Michigan State garnered an abundance of attention in the Big Ten race early in the season — and for good reason. But it may be easy to forget Purdue returned five of its top six scorers from a team that won the Big Ten regular season title a year ago.
Taking the brunt of the frontcourt offensive load from Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas came into the year with unapologetically high expectations. He wants to play in the NBA. He thinks he’s as good as any big in the country. He feels nobody can guard him, and he can guard most anybody.
To some extent, the numbers bear that out. For the second straight year, Haas leads the Big Ten in points per 40 minutes. He is leading the charge for an upstart Boilermaker team that is now one of the top five in the country, threatening to take the Big Ten once again from the Spartans. Purdue has wins over Louisville, Arizona and Butler, among others, on its way to a strong 15-2 start. Purdue comes to Crisler Center to battle Michigan on Tuesday night in a matchup that presents the Wolverines its greatest challenge of the season to date. Haas will play a big role in how it turns out.
The Daily sat down with Purdue’s 7-foot-2 senior center at Big Ten Media Day to discuss his personal progress, the Boilermakers’ goals, the matchups with Michigan and more.
The Michigan Daily: You led the conference in points per 40 minutes last season. What kinds of techniques are you doing to stay on the floor and stay out of foul trouble?
Isaac Haas: Honestly, just running a lot. So that way you’re not making tired decisions, you’re not making tired fouls. I think it’s going to provide me with a lot more opportunity. As well as positioning, understanding the game a little better, understanding, you know, ‘You’ve been here four years, you know what people are going to do to you, you know what some people aren’t going to do to you.’ You need to know how to take advantage of that, and sometimes when to back off. There are just certain points when you need to press your advantage and some points when you need to back off and not get too far ahead of yourself.
TMD: What do you think might be your potential this year if you are able to increase your minutes and stay on the court?
IH: I think the potential is through the roof, in my opinion. In other’s minds they may not see it the same way. It’s just a matter of going out and proving what I can do and helping my team win. That’s all that matters.
TMD: What do you think you need to improve upon most to play in the NBA?
IH: I think there’s multiple things. It’s never just one thing with somebody. It’s all a matter of conditioning, rebounding and being a better defensive player. My defense on the perimeter used to be a weakness. The more I work on it, the better I’m going to get on it. All I’ve been working on lately is my conditioning, rebounding and perimeter defense.
TMD: When you’re playing a team like Michigan that spaces the floor a lot, and with you being a traditional big, what kinds of challenges does that present to you?
IH: Well, obviously it presents a challenge of lateral quickness. That’s something I’ve been working on a lot, especially after training with the NBA, kinda getting better from that whole experience. I do understand that there’s a lot of things I need to work on. I worked with a trainer and now my lateral quickness is a lot better. I know that I’m shutting some of these guys (teammates) down on the perimeter now. The goal is, if I can shut them down, I can pretty much shut anybody down, except for the select few who are just so top-class. It’s just a matter of corralling them, keeping them in front and making sure that I play solid defense and making them make a tough shot.
TMD: So do you think you can shut down Moe Wagner?
IH: I think I can shut down just about anybody, it’s just a matter of doing it.
TMD: Against Michigan, you guys played some entertaining, back-and-forth games. What do you take away from those games last year as you look toward those matchups this year?
IH: I’d just say, it’s going to be competitive, they’ve got guys coming back. Obviously they lost (DJ Wilson), he was a big factor. But I also know that you got more recruits. John Beilein is a great coach, who’s going to get those guys playing together. And I know it’s going to be a tough challenge for us, but I’m looking forward to it.
TMD: You hear a lot about Michigan State going in (to the season), the media’s presumptive favorite. Do you guys feel slighted at all that you’re not in that conversation?
IH: I think it doesn’t matter. I think it’s going to be a matter of who’s going to win and who doesn’t. I think they’re obviously very talented. I think they have the potential to do great things. But it’s just a matter of stepping up, understanding that just because we won doesn’t mean anything this year. It’s still 0-0 across the board. That’s why you see none of us wearing our rings here today because we don’t care. We’re happy that we won, but we don’t care. This is a new year and we’re trying to win another one.