In this Episode, Andy and Michael discuss how the season ended, and the various roster changes.
My real life job involves a lot more writing than I was initially comfortable with. Nervous that I wouldn’t be able to produce at a level adequate for my position, I sought advice from my co-workers. The best piece of advice I received was to start a blog. It didn’t matter what I wrote about, just the act of writing would eventually make me better.
So I started the Railroad Tie, the site all twelve of you readers are on today. I had no ambitions of turning this into anything big, I just needed a medium and it made sense to write about my favorite recreational activity – Purdue men’s basketball.
In the intervening two and a half years I’ve managed to build a small readership and I’ve enjoyed interacting with everyone, whether it be through the comments, Twitter, or by email. And over the course of that time I’ve had a few opportunities to merge my site with others, or completely leave and join another staff.
I’ve always turned those offers down, and a couple times that was a really hard thing to do. There are a lot of people I respect out there who do great work and the chance to work with them would have been awesome. But I always said no because I valued the independence that came with running my own site.
That has changed, to a certain degree. As of today (or actually, last night) I am now the Purdue Editor over at Hoosier Hoops Report. I could have taken any number of the other opportunities I was given and been happy, but the timing is more right now than it has been in the past. I’m not leaving the Railroad Tie, but my writing will start to appear there instead of here, starting with my first article previewing the IU game (written under my real name, Michael, instead of my pen name ‘Hank’). The podcast with Andy will continue, so you will still get to hear my sultry voice whenever Andy and I get off our asses and record an episode.
Thanks again for your readership. I hope you continue to read me over at HHR, and I look forward to continuing to write about Purdue basketball. Boiler up!
I don’t really want to talk about the game. Not because I’m worried I’ll fly into an emotional rage (I’d like to think that at this stage in my life I can mostly keep an even keel about these things) but because I hate to repeat myself. I’ve even begun to repeat myself complaining about repeating myself. This team is what it is, and what it is, isn’t very good.
Rather, let’s talk about Matt Painter. Although there are some that want to run him out on a rail, I think most Purdue fans agree that one bad season doesn’t undo six good ones. I sit firmly on the “Supporters of Matt Painter” side. Fact is, I think there are some aspects of his job that he could do better, but I trust that Purdue has right guy on their bench.
Observing Matt Painter over the course of the season has been very interesting, perhaps the most interesting sub-plot of the season, beyond the loss of Hummel, beyond the integration of the freshmen, beyond the development of AJ Hammons. Matt Painter has always – almost to a fault – been very honest when speaking to the media about his team. It’s a trait rarely seen in the upper-echelon of the college basketball coaching ranks. The typical characters – Jim Calhoun’s bored curmudgeon, Tom Crean’s head cheerleader, John Calapari’s toothy salesman – we’re very familiar with. But Painter has a certain style of him. He’s not long on words, but what he does say is meaty.
He commented numerous times at the beginning of the season that he was sure his team was good, he just didn’t know when. As the season has crumbled around him, he has been more forthcoming about what he thinks is wrong with the team. He has talked about selfishness (from a style of play standpoint); a lack of effort, a lack of toughness. A divergence from the core competencies that has made Purdue, Purdue. A lack of leadership from those we all (him included, I’m sure) assumed would be in that role.
I can only imagine what he was feeling when he was escorted (in the presence of security, no less) off the court and into the bowels of Assembly Hall Wednesday night. Truth be told, the officiating wasn’t really that bad. On the play in question you could have made the argument that Sandi had been fouled, an argument that Painter vociferously made in the direction of a ref who had apparently had enough. The technical foul he was assessed then fractured the levee, and Matt Painter absolutely lost it. A season worth of failure, unrealized expectations, and struggle flooded out in a torrent of vitriol, focused like a laser on the offending ref. A couple Purdue players made an effort to calm him down, but quickly backed off. Sometimes you gotta let a guy do his thing.
The ref was really just a proxy for a program that has failed to coalesce under Painter’s direction this season. You can only yell at your own guys so often; and frankly, if that haven’t (or are incapable) of getting it by now, then it’s just not going to happen. But that frustration needs to be let out somehow.
