USA TODAY Sports
Purdue suffers a devastating loss at Eastern Michigan.
Purdue has had very few games under coach Matt Painter that would qualify as a "horrible loss" His first season was a short-handed team that fought hard without its two best players. Since then, only a handful of games have been truly awful to the point that everything about this team can be question. Before today, I can think of only two results that were simply baffling: The infamous Wofford game when the Baby Boilers were freshmen and last year's horrid performance at Penn State. For the record, I think the worst one was Penn State last year ebcause at least we were competitive against Wofford. Against Penn State we got blown out and gave up 21 points to a guy who was weeks from being told he should never played basketball again).
This loss at Eastern Michigan was as bad as those.
I attempted to watch this game via my Watch ESPN mobile app but it is as if the internet tried to save me from this truly dismal performance. Yes, this is a young team, but there is simply no excuse whatsoever to score only 44 points against a MAC team when you have a team with Purdue's talent. None. Judging by Twitter and the box score we can deduce a few things:
1. Purdue's shot selection continues to be awful.
2. Turnovers (the mark of a young team) were incredibly costly.
3. Whatever has caused D.J. Byrd to go into a funk since the Clemson game needs to be figured out. He's a better player than this, but has now hit just one of his last 15 shots from the floor and is 0-14 from long range since Clemson. He either needs to hit his shots or hit the bench because he's a liability otherwise.
4. Free throws continue to be an issue.
5. Someone needs to teach this team how to attack a zone defense.
That last point is a product of the current recruiting system. There is so much emphasis placed on one-on-one ability through the AAU system that few players come into college knowing how to attack the zone. I trust coach Painter because more often he has been right than he has been wrong, but he needs to recognize this and fix it. The sad thing is that it is not difficult to attack a zone. All you need to do is avoid simply passing the ball around the perimeter, move without the basketball so it doesn't stay set, and don't shoot over it if you're not a good shooting team. It is that simple, but it is frustrating that this team looks totally lost and confused against something so simple.
I know I am eating my own words here that I typed just a week ago, but it is time to put the talk of the NCAA Tournament to rest barring a miraculous turnaround, and I officially apology if I was harsh in defending my opinion last week. This team does no know how to win close games yet, so the rest oft his season simply needs to be a game-by-game lesson for the future. I still trust in Painter as a teacher and these players because of their individual talents. There will be some very bright moments, but some very frustrating moments. This was clearly the latter.
What today needs to be is the bottom, however. It does not get much worse than scoring only 44 points against a bad MAC team whether you're on their floor or not. These Boilers need to see this as the bottom and commit themselves to getting better every single game. Right now they are lost, stagnant on offense, and a terrible shooting team from the field. That is not going to win a lot of games, but it is clear from the flashes we fans have seen that the very basic building blocks are there. Ronnie Johnson can be a great point guard in a year or two. A.J. Hammons can be a dominant center in a eyar or two. Jay Simpson and Jacob Lawson can be athletic freaks. Rapheal Davis can be a dynamic scorer when he finally figures out the college game.
We were spoiled because the Baby Boilers came in and won right away. I held out the same hope for this group, but there is now Chris Kramer, Keaton Grant, Marcus Green, or even Bobby Riddell there to ease the transition. Instead, the five upperclassmen (TJ, Byrd, Dru Anthrop, Tacos, The Chooch) are either guys that would normally be quality backups or niche role players. Byrd thrived last season as a sixth man and deadly sniper that got looks because Ryne Smith was so deadly. Anthrop is a hustler and a great energy guy, but he is still a senior walk-on that has played sparingly in his career. TJ is a streaky shooter that can thrive when there is more experience around him. Tacos and The Chooch are guys that can give you a few good minutes as serviceable backups, but that's it.
Of those five you have one true starter in TJ. The Baby Boilers had Kramer and KG at the guard pots, Calasan came in and played extremely well as a JuCo transfer, and Green was a true senior leader. That supporting cast is vastly different and, dare I say it, better than what Purdue has now.
There is good news, however. There is still a lot of basketball to be played and it is not a lost season. Instead, it is a different season. Purdue will take its lumps and get better. If this is the bottom it could really be a whole lot worse. We've seen a deeper bottom. It was called 2004-06. The pieces are there (and three more are coming) to be a damn good basketball team within a year or two. It is the proverbial step back before a giant leap forward. In the meantime this current group needs to keep learning, keep fighting, and just prove to be a nasty thorn for any team out there.
This team has yet to be blown out. Yes, the five losses are ugly, but they are by an average of six points each. That means they are closer than we think. I guarantee there will be at least one game where Purdue pulls off a surprising upset later int eh year against a highly rated team. Once they figure a few things out, watch out. I trust coach Painter, even though some mistakes have been made in recruiting in the past, to teach these guys because he has been right a whole lot more than he has been wrong. Plus, he can teach all he wants, but if shots don't fall and guys don't move it means nothing.
Finally, I realize that I am getting older. I am going to be a father here in about four and a half months. Maybe this team can teach me a thing or two about living and dying by them. Instead of agonizing over games and analyzing teams to death perhaps I can step back, relax, and just have some fun with watching basketball again. For too long I have let Purdue affect my moods for days on end because of poor performances like this one, so maybe I can take a lesson from the team and just let it go to move on. Perhaps we can all just get better slowly.