Despite a 4-6 record Purdue has a bright future on the court.
Our Purdue Boilermakers are currently 4-6, a record we have not seen in West Lafayette since Gene Keady's final year when Purdue beat Detroit, Colorado State, Evansville, and Eastern Illinois while losing to Miami (OH), Cincinnati, N.C. State, Memphis, Oklahoma, and Baylor in the first ten games. That team went on to finish 7-21 with the only Big Ten wins over Michigan, Penn State, and Iowa, all at home.
This team will not be that bad in the end. It is still an incredibly frustrating beginning because the NCAA Tournament is now incredibly unlikely unless a major turnaround happens. The youth that some thought would be a problem that could be glossed over can't be glossed over. Right now, the Boilers have too many possessions where they cannot score in any way, shape, or form. You're not going to win many games that way.
As a result, blame is being thrown around. People are blaming Painter. People are blaming recruiting. People are blaming the players. It is a mess that has people frustrated because we're used to thinking that the NCAA Tournament is a formality. Now it is removed with 20 games left in the regular season (unless Purdue miraculously wins 14 or so of them) and there is doubt the freshmen will develop as we hoped.
I think it is a combination of things. Painter can coach up as much as he wants, but unless the players execute it will make little difference. If shots aren't falling they aren't falling and sometimes there isn't a lot you can do. As far as recruiting, we have a senior class that in the end, was a virtual swing and a miss, leaving a gap of leadership that Painter has had since Carl Landry and David Teague were there in his second season. Let's look at each class and its impact on this season:
John Hart - Guard (unrated) - Hart would have been the lone holdover from 2008 because of his redshirt year, but he graduated early and transferred out to IUPUI. Part of it may have been an issue with playing time, but he battled injuries and scored just 164 points in three seasons in West Lafayette.
Unfortunately, he would have played a lot this season and would have been extremely valuable based on his numbers with the Jaguars. Hart has already scored 189 points (14.5 per game) for a 4-9 team. He is shooting 36.8% from three-point range (38 of 76) and hitting 78% of his free throws. He also has 21 steals and 30 assists. He's had games of 29 points and 26 points this season as well.
Hart is a shooter and we desperately could use him. I don't know what was said in the offseason that led to his transfer, but I have no doubt he would be playing big minutes for Purdue right now because he is a second shooter that can open up the offense aside from Byrd.
Patrick Bade - Forward - 3 stars
Kelsey Barlow - Guard/Forward - 3 stars
D.J. Byrd - guard/forward - 4 stars
Sandi Marcius - Center - 3 stars
Dru Anthrop - guard - unrated
This is easily the biggest miss on the list because half of this class that should be senior leaders right now is no longer on the floor. Bade chose to sit the bench in football after his supposed improvement from freshman to sophomore year led to fewer minutes, points, and everything else.
Barlow is gone after being multiple chances to follow the rules set forth, only to get kicked off the team in an incident that led to the arrest of Byrd and his own disciplinary issues. When his head was screwed on right Barlow could be damn good player that was a tenacious defender and a dynamic scorer. He was even becoming more of a shooter from long range by going 8 for 32 from three last year after being 2 for 18 his first two years. While those aren't great, he would settle a lot of issues that this team has at guard, especially with Hart available too.
Byrd has been a streaky shooter. He can be lights out like he was for the second half of the Big Ten season last year and the Clemson game this year, but he is better offensively when there are players around him to open things up. With Robbie Hummel and Ryne Smith there last year there were proven scorers that opened the game up for him.
I don't know what to think about Marcius. He played well in last year's NCAA Tournament and he had a good summer, but A.J. Hammons has passed him for minutes this season. Aside from the Hofstra and Lamar games he's done very little. By this point the Chooch is what he is: a complimentary bench player and big that can give you a few minutes per night, but he lacks consistency.
Finally, with Anthrop you're never going to question his effort. He plays every second like it is game 7 of the NBA Finals and has a ton of heart. He's earned a scholarship for two years and absolutely should play a few minutes per night if he can play that hard. Unfortunately, he is still a former walk-on that has a Bobby Buckets ceiling.
Only 20% of this class is giving a significant contribution in a year where they should be major contributors. They would be fine if the following class picked up some of the slack, but as we can see, that's not the case.
Travis Carroll - Forward - 3 stars
Terone Johnson - Guard - 4 stars
Anthony Johnson - guard - 4 stars
At one time I thought this class was the missing piece to the 2011 National championship. Terone was going to be E`Twaun Moore 2.0 and Carroll was going to combine with Marcius during the 2010-11 season to give JaJuan Johnson the support on the low block he never had in his career while a healthy Robbie Hummel destroyed teams as a mismatch at the three. Then Hummel got hurt, Marcius and Carroll weren't ready, and TJ turned out to be a very different player.
That was probably the error in this class. I thought it was a complimentary class that would fill in the few missing pieces from the teams before it and it would lead to better targets in 2011 and beyond to make up for their weaknesses. Instead, we got a complimentary class that followed a class with two misses, a bench player, and a streak shooter. It is only now manifesting itself.
I've always been a Carroll defender because he does a few things well. He is shooting an astounding 84.6% from the field this season (11 of 13) and 75% from the line, but he still struggles with fouls and is simply not quick enough to be a consistent rebounder and defender in the Big Ten. You can tell he plays hard, but it is almost like the Big Ten is about 5-10% above his maximum level. He's the kind of guy that could be an excellent player in the MAC or MVC, but in the Big Ten his flaws are exposed. They are exposed even more when he has to play big minutes because JJ is gone and Hammons hasn't fully grasped his talent yet. Carroll could still be a contributor next season when Hammons and Simpson are better and we need someone who can spell them while still being able to shoot a 15-footer. Sometimes I think Travis' struggle come from him trying too hard, if that makes sense. It is almost like he overthinks things.