At least Painter’s “give-a-shit” switch is still on, although one has to wonder who else you can say that about. Rapheal Davis? He plays hard, although he wasn’t very effective in 24 minutes against Illinois. Anthony Johnson? He certainly plays hard during the games, although despite being in the program for three years he still struggles to make the right play. Sandi? Who else? I don’t know. Most of the guys on the team are capable of excelling within the Purdue system, but the inconsistency of effort is negating any positives. You can’t pass up an open big on the block in favor of jacking up a low-percentage jumper. You can’t jog your way around a screen and give a shooter a clean look from distance. You can’t allow yourself to be blocked out by just standing there and not moving your feet. These are basic basketball concepts, the very definition of “fundamental” basketball. And if I were writing this in November, maybe we could excuse it away. But it’s the middle of February. This is Boilermaker basketball.
The only truly negative experience is one that you learn nothing from. When this season is mercifully ended, like an injured race horse put out of its misery, there will be plenty of time for reflection and self-assessment at every level of the program. Right now, the team is staring a rematch against #1 Indiana in Bloomington right in the face. I’ve already begun to brace myself. Let’s hope that the fire displayed by Matt Painter stirs something within the boys in black and gold and the season can be ended on a respectable note.
It’s been a hell of a week; I’ve been sick and on travel for work and as such, I haven’t kept up as much with blogging. Things have settled a little bit lately, so hopefully that will all change.
Although it isn’t getting any easier to write about Purdue’s season. I feel like I could just copy and paste my previous game reviews, do a string replace on the team name’s and be good to go.
Because the team has stalled. All the development that we saw leading up to (and including) the Illinois game in West Lafayette has all but gone. The team has become the same, whether they are playing Michigan State or Penn State. The same issues keep cropping up in each game. Erratic point guard play, poor perimeter defense, abhorrent shooting…wash, rinse, repeat at the next game.
There are obviously a number of problems with this team and how they play the game from a technical standpoint. But those problems are easily explained away. You talk about the talent of youth, the incoming help, whatever. All of that is true, and all of that has been covered, ad nauseum, on my site and everyone else’s. But the real problem with this team has nothing to do with shooting percentages.
This team once again showed a complete lack of direction; they looked like five guys brought together at the last second to play a pick-up game at the YMCA. You’d have no idea that many of them have been playing together for years. I keep thinking back to E’Twaun Moore; not the loudest guy on the court, but he was a leader nonetheless; he was there to hit a crucial shot when Purdue needed it the most and show his teammates where to be on defense (I’ll never forget an intimate moment caught on camera during a game when he grabbed Kelsey Barlow by the arm and pushed him to a spot on the floor and shouted instructions to him. Kelsey obliged). This team is lacking a similar presence.
And that has translated into a team that is completely devoid of any toughness. Used to be you didn’t walk into Mackey and do whatever you wanted. Yeah, you might win, but you were going to have to sustain some bruises along the way (both literally and figuratively). Now? The current environment at Mackey bears almost no resemblance to the Mackey I just described. Ignoring the fan aspect of the atmosphere, this is a team that doesn’t force you to earn anything. Used to be you had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of floor on offense. Now? A hand raised lazily in the general direction of your face passes as “tough” defense.
The team is soft, but the crazy thing is there are some tough players. Ray Davis comes to mind, for example. Hell, at this point I would love to see Rapheal Davis lose his composure (as he was wont to do in high school) and get T’d up. At least then we’d know that somebody cares enough.
Right now the hardest working players on the team are guys like Davis and whichever walk-on was put in to send a message that particular game. Everyone else seems to be just going through the motions, especially on defense. You can’t just expect to turn it on whenever it’s convenient; being a tough team means playing like a son of a bitch all of the time. That means Terone Johnson needs to lock down his opponent on defense every time down the court. Ronnie Johnson needs to look for the best shot he can get – for himself or his teammates – and not just the first available shot. DJ Byrd needs to have a plan whenever he dribbles the ball. And so on, and so forth.
Make no mistake: Michigan State is a better team than Purdue. And sadly, this team as it is currently constructed looks to be a long way away from closing that gulf. There’s no reason to completely give up hope in the future, but for right now, I personally would settle for a game to game improvement.
I took a moment after the game and before I wrote this to reflect on the season so far. It’s obviously been very up-and-down, but as a whole, things seemed to be trending positive. There were some frustrating moments, but there was also an increasing number of hopeful moments as well.
