Big Ten Summer Check In: Purdue BoilermakersPosted by Deepak Jayanti on August 6th, 2012
For the first time since the summer of 2007, Purdue fans will not be talking about a player named Robbie Hummel as they approach the basketball season. Even though two of the Baby Boilers — E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson — graduated in 2011, Hummel was still around for his final season at Purdue after recovering from multiple knee surgeries. After an excellent comeback season last year during which Hummel nearly led the Boilers to an upset of #2 seed Kansas in the third round of the NCAA tournament, Matt Painter now prepares his program for a new era in West Lafayette.
Evaluating Last Year: Expectations for the 2011-12 season were fairly realistic in West Lafayette last season because of Moore and Johnson’s departure. Fans weren’t sure what to expect from the returning Hummel but overall, Purdue’s season should be considered a success as they finished 10-8 in conference play and gave Kansas everything it could handle in the NCAA Tournament. Even though Hummel had lost much of his explosiveness due to all the injuries, he still led the team in scoring with 16.4 PPG and his presence created more open shots for his younger teammates — especially Terone Johnson, who averaged 9.2 PPG. Painter’s team did not necessarily pull off many big wins during the season but certainly won most of the games that it was supposed to. The Boilermakers hit a mid-season slump by going 1-4 during late January/early February, but recovered fairly well to secure an NCAA bid for the sixth straight year. A huge win in Ann Arbor against Michigan (75-61) on February 25 was key to locking up an NCAA bid.
State of the Program: Painter has stabilized this program over the last six seasons with considerable help from his stellar 2007 recruiting class of Hummel, Johnson and Moore. Six straight NCAA Tournament appearances is not too shabby for a program that went through a rough transition during the first half of the last decade as legendary coach Gene Keady handed the keys of the team to his former player, Matt Painter. Competing for Big Ten championships has always been Purdue’s hallmark but the fans now expect more. With the resurgence of its natural in-state rival, Indiana, the Boilermakers will need to remain consistently competitive on the recruiting trail. Even though Butler and Notre Dame play in different conferences, there are four legitimate programs in the state of Indiana going after the same high school talent. Losing twice to IU during conference play and to Butler in the non-conference slate will not get Painter any points in West Lafayette even if he makes the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year. Overall, the state of the program is very positive but there are a few questions about how Painter will re-invent this program without any of the Baby Boilers around to carry the team over the next couple of seasons.
Players Not Returning: Without Hummel, Purdue would not have made the NCAAs last season. In addition to leading the team in scoring, he also led them in rebounding with 7.2 PPG. But two other seniors were also a very integral part of the Boilers last year – Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith. Jackson was an efficient point guard and his maturity showed during the conference season as Purdue had the lowest turnover rate in the B1G. He even stepped up his offensive game a little by scoring 10.4 PPG when compared to 8 PPG in 2010-11. To complement Hummel’s scoring, Smith chipped with 9.1 PPG and 43% shooting from beyond the arc. Without Smith and Jackson’s contributions, Hummel would have been singled out by opposing defenses during the 2011-12 season and the team may have missed a postseason bid. The Boilers also lose their best on-ball defender, Kelsey Barlow, a 6’5″ guard who defended the best wings on opposing teams and whose versatility will need to be replaced. After getting kicked off the team late last season, he has since transferred to Illinois-Chicago in the Horizon League and will be eligible for the 2013-14 season.
Immediate Needs: Replacing three seniors and a combined 35 PPG from a single team is not an easy task. Painter needs to find immediate scoring options during the non-conference season. Returning senior wing D.J. Byrd shot 43% from deep last season but he can’t create his own shot. He is more comfortable as the third or fourth scoring option and being set up by other playmakers. Painter’s team was second in the B1G during 2011-12 with 1.1 points per possession but it will be tough to repeat that offensive efficiency next season with a younger core of players at the helm. The incoming freshman class along with a couple returning guards will need to step up immediately before conference play begins.
Player(s) to Step Up: D.J. Byrd will see his scoring average go up from 8.9 PPG because his minutes should increase from just 19.5 per game. But the bulk of the scoring may need to come from Johnson, who is an aggressive combo guard that can attack the rim and was evident by a high free throw rate of 40.1% last season. The increase in playing team means that he should be putting up close to 13-14 PPG with help from another guard, Anthony Johnson. Some have compared redshirt freshman Donnie Hale’s game to that of Hummel, but mainly due to their physical stature — both are 6’8″ wings. If his contributions are half as good as Hummel’s during his first season on the court, Purdue fans will be more than satisfied. Returning sophomore forward Jacob Lawson will give Hale a run for his minutes and both of them aim to provide some consistency for Painter at the small forward position. The freshman class which was ranked in the top 30 in the country by Rivals features a couple of players who can contribute immediately. Four-star recruit and 7’0″ center A.J. Hammons will provide true size for the Boilers and should pick up the rebounding slack. Another top 100 recruit, Ronnie Johnson, will have to handle some of the backup point guard duties especially if Terone Johnson and Anthony Johnson play off the ball during certain stretches of the game. Rapheal Davis, a 6’5″ freshman guard, could earn playing time if he proves himself to be a good defender for Painter to take Barlow’s spot in the rotation.
Conclusion: Painter has proved that he can maximize the talent available on his roster and make the necessary tweaks to improve efficiency even with different personnel. Next season will not be very consistent and the Boilers will have to deal with some growing pains as the players mentioned above need to step up without a true go-to guy on the floor. The Boilers will be taking a trip to Italy in August to play four games against the European teams. This trip is extremely important for Painter to get a feel for the young core of players and learn about their strengths and weaknesses. Scrimmages in Italy and the non-conference season will be vital for this team. But as long as the team improves throughout the season and specific roles are determined by mid-to-late January, Purdue should be in a decent spot to make a run at its seventh straight NCAA Tournament bid.