HARTFORD, Conn. – Jay Wright has studied Purdue’s junior shooting guard Carsen Edwards, the leading scorer for the Boilermakers, and calls him a “thick Allen Iverson.”
Any on-the-court comparison to Iverson is a compliment, and Edwards, who tops out at 6-feet and 200 pounds, is lightning-fast with the ball and can get almost any shot he likes despite being slightly undersized.
And here’s the thing about Edwards: He likes every shot.
Regardless of what else is taking place when Villanova and Purdue meet Friday evening for a trip to the Sweet 16, Edwards will be firing. The Boilermakers are wildly unpredictable when playing away from Mackey Arena, but a high volume of Carsen Edwards jumpers is always a good bet.
“Part of the game is not getting frustrated,” Wright said. “If he comes down in transition and pulls up literally from 30 feet and makes a shot, that can’t break you mentally.”
If it happens too often, however, it can take a toll on the scoreboard. Edwards takes a third of his team’s overall shots, three-point attempts, and scores a third of their points. He averages 23.1 points per game and, again despite his size, is projected to be taken early in the second round of the upcoming NBA draft.
There’s a lot more to this matchup for Villanova than contending with Edwards, but he was high up on the scouting report. The Wildcats will also be dealing with a team that matches their length and physicality, and might be their superior in rim protection. So, perimeter play will be key at both ends of the floor.
“We can’t just try to hold Edwards,” Wright said. “He could score 25 and maybe you could win, because he’s just so good. But what makes them so difficult is his explosiveness and then the ability of the guys around him.”
Purdue has been surprisingly good this season, similar to Villanova, despite heavy losses from last year’s 30-win team. The Boilermakers have reached the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament in each of the last two years, but came into this season without four senior starters from the 2017-2018 team and their collective 5,142 career points.
If there is a notable trend that bodes well for Villanova, it is that Purdue was 15-0 at home this season and just 9-9 on the road, including a 3-3 record at neutral sites. The Boilermakers don’t seem to travel well for some reason, and when they win on the road it is often because Edwards gets hot. But, boy, he can get cold, too.
“I just focus on trying to hit shots and help my team win,” Edwards said. “Regardless of how we’re doing in the offensive end, we all focus on getting stops.”
Edwards, who is from Houston, was a late recruit to Purdue, which had lost a commitment to another guard. Coach Matt Painter had choices closer to home, including Xavier Simpson from Ohio, who eventually went to Michigan, and Te’Jon Lucas from Milwaukee, who initially went to Illinois. Painter settled on Edwards, though, and can live with some shots taken with more optimism than restraint.
“Just his ability to make shots is what jumped out at me,” Painter said. “I just think when you have somebody who can shoot that way and put that many points on the board, you just have to be able to figure it out.”
Purdue didn’t figure it out against Villanova at the start of the 2016-17 season when the Wildcats went into Mackey Arena for the Gavitt Games and beat the Boilermakers, 79-76. It is one of only four home losses for Purdue in the last four seasons, and the only one to a non-conference opponent.
That was a much different Villanova team, of course, but both Phil Booth and Eric Paschall played in the game. The teams could have also met twice last season, but Purdue lost in the round before they would have played the Wildcats in the early-season Battle 4 Atlantis, and then lost a Sweet 16 matchup to Texas Tech. Villanova beat Tech to advance to the Final Four.
So, they finally meet again, and Purdue is counting on Edwards to make shots, and Villanova is counting on its defense to limit those.
“I think they’re going to make it difficult,” Painter said. “They’re going to get you out of rhythm. With Villanova, no matter who they have on their team, they’re still going to do the same things. They’re going to make you beat them in a different way than you’re used to. Once they get you shooting into a crowd or shooting a little further out than you’re used to, they have you.”
Of course, shooting from a little more distance than most are comfortable with is nothing to Carsen Edwards. He’s fine with that. Shooters get shots. Whether they go in is another matter, and the outcome of this game might ride on that small question.