And that is why the game against Northwestern seemed like such a step backwards. There was just so little to draw from this game that was positive. AJ Hammons had a great statistical game, going for 19 and 13, but he also had three turnovers, didn’t start because he was late getting to the bus this morning, and gave a rather lax effort on defense, against a front-court that he should have dominated. I suppose you have to take the bad with the good though.
The rest of the team though, I’m not sure what to say.DJ Byrd did ok, hitting four of his seven 3-point attempts to account for all 12 of his points. Anthony Johnson had 11, but it took him 11 shots to get there.
You can’t just look at the box score if you truly want to understand what happened against Northwestern today. Because the truly concerning aspects of today’s game have nothing to do with poor shooting (whether it be from the field, from 3-point land, or from the free throw line), or the poor defense, or anything that could be reflected in a box score. What is truly concerning about how this team is performing revolves around the intangibles: teamwork, effort, and communication.
This team does not appear to be connected; they’re all reading from different pages of the script. The offense is atrocious; the offense appears to revolve around someone – most notably lately, Terone Johnson – dribbling with his head down towards the basket and then chucking a floater up in the general vicinity of the rim. Terone does it, Ronnie does it, AJ does it, Rapheal Davis does it. There’s no spacing, no movement, no communication. At the height of the Baby Boilers era you could hear guys talking to each other. Not anymore. The offense has become little more than whoever has the ball trying to go 1-on-5.
Effort, however, remains the most concerning problem this team has. In particular, a lack of effort on defense. Northwestern shot 11-26 from behind the 3-point line today, which is excellent. But frankly, Purdue didn’t make it hard on them at all. No one attacked the ball, no one fought through screens…Northwestern’s hot start was due almost entirely to a Purdue defense that couldn’t be bothered to play tough, disciplined defense.
Barring an unheard of miracle that would surely warrant its own ESPN “30 for 30″ special, the NCAA Tournament is not happening this year. And the way this team showed up against the Wildcats, it’s hard to imagine the NIT being in play either. It does not get any easier from here out; next up is Penn State, but after that, every remaining team on Purdue’s schedule is capable of beating them (perhaps Penn State is too, you don’t want to look past any conference opponent, but they’re kind of a mess right now). This isn’t high school anymore; this isn’t AAU, where you can lose and then turn around later that day and play again. This is major college basketball. You are no longer the most skilled, most talented, strongest, most exciting player out there. It’s more than just being physically tough, you have to be mentally tough as well. And so far, Purdue has shown themselves to be as mentally soft as a bowl of ice cream.
The upperclassmen have’t helped either. Mental toughness is a sign of leadership, and when I watch a team that looks like they couldn’t care less whether they win or lose, not to mention try hard, I see that as a failure of leadership. The seniors – specifically DJ Byrd – and the juniors – specifically Terone Johnson – need to be the leaders of this team. And they clearly have abdicated their responsibilities in that regard.
And that also falls at the feet of the coaching staff as well. It’s their job to teach these young men how to be leaders, and to get everyone to buy into their system. And the fact that the team hasn’t reflects on the coaching staff, including Matt Painter.
But despite all that, this is still not the time to give up on the team. Yes, the team isn’t performing well, and yes the primary reason for that seems to be a maturity problem, perhaps one more pervasive than we originally thought. And of course, player immaturity is not something that you can just tweak a few things and fix that easily. But still, this is a team that has some talented pieces, and this is a coaching staff that has earned the right to a poor season without getting ridden out on a rail. Things are not perfect, clearly, and maybe right now they’re not even good. But this is still our team, and they’re still worth tuning in to, showing up to cheer for, and rooting on. Expressing displeasure at where things are right now is certainly appropriate. But at this point the program could use some support. Jump off the bandwagon now and there might not be room for you when things do turn around.
Wednesday night Purdue suffered the biggest loss in Mackey Arena history at the hands of hated rival Indiana. They lost, 97-60, and I’m afraid it wasn’t even that close.
Let’s be mature and take it like adults. IU is a really, really good team. And though at times they haven’t played like a really, really good team, when properly motivated they can be outright scary. And against Purdue in West Lafayette, they were.
The game was over pretty quickly, although Purdue did manage to hang with IU for the first bit of the game. But once IU got rolling, there was nothing Purdue could do to keep up.
Heading into this game I was thinking about what Purdue had to do to give themselves a chance to win. And really, it comes down to forcing IU to play at your pace; getting them out of their comfort zone and forcing them to adapt. Each of their two losses this season have come when their opponent didn’t allow them to get comfortable.
