This fall is the dawning of a new era in Purdue basketball. The Mackey Arena Renovation will be finished. This even includes a new floor after God Himself decided that the old one had seen us suffer enough without a Final Four. Some view the 2011-12 season as a waiting period before the new class of 2012 and 2013 recruits can get on campus to deliver a championship. I refuse to believe that. Instead, I can see this as a transition year that prepares the program for even greater heights. Those heights are simple: The goal each season needs to be a Big Ten championship and a Final Four, both of which we will achieve in the next four years.
Remember, the 2006-07 season was a similar year to what we have coming. We were coming off two of the worst seasons in school history, but the return of David Teague and Carl Landry from injury (they were the first to be sacrificed to the ACL-hating god). Saw us return to the NCAA Tournament. JaJuan Johnson, E`Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and Chris Kramer took us to the next step by hanging two more Big Ten banners. While three of those four will be gone next year, I think we can have a surprising amount of success before the "We Got next" classes arrive. We're entering 2011-12 as a transition year like 2006-07, but in a much better position to succeed.
The more that I look at this team the more I like it. Sure, we lose the conference Player of the Year and a 2,000 point scorer, but Purdue's best teams have been ones that thrive on unselfish offense and stifling defense. The guard play is going to be solid. When you have a guy like John Hart, who hasn't throw up huge numbers but has still been silently a key player in a handful of victories buried on the bench how can that be a bad thing?
The key will be our interior presence. Carroll and Marcius have to improve this offseason and both Hale and Lawson need to be ready to go from day one. If those four can combine to give us say 15 points and 15 rebounds per night I think we're going to be much better than people expect. I also think that something good has to happen for Robbie Hummel. The kid is one of the most beloved players in school history and one that deserves a happy ending after all he has gone through.
Just close your eyes an imagine this scene: Local hero and Purdue LEGEND Drew Brees giving the Boilers a pep talk in the Superdome locker room as we prepare to play in the Final Four. Sounds crazy, doesn't it. As crazy as, say, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth playing each other in a Final Four, right? I'm not saying it will happen, but that's why the NCAA Tournament is so awesome. Anything can happen.
Honestly, I can see us still competing for a Big Ten championship. We have three quality senior leaders, solid guards, and a chip on our shoulder. There is also no runaway favorite in the conference. Ohio State? Jared Sullinger is good, but how will he perform without Lighty and Diebler? Everyone else the conference loses a lot of key seniors, with the usual suspects (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State) still solid, much like us. I think it is going to be a very competitive league, so why not us? Our next team is going to have to thrive on Purdue-style basketball, meaning tough defense, everyone doing the dirty work, and hustle. It won't be the best team of the next few years, but it will be fun to watch if everyone gives it there all. It is a team that can be much better than the sum of its parts.
Projection: Top 3 Big Ten Finish, Sweet 16.
Starters: TJ, Carroll, Hale, Byrd, Barlow
Bench: AJ, Ronnie Johnson, Lawson, Jay Simpson, Marcius, Hart (if he returns), Rapheal Davis, New Commit X
I am going to like this team for several reasons. First, Hart is a wild card, most likely depending on his minutes this coming season. If he emerges in a role like he did before getting hurt this past year he is a pleasant surprise and a solid senior contributor. If he is buried on the bench I can see him graduating and either forgoing his final year or transferring to get a free year of post-grad work somewhere else.
Second, the young guns are going to have to come in and fight for playing time with some pretty solid older players. I only see good coming from this. Coach Painter will not pre-ordain a starting job for anyone. Those that are established will have to play hard to keep their jobs, and the young studs will have to come in and earn their place. That only makes everyone better. I think guys like Marcius and Carroll can be solid role players by this point, and Marcius especially could be a pleasant surprise by then. No one has his size, and if he wants to be a dirty work/set screens/rebound/putback player then that is EXACTLY what we need and have been missing for some time.
