DETROIT — Purdue will almost certainly be without center Isaac Haas in its NCAA Tournament second-round matchup with Butler on Sunday.
Haas broke his elbow in a victory over Cal State Fullerton on Friday. That was the biggest news of the tournament until about 7 hours later when UMBC stunned Virginia.
It’s a significant loss on paper for the Boilermakers. But it’s not crazy to think playing without Haas could be advantageous, at least on Sunday.
Purdue has regularly run its offense through the 7-foot-2, 290-pound standout most of the season. That hasn’t always been a recipe for success, especially recently.
The Boilermakers lost three straight Big Ten games to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin from Feb. 7-15. The opposing strategy was to avoid double-teaming Haas, letting him get his points while limiting the opportunities for kick-out 3-pointers. Haas averaged 18.3 points over those three games — 3 points above his season average — but the team obviously wasn’t better for it.
This was again an effective strategy in Purdue’s most recent loss in the Big Ten title game last weekend. Haas had 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting, but the Boilermakers hit just 4 of 17 from 3-point range and were defeated 75-66.
Preparing for Purdue without Haas presents many different variables. Not even the Boilermakers know exactly what to expect from themselves Sunday.
“I really don’t know what exactly we could throw at somebody, and I know that team really doesn’t know either,” said guard Ryan Cline.
The most likely possibility is Purdue essentially replaces Haas with 7-3 backup center Matt Haarms. Though the Boilermakers could also primarily deploy a smaller, quicker lineup with any combination of P.J. Thompson (5-10), Carsen Edwards (6-1), Dakota Mathias (6-4), Nojel Eastern (6-6), Grady Eifert (6-6), Cline (6-6) or Vincent Edwards (6-8).
What Purdue could do with a small lineup is unknown. Though Vincent Edwards is a mainstay in the lineup, it’s been rare for the Boilermakers to have extended runs with him as the biggest man on the court. Still, the possibility of having to combat a small lineup is something Butler must be ready to do.
“I think we’ve got to prep for all of it,” said Butler coach LaVall Jordan. “And then make a game-time call as you’re in the moment and see what’s best. If they do [this], how are you going to counter it?”
When these two teams met in mid-December, Haarms played 27 minutes with Haas in foul trouble. Haarms made a noticeable impact defensively with 4 rebounds and 3 blocks. So if Haarms is Purdue’s primary solution to Haas’ injury, he at least enters with confidence of having previously played well against Butler.
“I feel like, from a defensive perspective, I wouldn’t say we are better [without Haas], but we’re a little bit more dynamic because Matt can kind of get out there and guard,” Cline said. “Having a guy like Matt being able to clean up and guard the rim is good for us.”
There’s still a slight chance Haas plays. He went through practice Saturday with a brace on his injured elbow. But the injury has caused significant swelling and is going to eventually require surgery, so his teammates and coach Matt Painter aren’t expecting to see him anywhere except the bench.
Haas’ absence may play a role in Purdue’s downfall eventually if its tournament run continues past the weekend. That’s not obviously going to be the case Sunday, though. At this point, Purdue can’t ask for much more than that.
Story by SEC Country’s Trent Shadid. Follow Trent on Twitter @Shadid13