It's to the point where it's almost laughable.
Purdue Sports has experienced such an unprecedented amount of injuries over the past year, it doesn't even phase me anymore. Since Hummel's injury, it has pretty much gone numb.
But I digress...
John Hart, who is out for 4-6 weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot, has been one of the brightest spots of the the team to date. He entered the season with such high confidence and swagger I thought he lost his mind. However, it ended up being completely warranted since he's been the team's undisputed best shooter.
Hart averages 8.4 points in just over 17 minutes a game. He's shooting a respectable 45% from the field, which is stunning considering most of his shots are from long range. (He's actually better (46%) from three point land.)
On a team desperately searching for production and consistency beyond JJ and Smooge, Hart's contributions have been a pleasant surprise.
The timing of his surgery has the conspiracy theorist in me pondering if this has been on Painter's radar all season long. The fact that Hart has averaged only the 7th most minute on the team despite his stand-out performance begs the questions if this has been the plan all along. But I guess that's neither here nor there, so I will move on...
Here is a look at the schedule during the expected 4-6 week period Purdue will be without John Hart's talents.
12/7 @ VAL, 12/11 vs UNF, 12/18 vs IN ST, 12/21 vs IPFW, 12/28 @ MICH, <4 WEEKS> 12/31 vs NW, 1/5 @ PSU, 1/9 vs IOWA, 1/13 @ #13 MINN, <6 WEEKS>1/16 @ WVU
If John Hart returns in an optimistic 4 weeks, his return would be just in time for the 1/5 home game against Northwestern. This obviously assumes he is able to contribute immediately upon his return. With the strength of our remaining non-conference schedule, Purdue could get through the games without Hart relatively unscathed; missing only a trip to Michigan.
Even If Hart's recovery stretches to the full 6 weeks (or more), he'd be projected to return for the 1/16 game against WVU. Purdue will not yet have reached the meat of their non-conference schedule, playing UM, NW, PSU, Iowa, and Minnesota. Hart would return just in time to travel to West Virginia. I am not underestimating any team in the Big Ten this year, but the schedule could be a hell of a lot worse. There is not a game during those 6 weeks (except maybe Minnesota) that Purdue is not capable of beating without Hart.
Again, Hart picked a pretty damn good time to take care of his stress fracture.
Painter has a variety of lineup adjustments he can employ to help cope with Hart's absence. I took a stab at a few possibilities:
1.) Keep the 3 guard lineup - Ryne Smith and Terone Johnson can absorb Hart's minutes. I'd have to assume that Ryne Smith would see the biggest increase in minutes due to the fact that he is only averaging just under 16 minutes as it currently stands. Considering Smith was slated to start at the onset of the season, this shouldn't be a radical move. However, to make up for Hart's points, Smith will need to convert at least 3-4 of his pump fakes into real shot attempts.
I'd also like to see Painter give TJ more free rein to create his own shot. I also understand that there is a very realistic fear that he may hit the freshman wall quicker (he if hasn't already hit it). Thus, I'll let Painter be the judge of that one...
2.) Unleash the Hansons! - The easy upcoming schedule is the perfect opportunity to give SM and TC additional playing time at the 5 and allow JJ to man the 4. This would allow DJ Byrd to play at the 3, which is a position he's much more playing. This would give our fresh faced big men some time to develop so they are each ready to play 20 minutes a game once we hit the Big Ten schedule. (yes, that was a joke) But in all seriousness, the only thing that is going to make them better is experience and this might be a golden opportunity to give them some. Just sayin'...
3.) Take off AJ's shirt - This is simply a brainstorming session so I am leaving no rock unturned... (Translation: Don't stone be for bringing this up.) If Hart's absence creates a noticeable dearth on the offensive end, maybe Anthony Johnson could make a positive impact. Sure it might create a minor liability on the defensive end, but he can't be a HUGE downgrade from Hart. He proved he has a respectable bag of tricks offensively in the exhibition games. I am usually never a supporter of pulling a shirt half way through the season but the team is in need of someone who can create their own shots and the season is still very young. I have little doubt in my mind that AJ could help Purdue out immediately if he was given the opportunity.
I seriously doubt this is even a realistic option. But if it happened, I wouldn't complain.
All and all, I would assume that Painter will work employ a combination of #1 and #2 (with a heavier portion of #1). I am sure Kelsey Barlow will also help absorb the minutes as he is the resident jack-of-all-trades.
While losing the 3rd best scoring option for 4-6 weeks might seem like a crushing blow, I remain optimistic about Purdue's ability to cope with the temporary loss of John Hart. The timing of the surgery is perfect (schedule wise) and it creates many opportunities to try new things with some of the younger players.
Here's to hoping I'm right...