But Purdue was not able to replicate that success. Both Wisconsin and Butler are incredible disciplined team who refused to allow IU to draw them into a firefight; instead, each team stayed within themselves and methodically imposed their will, preventing IU from running out in transition, slowing down the pace of the game, and relentlessly attacking IU’s weaknesses.
But they were able to do that because both Butler and Wisconsin are experienced, mature teams. The respective coaching staffs and players knew that they couldn’t try to match IU point-for-point and still win; they were able to force IU into a marathon instead of being drawn into a sprint.
Wednesday night Purdue was drawn into a sprint. And that speaks directly to a young, immature team. Instead of operating the offense in a calm and controlled manner, Purdue seemed all too eager to match IU’s pace.
The thing about IU is that they do hurry, but they don’t rush (with respect to Purdue legend John Wooden). They do try to push the ball any time they can, but they still operate within a defined, controlled system. They look to push to Zeller if he’s able to get a step. They use Oladipo and Ferrell to penetrate and draw the defense in to either get an easy layup, or open up one of their many excellent 3-point shooters in transition, before their opponent’s defense can get back and in position.
Purdue failed to realize that however, and tried to do some running themselves. But instead of running a designed offense with an up-tempo pace like the Hoosiers, Purdue forced the issue, operating the offense in a frenetic, disorganized mess. That mess often resulted in turnovers off of bad passes or rushed shots by those who should probably not be shooting jumpers (certainly a recurring theme), which in turn led to run-outs by IU and advantages for the Hoosiers in transition.
One thing that has bothered me about this team all season, but something that has really become more apparent during the last few games, has been the inability – or unwillingness – of Purdue’s players to get back in transition and mark their man. Thus shooters get lost and are given open shots, or the one guy who did get back is forced to figure out how to handle a 3-on-1.
Consistent effort, communication, and making the right play at the right time…all of those are hallmarks of mature teams. And if you want to succeed in the pressure cooker that is the Big 10 you have to be a mature team. It’s not enough to just be talented, because Purdue has that. It’s your team maturity that allows you to capitalize on that talent, and turn it into wins.
I suppose the silver lining to this dark, menacing cloud, had to be the play of AJ Hammons on the offensive end. He out-played, or at least matched, Cody Zeller:
That is obviously a positive sign for the future, Hammons emerging from his slump in a major way against Purdue’s biggest rivals and one of the biggest names in a game. Yeah, he didn’t rebound all that well and got into some early foul trouble, but I’ll take a 30 and five game from him any night.
However, Hammons wasn’t the problem. The problem was what it has been all season, at least on offense – the play of Purdue’s backcourt (that’s to say nothing of Purdue’s defense; how can you give up 97 points?). It would be easy had we been able to lay this loss at the feet of the freshmen, but DJ Byrd and Terone Johnson both had only four points. Anthony Johnson had two points. Ronnie Johnson had 13, but it took him a game-high 16 shots to get there. After so many years of Purdue’s guards and wings carrying their respective teams, those very same positions are what’s holding this team back.
I suppose it’ll get better, perhaps even this year. Next up are Northwestern and Penn State, two teams hanging out at the bottom of the Big 10. But both of those games are away, and frankly, Purdue is in no place to cast aspersions at this point.
This is a couple days old, but Purdue has offered Nashville, TN guard Cornelius “Corn” Elder a basketball scholarship in the 2013 class.
The interesting thing about Corn is the fact that he is a top-flight football player. In fact, if he were coming to Purdue to play football he would be Purdue’s highest ranked recruit, even over QB Danny Etling. He’s a 4-star ranked 157th in his class (position: Athlete) with football offers from the likes of Auburn, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, UCLA, Iowa, Nebraska, and Tennessee.
He is also getting attention on the basketball court as well, although not nearly to the same degree. His basketball offers are from Jacksonville, Middle Tennessee, and Tennessee State. And now Purdue, who is looking for more help in the backcourt.
I didn’t really know a whole lot about Corn, but I talked to a friend of mine, and this is what he had to say:
“He wants to do both. Solid basketball player, high caliber in football. Could be a four-year glue guy in B1G hoops, All-B1G in football. Honestly, don’t think he’s Purdue good in basketball, but he’s got the physical tools to reach that level. Needs to become a better scorer.”
