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.