It is still early for Little AJ since he is a redshirt sophomore. All I heard about him was how he could fill it up as a shooter, but so far he is below 30% from long range and is 63% at the line. With Hart gone he has to play that second three-point shooter role and for whatever reason his jumper is not falling like we all heard it could. If it ever does he can have a very solid final two seasons because even next year we'll still need shooters.
Terone is a Big Ten player and could be the best on the team. He has experience as a scorer and he's improved to career highs from long range (37%) and at the line (59.4%). Unfortunately, the opposition knows he is one of our few experienced players. Of everyone on the roster, only TJ and DJ have played significant minutes for more than one season before this year. Teams look to take them away first, and that leads to TJ's ugly game against Notre Dame.
So far this is the best year of TJs career, but he hasn't made it his team like I feel he needs to do. It is almost as if he is deferring leadership to Byrd, when Byrd is better off in the hidden sniper role where he thrived last season.
Donnie Hale - forward - 3 stars
Jacob Lawson - forward - 3 stars
The jury is still out on Hale because he has only played nine collegiate games and is really lumped in with this year's four true freshmen. When you haven't played a truly competitive basketball game in two seasons it is hard to turn it back on.
Lawson is the closest thing we have to an athletic freak that can get garbage points on putbacks, rebound with reckless abandon, and he has shown this year he can keep defenses honest with a decent 15-footer. Unfortunately, he is still only a complimentary player at this point when we need a take-charge leader and scorer.
That is the glaring omission of the 2009-11 classes. They have no take-charge, get-behind-me-boys type of leader that can take over a game. The closest player to that, out of the nine recruited, it TJ. Of the nine two are no longer in the program, two look like career backups that can give you a few solid minutes, but are generally reserves, one is best as deadly third option but has to play a first option role, and three are still very early in their playing careers and finding their roles. That leaves only TJ.
A.J. Hammons - Center - 4 stars
Rapheal Davis - forward - 4 stars
Ronnie Johnson - guard - 4 stars
Jay Simpson - forward - 3 stars
People are talking about the development of these four already as if they could be a bust, but it is still so early you can't make a judgment. Simpson is likely the farthest back because he was injured this summer and couldn't play. He's also logging minutes with three other older players at the same position (Hale, Carroll, Lawson). Until he does something to separate himself he won't break free, but unfortunately none of those four have separated themselves from the others.
We saw what Davis can do in the second half against Notre Dame. It wasn't that he scored 21 points so much as how. He had mid-range jumpers, a three-pointer, scored on the drive, and hit free throws. At minimum, it had to earn him some minutes going forward at a position of desperate need (shooter, scorer, leader). Purdue will be a lot better if Davis had his light turn on.
RJ is already more of a leader than his older brother. I'm sorry, but it is true. Unfortunately, he has been an awful shooter so far. His shot looks bad, he makes poor shot choices, and he is shooting too much. These are correctable freshman issues, however. First, no more threes. He's 2 of 23 on the year, so stop shooting threes. Second, improve on the 27 to 26 assists-to-turnover ratio. Third, if you're going to score do it going to the basket so you can get to the line too.
Finally, we have big A.J., who has shown the most promise so far. It generally takes longer for bigs to develop but Hammons has already shown a deft touch close-in and will only get better. He has stayed out of foul trouble and just needs to work on rebounding a little more. He could easily be a 15 and 10 guy by this time next season.
So that is where we are. I think most of Purdue's struggled at the moment come from recruiting misses from 2009-11. We recruited some good players that would be excellent four-year complimentary players on teams with definite go-to guys, but we don't have one of those anymore. JJ, Rob, E`Twaun and to an extend LewJack and Ryno covered that deficiency, but now they are all gone. It's a case of the older players being who they are, while the younger ones are being thrust into roles they aren't quite experienced enough for.
It is going to take some time because of the 11 full-time scholarship players on the roster, five are still in their first 10 games of their college careers. Two more are second year players, while we've established that another two (Carroll and Marcius) are career bench guys. Even the Baby Boilers had Chris Kramer, Keaton Grant, Marcus Green, Terrance Crump, and Nemanja Calasan around. They were more experienced and had more leadership than this team had.
I am still confident in coach Painter, mostly because he has been right in his career a lot more than he has been wrong. There have been recruiting misses (Harris, Dawson, and Little Dog are the biggest three), but even if you drive a dump truck full of money up to the driveway and walk away the kid still has to say yes.
We've seen flashes like Hammons in New York and Davis against ND. Even with a ton of flaws this team has been close in all but one loss. I feel it is as simple as once shot start to fall things will change drastically. We're not used to having 14 turnovers per game and shooting 26.7% from long range. Cut the turnovers in half and hit even 35% from long range and Purdue is probably 8-2 right now.
So let's be patient. 10 games is far too soon to declare the 2012 freshmen a bust. They are taking their lumps right now, but they are learning. The misses of 2009-11 will be cleansed in time and the 2012 and 2013 classes form another solid core with 2014 and 2015 wide open. If Painter was a terrible coach the rest of the Big Ten wouldn't be so complimentary of him (He's been conference coach of the three times in a four year span).
Let's just sit back, watch this team develop, and try to have some fun in the moment when things to click. It will work out. I am sure of it.