I have two thoughts on him, without having seen him play. First of all, he’s undoubtedly an incredible athlete, despite his small stature (5’11”, 170lbs). That’s never a negative. And secondly, he has been described as having an intense passion for the game of basketball with great leadership skills and a “relentless” approach to defense. Both of those are exceedingly positive.
The obvious question is what effect this may have on Bryson Scott, the incoming freshman point guard. I really don’t think there’s much of an impact. Bryson at this point is the better player, and his style of play makes the potential of a Scott-R. Johnson backcourt especially formidable. From all accounts it sounds like Corn still have some development to do. To be frank, I’m not sure there are many players that Bryson Scott feels could take away his playing time.
So you can never have too many guards that you trust. Otherwise you may end up like Purdue this season and their dearth of reliable ball-handlers. It sounds like Purdue has a great shot here, as he’s a kid who wants to play basketball in college and Purdue is by far his best offer. The spring signing period is just a few short months away, so we’ll find out more soon.
Tom Davis posted an interesting opinion column this morning comparing the Butler basketball program to Purdue’s. Davis thinks very highly of Butler’s program (so much so that he once used Twitter to encourage Collin Hartman to switch his commitment from IU to Butler), and rightfully so. Butler has had the most success out of any program in the state of Indiana over the last decade.
(And before I go any further, this is not meant as a hit job on Tom Davis or the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. I personally think that newspaper provides the best balanced coverage of college sports in the state, and as Sports Editor, Davis deserves a ton of credit for that. While Tom and I have had our disagreements on Twitter (because of course Twitter), the work that he and his colleagues produce is generally very good.)
So it’s not as though he got the situation completely wrong with the aforementioned article. Rather, I feel as though he left it incomplete. The main thesis of his argument is that, in his words: “Butler has surpassed [Purdue] due to better recruiting.” He goes on to say:
In studying the Purdue roster, there are countless examples of how not just Butler, but other Midwestern programs, have made more shrewd decisions and won more recruiting battles with Purdue
That’s an interesting argument that should really be separated into two parts – how Butler has out-recruited Purdue and how other Midwestern programs have out-recruited Purdue. Let’s look at Butler first.
Has Butler Out-Recruited Purdue?
No. Purdue and Butler rarely cross paths on the recruiting trail. And when they do, Purdue holds an advantage. I’ll start by looking at the 2009 class, since that was when Davis started. Since then, Butler has beat out Purdue for a recruit only once, when they landed Nolan Berry as part of their 2013 class. Purdue, during the same time period, has landed five players who had Butler offers: Patrick Bade (2009), DJ Byrd (2009), Terone Johnson (2010), Travis Carroll (2010), and Ronnie Johnson (2012). Butler has made a cautious entrance into major college recruiting with the likes of Cody Zeller (whom they lost to IU) and most recently, Trevon Bluiett. But by and large, the two schools recruit different players, and when they do go after the same kids, Purdue has come on top. Purdue’s main recruiting rivals have been Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, and Michigan State, but not Butler.
Has Butler Been More Shrewd than Purdue?
This is a tougher question, as it’s far more subjective. Butler has made some great decisions on the recruiting trail, most notably guys like Andrew Smith (2009). But just as Purdue has had their misses (as mentioned in the article, Sandi Marcius, Patrick Bade, and Travis Carroll), Butler has as well. Their 2009 class had only one member. Erik Fromm (2010) is averaging just 3.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in just 12 minutes per game. Jackson Aldridge (2011) is averaging 0.9 and 0.9 in seven minutes a game. Kameron Woods (2011): 3.6 and 4.2 in 14 minutes. Andy Smeathers (2011) has played in only 13 games this season while averaging 0.8 points and 0.3 rebounds in 2.5 minutes a game. Kellen Dunham has had a great season, but the other members of Butler’s 2012 class haven’t fared so well. DeVantae Morgan has played in only 12 games, and Chris Harrison-Docks quit the team before the season even started. How are those numbers any better than the examples he threw out with Purdue?
Davis also mentions off the court success, which I’m not sure what he was getting at, but both schools are excellent academically and both teams have had to kick a player off the team for discipline-related issues, so I’ll call that a wash.
What About the Other Midwestern Programs?
