WEST LAFAYETTE –Comparisons between Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms are almost inevitable.
As two towering centers – Haas is 7-foot-2, while Haarms is listed as 7-3 – with similar-sounding names, it's easy to expect the pair to be interchangeable in their style of play.
But Haarms is not Haas. Other than being taller than everybody else, the two aren't all that similar on the basketball court. Haarms isn't a dominant low-post presence like his senior counterpart is, but when No. 2 seed Purdue (30-6) takes on No. 3 Texas Tech (26-9) on Friday in Boston for a trip to the Elite Eight, sans the injured Haas, the freshman center will be an integral part of his team's game plan.
“I'm just sticking to what I've been doing (all season),” Haarms said. “I'm not going to try to do anything weird. I'm not gonna go out there and try to be Isaac. I'm just my own player. I've filled a role all year, and I'm gonna continue to fill that role in extended minutes.”
Haarms' greatest asset relative to Haas, who is likely out for the tournament with a broken elbow, is his agility. Though Haarms is an inch taller, Haas outweighs him by 40 pounds, making Haarms lighter on his feet.
His back-to-the-basket game is nowhere near as polished as Haas' is, but he still makes an impact on offense by diving to the hoop off of pick-and-rolls, picking up so much momentum by the time he reaches the rim that lead-footed opposing big men must foul to prevent easy baskets.
Against No. 10 seed Butler in the second round, he confounded the Bulldogs in the first half with his runs to the rim, helping Purdue climb back into the game after a slow start with seven points, including going 5-for-8 at the free throw line.
“Isaac doesn't move as well as Matt,” Painter said. “So when Matt and Jacquil (Taylor) are diving to the rim, they're going to have a better chance if it goes quick to get that easy layup. If it's slow-developing, then Isaac's got a better chance, because he can bury that (defender in the post).”
Haarms didn't score in the second half against Butler, but his dives in the first half were so unstoppable that it forced the Bulldogs to change their game plan. After halftime, Butler began switching high ball screens, often leaving a guard on Haarms to prevent his runs to the rim. That resulted in mismatches, with Purdue's guards one-on-one 20 feet from the basket against Bulldog big man Tyler Wideman.
“They made an adjustment to (the dives), and that really helped our other shooters,” Haarms said. “At that point, if Carsen (Edwards) is getting defended by someone who's 6-9, 240, we'll take that any day.”
Going from a center who dominates in the low post to one who is more comfortable in pick-and-rolls might have been jarring for the Boilers, but Haarms has been playing this way all season.
One benefit of Purdue's depth is that the team's backups got plenty of playing time this season. That includes the Amsterdam native, who averaged 16.6 minutes even before Haas got hurt.
“It's a little different, but the guys are used to it,” Haarms said of his style of play. “They've seen me, they've played with me a lot, so we're used to each other.”
Even though Haas and Haarms play two different styles, the injured center is constantly coaching his younger teammate, especially in timeouts.
Haarms calls Haas “the best center in the country,” but Haas liked what he saw against Butler.
“He found ways to get open, whether that be diving in front of a guy on a ball screen and roll and opening things up for other people, or simply scoring,” Haas said. “I'm just proud of him.”
Note: The National Association of Basketball Coaches named sophomore guard Carsen Edwards a second-team All-American on Wednesday. Edwards was one of three Big Ten players on the second team, joining Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop and Michigan State's Miles Bridges.
Purdue vs. Texas Tech
What: East regional semifinals
Where: TD Garden, Boston
When: 10 p.m. (approx.) Friday