Purdue’s Hot Start Brings Hope to Program

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2014

From a distance, this weekend seemed like a relatively unremarkable start for the Big Ten. The teams that were expected to win won, and those that were expected to lose lost. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find that one team, with the help of an especially impressive freshman, turned some heads with its dominant weekend play. Purdue looked nothing like the team picked to finish 11th in the Big Ten, as predicted in the Preseason Media Poll, easily disposing of both of its opponents by a combined 60 points. Outstanding performances from certain players, especially freshman guard Vince Edwards, fueled Purdue’s offense to an average of 78.5 points in the two games, giving Boilermakers fans and some prognosticators reevaluating the trajectory of their season.

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Vince Edwards has led Purdue to their hot start. (Jerry Schultheiss).

Edwards, a little-known freshman, was awarded this season’s inaugural Big Ten Freshman of the Week – ahead of a number of other high-profile freshmen like Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell – after averaging 19.5 points (including a 26-point outing against IUPUI), 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in his first two games. The freshman was so unheralded as a recruit that he failed to make both Scout’s and Rivals’s Top 100 rankings. The Middletown, Ohio, native has been a stat stuffer so far, but he hasn’t been the only major contributor. Sophomore Kendall Stephens has been deadly from the outside, evidenced by his 9-of-13 shooting from deep and 17.0 PPG average. A.J. Hammons already has eight blocks, if little else, and sophomore Raphael Davis and freshman Isaac Haas brought excellent performances to the season opener – Davis chipped in 13 points, while Haas contributed 11 points and eight rebounds. The Boilermakers’ hot start has been an impressive team effort thus far, which is in stark contrast to the underachieving unit we saw come out of the gates last year.

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AJ Hammons: RTC Big Ten’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 12th, 2014

AJ Hammons wasn’t supposed to still be playing basketball in West Lafayette this season — the junior was supposed to have taken his considerable size and skills to the NBA two seasons ago. And although he’s flashed snippets of what had NBA scouts drooling, uneven play and a questionable motor have been the more lasting images of his first two seasons at Purdue. Now with a deeper team surrounding him in what some are calling a make-or-break season for head coach Matt Painter, Hammons needs to produce at consistently high level. Still, even with the up-and-down nature to his play, Hammons managed to lead the Big Ten in blocks last season. We expect his development to result in greater maturity and drive this year, making him our Big Ten microsite Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands this season. (Purdue Exponent)

AJ Hammons will once again hold the Boilermakers’ NCAA Tournament hopes in his hands. (Purdue Exponent)

Hammons has averaged 2.5 blocks per game in his two seasons in West Lafayette, including a whopping 3.1 rejections per contest despite only playing 25 MPG last season. Among power conference players, only St. John’s Chris Obekpa and UConn’s Amida Brimah logged a better block rate than Hammons’ 13.31 percent. He also finished fifth in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding rate, doing so at a 22.7 percent clip. He was able to manage these numbers without a capable backup, meaning that in many situations he had to worry about foul trouble inhibiting his aggressiveness. With another year of maturity and a security blanket behind him in the name of 7’2″ freshman reserve Isaac Haas, Hammons can finally play aggressively when he’s on the court. This will enable the burly center to contest even more shots at the rim and to hit the glass even harder. Even with his shot-blocking prowess inside, Purdue ranked 101st in defensive two-point field goal percentage at 46.6 percent a season ago. Look for this number to decrease quite a bit this year. Barring injury, Hammons should become the 17th member of the 200-block club within the non-conference part of the schedule, and he only needs 67 blocks to crack the Big Ten’s all-time top 1o.

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Big Ten M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 20th, 2014