Davis goes on to talk about guys that Purdue has missed out on, including: Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Branden Dawson (Michigan State), Gary Harris (Michigan State), Glenn Robinson III (Michigan), and Mitch McGary (Michigan) as further examples of Purdue’s misses on the recruiting trail. No doubt, adding any one of those guys to Purdue’s roster would make this team much better. But he’s just cherry-picking there. Purdue would have been much worse off had they lost Ronnie Johnson to Illinois, or AJ Hammons to Minnesota, or Anthony Johnson to UCLA, etc…
Point being, you can’t just cherry-pick a few guys. Were there some errors in there? Sure. Some guys just picked someone else (Dawson) and some guys Purdue had to back off of due to reasons outside of basketball (McGary). And some guys just never really considered Purdue (Thomas). But yeah, maybe Purdue shouldn’t have backed off Harris like they did after getting a verbal from Rapheal Davis. And maybe they should have spent more time recruiting GRIII, despite the the fact that no one could have predicted that he’d blow up the way he did.
But the offer list for Purdue’s recruits match up well against any other Big 10 team’s, especially in the 2012 and 2013 classes – the two classes following Painter’s new contract, which Davis implies that Purdue isn’t getting fair value for.
So is Davis correct in his assessment of Purdue’s program? Partially. There’s no denying that there have been some misses over the years. But there have been plenty of successes as well. But he paints an incomplete picture. He started with his conclusion and built his data around supporting that conclusion. If you want to talk about Butler’s success, talk about how the excellence of their coaching staff. Or the fact that they have incredibly smart players. Hell, talk about how this is a much different Bulldog team if Rotnei Clark (their leading scorer and leading 3-point shooter by a mile) doesn’t transfer in. Those are the reasons why Butler has been the most success team in Indiana over the last 10 years. But the recruiting argument just doesn’t hold water.
If there really is such a thing as “winning ugly”, then Sunday’s brand of basketball was “frying pan to the face” ugly. Only 35 combined points in the first half; the winning team finishing with only 65, and that’s after an overtime period! As much as some of the other teams in the B1G have done their best to force the national media to reconsider the pervasive “boring and slow” trope (though some have clung tight), the Purdue-Iowa game might have undid any progress in that area.
However during a season in which extracting a win has been aptly analogous to pulling teeth, getting the ‘W’ and moving to 4-3 in conference play is all that really matters I suppose. The season is a long journey to…somewhere. NCAA Tournament? NIT Tournament? A chance to get a head start on post-season reflections? I don’t know, and frankly, nor does anyone else. The degree to which it only matters that you got the win in conference and not how you got the win is matched only in magnitude by how little any post-season thoughts matter at this time.
But if this team wants to continue to get the next win, some aspects of this team’s development are up for some critical self-examination. There are times where this team plays a beautiful brand of basketball; all movement and efficiency and exploitation of their opponent’s weaknesses. And then there are times where none of those characteristics are present. Where the ball handler pounds like air out of the ball while the other four guys chill out, seemingly nailed to the boards on the floor. Where guys who haven’t been able to hit a jumper to save their lives insist on doing so anyway. Where no one seems interested in hustling back on defense, leaving their one teammate who did so to face a 1-on-3.
It’s hard to make heads or tails of this team at times, but it has been encouraging to watch certain players step up. Speaking of being nailed to a board, Jacob Lawson appears attached to the ones comprising Purdue’s bench. He failed to register a single minute against Iowa; the first time that has happened since last season. In his place was Donnie Hale, he of the four pts/gm scoring average. But Donnie stepped up in a huge way against the Hawkeyes, scoring 12 points (no two bigger than a tip-in with less than two minutes to go off of an AJ Hammons miss) and grabbing five rebounds. Hale has struggled at times this season, but he picked a great game to make his presence felt. I doubt we see that kind of production moving forward - inconsistency, as you well know, is the calling card of this team – but his play offered a glimpse of what he could be, should he add some muscle bulk and stabilize that jumper of his.
