If this is the final season that I will be living in Indiana it is setting up to be a dream season. My beloved Kokomo Wildkats appear to have their best team since the 1997 state finals appearance that I had a very small part in. Purdue looks to have a team that could get a top 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. That would make for a very cozy (and highly tempting) Dayton-Indianapolis-Detroit route to the Final Four right here in the Midwest. The women's teams for both schools, especially Purdue, look to be loaded as usual. It's an exciting time to be here, and it could only be a preview for an even bigger 2009-10 season for all four teams.
It has been a long time since there has been this much excitement around Purdue basketball. Even my sophomore year, when the Boilers made an unexpected run that very nearly put them in the Final Four right here in Indy, there wasn't that high of expectations coming into the season. As a senior, I was one of about 10 people still in the student section as we watched John Allison get outrebounded by just about everyone on our way to the first losing season under Gene Keady. That season was painful to watch. We had quite a bit back from an injury-plagued NIT-worthy season in 2000-01. It wasn't a good sign early when Butler came in to Mackey Arena and looked totally confident even when down 14. They ended up winning by six for their first win in West Lafayette since 1954. I didn't think it could get worse than that, but it did. I don't even mean the final 13-18 record for that season.
But things are so much better now. I find myself envious of the Paint Crew after going through what we went through in the first years of the Gene Pool. If this team continues to play selfless basketball the sky is absolutely the limit for them. Even North Carolina, a team that many are already handing the national title to, would be beatable if we play to the maximum of our abilities. We are no longer the Baby Boilers. We're not even the Toddler Boilers. We are the Boilers, and we are back.
Chris Kramer, Jr
Keaton Grant, Jr
E'Twaun Moore, So
A shooter, a stopper, and a scorer. What a combo if you're going to go with a three guard lineup. These three complement each other in so many ways that it is a shame we can only play three guards at a time. The real question is who goes to the bench when freshman point guard Lewis Jackson comes in to run the offense?
Kramer is everything you want from a team captain. He reminds me of the type of player I am, except he actually has basketball talent. God did not bless me with a ton of talent, but he did bless me with more than enough heart. Yes, I was the type of player that played with reckless abandon diving after loose balls and generally acting like my very life depended on each possession. I now have two bad feet and a twingy knee to thank for this, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Kramer is that type of player. He is a "play in the other guy's jersey" type of defender that is hated by every opponent, but loved by our own fans. He is a blue-collar player that plays Purdue style of basketball. That's why we love him so much. To me, it seemed as if his scoring was off ever since his concussion at Clemson last year. It was almost like he was just a little hesitant offensively. If he is healthier this year (I doubt he will ever be completely healthy) and can score we will be just that much better.
Defensively, all I can say is that we have the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year for two more seasons. Our defense rallies around Kramer's leadership on that end of the floor. Most nights we can stick him in the jersey of the other team's best guard and worry about playing four on four when Kramer is in the game. That is a huge advantage, and will need to be exploited if we are going to have a deep tournament run. We may actually struggle more against versatile teams that don't have one guy designated as "the man".
Keaton Grant reminds me of Cuonzo Martin. He can be a lights out shooter that does most of his damage when teams are distracted elsewhere. He's the type of guy that will kill you if you try to stop Hummel, Moore, and Johnson down low. Simply put, you cannot stop everybody. When we have scorers like Moore and Hummel out there someone is going to get lost in the fray. Grant ended up getting lost enough times last year to end up as team MVP. He is also supposed to be even healthier after offseason knee surgery. A healthier knee means he can create some space for himself and get open more quickly off of screens.
Part of what makes Moore dangerous as a scorer is because we don't have to rely solely on him to score points. We are not a one man show with him as the star. Part of the reason my Kats lost in the 1997 state finals is because we had one player, Herman Fowler, go for 27 points while our next highest scorer had five in a 50-43 loss. Having a great supporting cast that will carry their weight makes having a dangerous scorer like E'Twaun Moore all the more fun. If we're getting the regular contributions from everyone else and happen to have a game where E'Twaun goes nuts I have a very hard time seeing us losing that particular game. Even then, E'Twaun only needs 12-15 points per game to make us more than successful. Like Grant above, teams can't concentrate solely on him because we have so many other weapons. As long as Moore plays within this system we'll be fine. How many other teams don't have to rely on a preseason first-team All-Big Ten player? It is a luxury I am glad to have.
