level of the screen, which brings the big fellas away from the paint.

Here’s a Chin pick-and-roll look from Iowa: Edey is a step inside the 3-point arc when the ball screen takes place. Edey tries to slide, but Tony Perkins is able to turn the corner on him and win the race to the hoop.

Again, here’s Edey coming to the level of the screen vs. Villanova. Shooting guard Justin Moore is able to turn the corner, get in the paint and finish.

The objective is simple enough: set high ball screens and try to dribble into impromptu isolation drives vs. Edey in space. Villanova scored 1.23 points per possession vs. Purdue — due in part to exploiting Edey away from the hoop.

When Purdue’s centers played to the level (and occasionally showed) vs. Iowa, the Hawkeyes did a nice job of stringing out their ball screen actions.

This tactic allowed the screeners to dive downhill and forced the weak-side wing defenders to make choice: tag the roller or stay attached to the open 3-point shooter.

If there’s one thing to get a little picky on with Purdue this season: it’s that the weak-side defenders will slip up and occasionally forget to tag the roller.

This presents an opportunity for a team like NC State — one the premier high-volume pick-and-roll offenses in the country. With Seabron — a maniacal downhill driver — the Wolfpack have a legit source for putting pressure on the rim. Due to his height and handle, Seabron can get to where he wants on the floor and puncture defenses with his wild finishing moves or passes.

Seriously, there’s only so much a defense can do when a 6-foot-7 pick-and-roll operator, like Seabron, is humming. Seabron should be licking his chops to attack. (If I were Keatts, I’d tell him to drive the ball until Purdue has to adjust.)

The Boilermakers have shown some scheme versatility; at times, they’ll drop their centers into the paint or even switch 1-5 with Williams. This is where Cam Hayes should look to get rolling, too: drive it or look for his pull-up jumper.

Seabron and Hayes must be patient — allow Dowuona to roll as spot-up shooters shake up to the wing. Force Purdue’s help defenders to make tough choices. NC State’s wings need to have a big game shooting off the catch.

The return of Casey Morsell, NC State’s best spot-up shooter this season, would be a big boon, too. Morsell missed the Louisville game after suffering an ankle injury during the four-overtime win vs. Nebraska. He’s also been NC State’s top point-of-attack defender, which would be a useful thing to have on Ivey.


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