Rebounding was another positive from the game, as Purdue had two rebounders in double figures while no Iowa players did the same. They took care of the ball (only seven turnovers) and protected the rim well (eight blocked shots) but some of the old bugaboos crept up once again. Specifically, free throw shooting. Thank goodness for DJ Byrd, who hit all four of his attempts; every one else who attempted a free throw only managed to hit half of their attempts. Given Purdue’s tendency to let leads slip away (the West Virginia game notwithstanding) free throws take on an added importance. Purdue managed to overcome their struggles from 15 feet against Illinois, Nebraska, and now Iowa, fortunately. But this team has their eyes on knocking off one of top teams in the conference, and that isn’t going to happen by shooting 60% from the charity stripe. I’m afraid that in-season is too late to actually improve in that area, so let’s just hope that Byrd is the one taking those attempts, as he’s the only Purdue player shooting over 70% from the line on at least 20 attempts (71% on 22 attempts going into the Iowa game, to be exact).
Next up is Indiana on Wednesday. That…won’t be easy, even though the game will be played in West Lafayette. Let’s hope the Paint Crew finds their way to that game, unlike the Iowa game when the crowd was a little muted. But rivalry games tend to bring the best out of the teams and the worst of the fanbases. I’m looking forward to it.
If there really exists something in a way of a moral victory, then I suppose Thursday night’s game against Michigan would count. The team deserves some acknowledgement of how they played, at least for the first 20+ minutes, even though the final result was not what Purdue fans had hoped far.
Truth be told, the final score betrays a little the actual closeness of the game. It’s important to recognize just how good of a team Michigan is. Trey Burke is an unbelievable talent, and after forgoing the NBA draft in order to come back for his sophomore season, he has put together a resume worthy of National Player of the Year consideration. At this point he has to be the favorite for Big 10 Player of the Year; no small compliment, considering his competition for that award includes the likes of Cody Zeller and DeShaun Thomas, among others. Burke is backed by an unbelievable supporting cast, including three outstanding freshmen in Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary, and Nik Stauskas.
Michigan is capable of beating anyone in the country, perhaps even capable of winning it all come March. But for significant portions of the game against Purdue they looked incredibly vulnerable. Purdue was hitting from distance, was playing great defense, and overall looked to have some hold over the game, as tenuous as that hold may have been. Michigan coach John Beilein certainly could not have been pleased going into halftime, and whatever he said to his squad seemed to work, and the second half saw Purdue regress to their season averages in an incredibly brutal fashion. That hot shooting from distance? Gone, as the Boilermakers were unable to hit a single three in the second half. The disciplined defense, the ability to match UM’s energy, the great offensive rebounding, all disappeared into thin air in the packed Crisler Center.
There was one key stretch when Purdue really lost the game. They were down by a mere five points when Stauskas, he of the 50% accuracy from behind the 3-point line, was left wide open for a three. On the ensuing possession Anthony Johnson would miss a 3-point attempt quite badly – in fact, the three Purdue possessions following the Stauskas 3-pointer would all end with missed 3-point shots, which I don’t have to tell you is not Purdue’s game – that Michigan would capitalize on to the tune of six straight points by freshman Mitch McGary.
Two players really stood out in a negative sense, those being the AJ’s: Hammons and Johnson. Hammons, for the second game in a row, was a complete non-factor. Freshmen have their ups and downs, even those as gifted as Hammons, though he lack of effort and energy throughout the game was particularly concerning. I would chalk his poor play (two points and two rebounds again Michigan) to the ebb and flow of youth, but it is worth watching him over the next few games to see how he responds.
Anthony Johnson has also been struggling lately. He did only have one turnover, but his production was just not where it needs to be. He finished with four points on 2-6 shooting (he was 0-2 from behind the 3-point line) and had only one rebound and most importantly, only one assist. He has really been struggling to run the offense as the point guard. The offense does not have the same flow to it as it does when Ronnie Johnson is running the show. AJ has been the latest focus of some Purdue fans’ ire, but I am unwilling to give up on talent. Yes, this is his third year in the program (he redshirted his freshman year) but he is clearly still learning. Keep in mind that Ryne Smith did not shoot over 30% from behind the 3-point line until he was a junior. There’s certainly more time, but Purdue is going to need more out of their sophomore guard.
But there is plenty to focus on from the positive end of things. Purdue hung tough with the presumed #1 team in the nation, and continued to fight until the game finally got away from them in the last few minutes. This is not a “burn the tape and never watch again” type of game. All losses are disappointing, but this one is more palatable than some of Purdue’s early season efforts. Unfortunately, the road does not ease up on Purdue, with a tough Iowa team up next, followed by top-10 Indiana. Those two games will tell Purdue fans everything they need to know about Purdue’s ceiling this season.