Purdue’s First Loss: To Panic or Not?

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 21st, 2015

After dropping a 74-68 game to Butler over the weekend, Purdue is no longer unbeaten. Even though the Boilermakers were thoroughly outplayed by the Bulldogs in the nightcap of the Champions Classic, they still sit with a record of 11-1 and aspirations for a Big Ten title and a protected seed on Selection Sunday. Are those dreams of glory well-founded? Is the loss to Butler a red flag or simply a one-game aberration for an efficiency darling still destined for a successful season? A legitimate case can be made for either option.

Despite Problems With Turnovers, Caleb Swanigan is a Budding Superstar. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

A couple things should be worrisome for head coach Matt Painter as his team finishes non-conference play. Much like the Purdue teams of recent vintage, the Boilermakers struggled on the offensive end of the floor against Butler (0.94 points per possession). The opponent certainly deserves some credit for its poor first-half shooting (35.5%), but numerous easy shots were missed and overall shot selection was poor. Isaac Haas (four points) and AJ Hammons (12 points) got the ball more often down low in the second half, and this team needs to play inside-out in order to be successful.

Purdue’s struggles also raised the question of whether PJ Thompson or Johnny Hill can quarterback a Final Four caliber team. They have been solid against inferior opponents, but Butler’s Tyler Lewis (17 points, four assists, four steals) caused both lots of trouble on Saturday. He repeatedly got open for big shots and easily found his way into the paint. Thompson finished with seven assists and only one turnover, but Hill was erratic in his ball-handling (three turnovers in 13 minutes) and the team turned the ball over 18 times. This game represented the Boilermakers’ first true moment of adversity this season, and neither proved capable of guiding them to safety. Painter should be a bit worried about how a few negative plays in his backcourt snowballed into even more negative plays.

While these are legitimate concerns, much of what happened against Butler on Saturday screams one-game aberration. The team had been shooting 37.3 percent from long-range, but made just three of its first 16 attempts Saturday before finishing 7-of-22. Butler did a good job in contesting those attempts, but poor shot selection was also to blame. Painter’s usually-reliable interior also let Purdue down. Haas missed a number of easy shots around the bucket that he usually makes, and Hammons had a quiet 14 points and five blocks after picking up two early fouls. The odds of both players performing so lackluster on the same day again are slim.

One encouraging development is the continued growth of freshman Caleb Swanigan. The burly forward notched his sixth double-double in 12 games, going for a career-high 25 points along with 11 rebounds. Even as turnovers continue to plague the young player — he had seven miscues against the Bulldogs — his play has been generally positive. Even his giveaways tend to usually be of the aggressive variety. Swanigan is well on his way to becoming one of the best players in the Big Ten, a scary proposition for opposing frontcourts who will already be tasked with battling Haas and Hammons.

Purdue will be tested again right away when Vanderbilt comes to Mackey Arena on Tuesday evening. It will be the first point of clarification as to whether the loss to Butler was simply an off night or the beginning of a fall from grace for one of the hottest teams of the first month of the season.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at brendan.brody@gmail.com, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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