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Could Matt Painter use zone defenses at Purdue this season?

Jul 7, 2014, 7:09 PM EDT

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Purdue head coach Matt Painter has always been an advocate of man-to-man defensive principles. As a disciple of former Boliermaker head coach Gene Keady, that was only natural.

Keady and Painter have always stuck with man-to-man defenses at Purdue, but with the 2014-15 Boilermakers lacking lockdown defenders, Painter might be open to utilizing more zones.

With five incoming freshmen and center A.J. Hammons being a mediocre defender away from the basket, Painter told Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal & Courier that zone looks could come into play for Purdue’s defense during the 2014-15 season.

Over the last three seasons in the Big Ten, Purdue ranked last in scoring defense last season and was 11th in 2012-13 and 9th in 2011-12.

“Everything’s new to them,” Painter said to Baird. “You can’t teach down to the class. You’ve got to think about who you think are your best assets and who is going to help you be the most productive.

“You start with A.J.’s strengths and weaknesses. I think this helps him a little bit and keeps him at the rim. Does it lead to more rebounds for him? Does it lead to more blocks for him? It’s very hypothetical. In theory, one would think so because he stays at the rim a whole lot more than he used to.”

Purdue also needs to throw talented offensive players on the floor to improve last season’s 32 percent three-point shooting, so that could mean multiple lineups featuring both sophomore Kendall Stephens and freshman Dakota Mathias. Although Stephens and Mathias can both spread the floor around Hammons, neither are considered plus defenders on the wing. A change to an occasional zone could help with those lineups.

“We’re going to put the best offensive team out there at some point, if there’s not just lock-down defensive guys. I don’t feel like we have that at this point. We’ve had that throughout the years. If we don’t have that I think we’re going to have something better from an offensive standpoint, just to be more efficient,” Painter said to Baird.

Although this would be a dramatic change in culture for Purdue and Painter, it might be necessary given the Boilers’ lack of elite perimeter defenders and need for additional shooting around Hammons. Purdue has steadily gotten worse on the defensive end over the last three seasons and Painter is clearly looking at some use of zone as a potential solution.