The versatile Vincent Edwards might be the most difficult matchup in college basketball. (Sandra Dukes/USA Today Sports)

This is a rebuilding season for most of the Big Ten, except for Purdue, which hasn’t lost a game in nearly 70 days. Before the season, Coach Matt Painter’s squad was thought to be a distant challenger to Michigan State in the conference race and only one Boilermaker, Vincent Edwards, was selected to the preseason all-conference team. Instead, Painter has seamlessly integrated elements of small-ball strategy and the team is legitimate national title contender.

How has Purdue revamped its offense?

It starts with better ball security.

Painter has typically used two lineups this season, pairing the 7-foot-2 Issac Haas or redshirt freshman Matt Haarms (who stands 7-3) with a quartet of perimeter players, such as Carsen Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Dakota Matthias and the 6-8 Edwards. The coach will dip into his bench occasionally, but these lineups have accounted for roughly 300 possessions in Big Ten play (per What stands out about these pairings is the emphasis on ball control. Each of the four guards has been superb at limiting turnovers, posting a turnover rate of under 15 percent.

That’s out of the norm for a Painter-coached squad — remember the team’s turnover-fueled meltdown against Arkansas-Little Rock in the 2016 NCAA tournament. Since 2013, no Purdue team cracked the top 100 of KenPom’s turnover rate database until this season, in which the Boilermakers rank 38th entering Wednesday’s game against Maryland.

That has a cascading effect. By not turning the ball over, the offense has extra possessions to work with, and ball movement becomes more crisp on the perimeter, leading to wide-open shots. Purdue is making 43.6 percent of its three-point attempts, second in Division I. Per Synergy Sports, 44 percent of Purdue’s catch-and-shoot jump shots are unguarded in 2018 — an uptick from 2017 — and Painter’s group is scoring 1.45 points per shot, which is second only to Marquette in terms of volume and efficiency.

It’s not that the team hasn’t faced pressure defenses or that its guards are simply limiting their giveaways. Haas, a senior, had been a sieve whenever he received the ball on the block, but for the first time in his Big Ten career, he’s committing a turnover on only 10 percent of his possessions. That further enables Purdue to shift defensive pressure from the perimeter and create more openings.

That brings us back to three-point shooting.

As already mentioned, Purdue is in a groove from beyond the three-point arc. But it’s not just that the team can’t miss from the perimeter — it’s how the Boilermakers are getting open. According to Synergy Sports, nearly a quarter of the team’s possessions are the result of screens or pick-and-rolls. Because Purdue is stacked with shooters who are complemented by at least one lumbering big man who can easily convert around the rim, it is increasingly difficult to defend a Boilermakers pick-and-roll.

Finally, Edwards is arguably the most difficult matchup in college basketball.

The senior is Purdue’s most offensively efficient player, and is capable of playing at least three positions including point guard. His offensive box plus-minus (plus-7.6 per 100 possessions) ranks just behind Matthias’s OBPM, and the senior scores 1.07 points per possession — which, while last among starters, is notable considering his high usage rate (24 percent).

Perhaps most crucially for Purdue, Edwards is a proficient offensive rebounder, grabbing 10 percent of the squad’s misses. Painter has largely abandoned the offensive glass this season — the squad’s offensive rebounding rate is 29.6 percent, the second lowest during Painter’s tenure — but Edwards’s doggedness allows the team to both generate additional possessions while also getting back in transition.

Yes, the Big Ten is weak in 2018, but the Boilermakers might just be the league’s only national title contender.

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