I can see Hale becoming Hummel 2.0, TJ becoming Smooge 2.0, and Barlow emerging as a Kramer 2.0 as long as the fire that Painter lit under his ass is still burning. Can you just imagine Barlow as the evolutionary, more athletic version of Kramer? By this point I think AJ can solidly replace Ryno as the designated sharpshooter. Lawson and Simpson should both be pretty good power forwards, allowing Carroll and Marcius to be our 5's. Ronnie Johnson is an excellent bench point guard, and this is before you get Mitch McGary/AJ Hammons/Gary Harris as your X factor. Now THAT is a team that has the pieces fitting together as a deep contender.
I am big on having a deep bench and 8-10 guys that can contribute unlike Ohio State's ironman philosophy. That is what you need to make a deep run in March, and guys have to be unselfish. Look at what happened to us in March. We had lost Hart and Barlow, ran into a team that could exploit our lack of depth, and we got run off the floor. Depth allows you to be versatile and play any style. That is what the 2012-13 Boilers will have. By the time the 2012 guys get here the program will be in a better place than when the 2007 guys got here, and it is easier to go higher when you start higher.
Projection: Top 3 Big Ten Finish, Sweet 16.
Starters: 2012 New Commit X (Harris?), Carroll, Hale, RJ, TJ
Bench: Simpson, Davis, AJ, Marcius (if he returns), Lawson, Derek Willis, Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott, Basil Smotherman
Pardon my language, but Holy Fuckballs does this team look good! Marcius is a wildcard, as he too could be a John Hart by this point and leave as an early graduate and pursue his final year elsewhere in search of a post-grad degree. There is so much depth and talent here that I don't even know where to begin. You're talking at least eight four star players on this roster, with two more (if RJ gets upgraded and certainly 2012 New Commit X will be at least four) possible. Who is winning those recruiting battles now, bitches!
Scott and RJ give you two excellent point guards. TJ, AJ, Stephens, and Davis can flank them as all four-stars in the backcourt, allowing us to play three or even four at any time if we want to go small. If we want to go big, we can throw out Marcius and Carroll as senior bigs, with Hale and Lawson as junior power forwards. Simpson will have a year under him (and he will know the beloved Hanner Perea's moves after practicing with him all year this year. Step 1 in his evil plan was moving to LaLumiere). Smotherman and Willis are mere luxuries at this point. We can go big with Marcius, Carroll, or even the 6'10" Simpson at the 5, Lawson/Willis at the four, and have Hale annihilate people at the three
Oh, and I haven't even slotted in New 2012 Commit X yet. Technically, if we get a guy for 2012 we would be one scholarship over the limit at this point, but that is an easy fix. It can be remedied by a few options:
1. Someone goes to the NBA early, say TJ if he explodes in the next two years
2. Marcius transfers for his 5th year if he doesn't develop, his minutes decrease, and he pursues and education elsewhere for a post-grad degree.
3. One of the 2013 guys (Smotherman?) goes to prep school and reclassifies to 2014.
4. Someone else is unhappy and transfers out.
5. One of the 2013 guys changes his mind.
6. It's unlikely, but we don't get New 2012 Commit X and Painter banks the scholarship.
This is why we don't need to worry just yet. If we get New 2012 Commit X and he signs during the early period with Simpson, Davis, and RJ, this lineup is going to look pretty good. We can play with virtually any combination of talented players and much of the team will have experience at every position too. Sure, IU's beloved 2012 class (which may not even be #1 by the time we're done) will have experience with Jesu-, I mean Cody Zeller being a junior by this point (if he doesn't bolt to the NBA), but Tom Crean has talent right now and is still 3-41 away from Assembly Hall. I am not worried at all.
Projection: Big Ten Champions, Final Four.
2014-15 Projections: It's too far out there to dream just yet, but remember this: The 2015 Final Four is back in Indianapolis and we'll still have at least eight four-star players on the roster.