Key bench contributors:
Lewis Jackson, Fr
Marcus Green, Sr
LewJack, as the Boiled Sports guys like to call him, may have more anticipation surrounding him than the fab four freshmen of a year ago. I have yet to see him play, but people are raving about his athleticism and ability to distribute the ball. When he is in the game he is expected to be the conductor of our symphony of offense. He also has the ability to break down his defender and get a quick score if needed. I am thinking he is an Austin Parkinson type only with a much better ability to create his own shot. My only worry is how he as a freshman will respond to a step up in weight class. If he responds like last year's freshmen he will be fine.
Marcus Green is another "lost in the system" type of guy. He is one of our few seniors as we're projected to start five guys who could still be starting next year. Last year he did a little bit of everything and we need him to serve in that role once again. He is listed a guard/forward, so his rebounding and picking up the easy second chance points will be an area that he can contribute nicely. I'd love him to play like I do in this respect. The one niche I have had in my game is the ability to come flying in from the perimeter, grab a missed shot from amongst the trees, and lay it in before anyone even realizes I am there. There is no better feeling than watching two guys on the opposing team taller than my 5'11" size look at each other in shock as I head back down the court after doing that. Marcus needs to do that.
Ryne Smith, Fr
Bobby Riddell, Sr
John Hart, Fr
Mark Wohlford, Jr
This group of four are all good players and probably would have been starters in the late Keady years. Coach Painter has already said that it is likely that one of either Hart of Smith will be redshirting, but we won't know for sure until after the exhibition games. It is nice that they have that luxury. Both have the looks of being big role players in 2010 and beyond as we have another stellar class behind them. They are in a bit of a sandwich class with last year's group in front of them and next year's group behind them, but they will likely serve as critical glue that will help hold a championship team together.
Smith is more of a pure shooter and a two guard. I can see him being a 3-point specialist off the bench and someone who can take some of the long-range burden from Keaton Grant's shoulders. He averaged 18 points per game a year ago mostly from the perimeter, so he has been known to fill it up.
Hart was a late signee from Beech Grove, one of the suburbs of Indy here. He is probably more athletic than Smith, but not as much of a distributor as Jackson. With all the good players in the Indianapolis area recently he was named the Marion County Player of the Year, so that is worth something. He also attended the same high school as women's team great Katie Geralds. He's another guy that can create his own shot as well as run the break.
Riddell is a former walk-on who has seen his minutes decrease from earlier in his career. He's one of the final holdovers from the dark times of Painter's first season, where he was often playing starter's minutes. He is the picture of "student section favorite" as townie walk-on that can shoot the ball fairly well. Chad Kerkhoff played a similar role during the 1999-2000 season. I don't expect Riddell to play a lot, but when he does get in a game, especially at Mackey Arena, expect the students to go nuts.
Finally there is Wohlford. He is in his second year as a walk-on, and I sincerely hope he at least gets his name on his jersey this year. He's not going to be playing significant minutes unless there is a huge rash of injuries, but he will make some major contributions in practice. His game action will be among the most limited on the team, but expect him to play at least a couple of times this year.
I am very encouraged that many of these guys played last year and will be back next year. They will teach Hart, Jackson, and Smith what it means to play unselfish basketball, which is the most key aspect of this team. Our offensive style is one that actually struggles with a "me first" type of player. Fortunately, we don't have a single player here with that attitude, and painter would rip him a new one if we did. Last year Indiana fell apart after the Sampson firing because the players had the "me first" attitude, we won't have that problem.
These guys also compliment each other extremely well. We have a good balance of shooters and slashers. With Jackson we have a better ball-handler and distributor. If their was one weakness of the backcourt last year it was the lack of a true point guard. Tarrance Crump played very well in the NCAA tournament games, but was a non-factor for much of the season. Jackson is expected to be a better fit than Crump from day one. This backcourt will be able to shoot, drive, distribute, and even rebound some if asked. There is some good size here with all three projected starters over 6'3". If they can crash the boards it will assist the front court even more.
Paying some more bills:
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