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  1. Maryland received some bad news over the weekend when it found out that starting forward Evan Smotrycz will be out of action from four to six weeks with a broken foot. Smotrycz averaged 11.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season after transferring from Michigan. He was expected to be a starter for Mark Turgeon’s team again this season, but now he will probably miss key non-conference games against Arizona State and Virginia if he misses the full six weeks. This puts Jon Graham and possibly freshman Michal Cekovsky in line to pick up some of his minutes, at least in the short term.
  2. Not many Big Ten teams had flashy Midnight Madness spectacles like the Kentuckys and UConns of the world, but a couple of schools held public intra-squad scrimmages over the weekend. Purdue was one such team that did so, and the Boilermakers put forth an intriguing lineup with giants AJ Hammons and freshman Isaac Haas on the floor together at the same time. While this unit would definitely lack in quickness if used during the regular season, it could potentially work in small stretches of game action. The major takeaway from this occurrence, however, is that should Hammons get into foul trouble during the season — a fair assumption, given that he had 12 games of four fouls or more last year — it looks as though Matt Painter won’t hesitate to spell him with the 7’2″ Haas.
  3. Nebraska is in the midst of a highly successful football season right now, as the Huskers currently sit at 6-1 with running back Ameer Abdullah sneaking up the list of Heisman favorites. Despite all of that, Cornhuskers basketball is generating a good deal of its own hype heading into the season. Preseason first team All-Big Ten forward Terran Petteway was quoted at media day as saying “now everybody is going to be coming for us.” The Huskers surpassed expectations and then some last year, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they go from being the hunter to the hunted in 2014-15.
  4. Branden Dawson has to have a great senior season if Michigan State hopes to exceed expectations after losing three talented starters, and playing summer ball against former All-American Draymond Green has helped prepare him to take on a greater burden during this year’s campaign. Head coach Tom Izzo stated that if Dawson can bring consistent energy to the lineup, then he’ll have a big year as a leader. One would think that an all-conference season from Dawson will answer many of the questions people have about Michigan State in a transition year.
  5. Another B1G senior who is under the microscope this season is Ohio State swingman Sam Thompson. Thompson has primarily been known for his highlight reel dunks and incredible athleticism during his previous three seasons in Columbus, but the Buckeyes need offense with their top three scorers no longer on the roster. Thompson’s shooting percentages dropped across the board from his sophomore to his junior season, and as a senior he needs to provide more than just athleticism on a team that ranked 128th in offensive efficiency last year. Fellow seniors Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald all will have different roles on the team from last season, and whether Thompson in particular can blossom into a more complete player may determine if the Buckeyes are capable of making another deep NCAA Tournament run for Thad Matta.
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ACC M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on November 15th, 2013

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Before we get to the news, someone may want to help find Steve Donahue find Boston College’s wheels.

  1. Virginian Pilot: Bob Molinaro focuses on Virginia Tech‘s football program when talking about the challenges that will face the new Hokies athletic director, but the basketball program may prove just as challenging. James Johnson may very well be the man for the job in Blacksburg, but Virginia Tech has to invest more in its basketball program to overcome its geographical challenges. I liked the James Johnson hire then (though the timing was atrocious), and like it now. But it was a risk and new athletic directors aren’t always the most patient of bosses.
  2. Syracuse Post-Gazette: Good reporting from Donna Ditota on player views about getting paid. While most acknowledged that getting paid would be “complicated,” all but Baye Keita (and Joe Harris) thought players should be paid. Harris is particularly interesting, as he would likely benefit from a rule allowing him to make money off of his likeness. Here’s the thing: No one in their right mind should argue against full cost of attendance scholarships. And I have a lot of trouble arguing against athletes being allowed to make money on the side. Yes, it has to be regulated, but having a complex problem to solve doesn’t mean you should just ignore it.
  3. Grantland: I’ll sum up Mark Titus’s ACC preview. He likes Duke; he likes CJ Fair, Jabari Parker and TJ Warren (though I think he underestimates the number of people who know about Warren); and he loves Wake Forest‘s fan meltdown. Titus doesn’t love Virginia, which is surprising, although he may be right after the Cavaliers choked their game against VCU away. But all of Fair’s love and questions about Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis have obscured another big part of Syracuse’s future success: Jerami Grant. Grant’s brother has gotten plenty of love at Notre Dame, but this Grant will be much more important to Syracuse this season than in the past.
  4. Greensboro News & Record: Want to see a newspaper for a decent-sized city use an outdated Excel graph format that looks like it belongs in a paper from 2005? Today’s your lucky day! But Mark Thompson’s article is actually pretty interesting. Thompson looked at ACC fouls last season compared to this season and found that league fouls are up 3.8 fouls per game so far. It would be interesting to see the numbers for every team, although the sample size (and schedule variance) would be an issue. Also interesting is that other conferences have seen a more substantial increase in whistles. All I know is that there was a hideous stretch in the second half of Duke vs. Kansas where neither team could play 12 seconds without picking up a dumb foul. Let’s hope that stops.
  5. Blogger So Dear: In a bizarre last-minute signing day drama, Isaac Haas didn’t sign a letter of intent as expected to play at Wake Forest. All experts now point toward the 7’2″ center signing with UAB. What’s odd is that Haas’ uncle sent an inspirational tweet, prompting fans to wonder whether his scholarship offer was rescinded (according to Dan Collins at the Winston-Salem Journal, it wasn’t). Can’t blame a teenager for changing his mind, but it feels like we’re missing some facts from this story.
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