I am the type of player that looks for solutions in life when there are obvious problem. Instead of bitching about something I choose to look for ways to fix it immediately. That is where the Purdue men's basketball team is after a listless February that has seen them drop four of their last five games in pretty brutal fashion. It is embarrassing that a school that prides itself on hard work and has a "Time To play Hard" clock above the entrance to the floor has been out-worked by really everyone this year. That's the No. 1 thing that needs to improve, because the work ethic is severely lacking.
Any chance at the NCAA Tournament now lies with an unexplained hot stretch in Chicago starting three weeks from today. Any chance at the NIT requires that Purdue wins four of its next five games if it loses its opener in Chicago, or three of the next five if it is to win a game in the Windy City. That's a longshot as well. The CBI and CIT will take teams with a losing record, but honestly we should never sink that low (though last year's SBi best-of-three was a major conference showdown between Washington State and Pittsburgh. Pitt was 17-6 entering that tournament and Washington State was 15-16.
In all likelihood the 2012-13 season will come to a merciful end either three weeks from today or tomorrow. If, by some miracle, Purdue makes it to Saturday in Chicago it might as well win the whole thing because otherwise it will be a tease of "where the hell has that been all year?" proportions. The coming offseason is a critical one for the program. It will take work to recover from this year, and right now this team is not showing much of a work ethic.
Every single player has something to work on, too.
Terone Johnson - TJ is expected to be the senior leader of a team that needs to make next year's NCAA Tournament and show that this year was a fluke. Much is going to fall on him. It doesn't seem like it, but his numbers have improved each season at Purdue. Even his 58.6% free throw shooting (still dreadful) is a vast improvement over last year's 43.5%. Unfortunately, his turnovers are also up while his overall shooting percentage is down to 39.% from 47.2%. He's taking five more shots per game, so if he can find his way back to 47% it will help greatly. He's at 12.9 points per game, so getting him to 15 or 16 is not a huge stretch. More importantly, he needs to seize the mantle of leadership.
A.J. Hammons - Hammons has all the physical tools he needs to be a dominant player in this league on both ends of the floor. Like JaJuan Johnson before him, he is one of Purdue's best free throw shooters, which helps since he is in a position to take contact and get to the line. As I have said multiple times, however, the give-a-shit needs to be turned on. Against IU in Mackey he played with passion and even tried to get the crowd into it once or twice. Then you have games like at Michigan, where he had 4 points on 1 of 4 shooting.
If Big AJ can develop a midrange game and greatly improve his defense he will be nothing short of a beast. The downside of that is that he would also likely head to the NBA. Of all the players on the roster next season AJ has the highest ceiling. He can be a Big Ten POTY candidate and lottery pick on a greatly improved Purdue team if he puts in the work.
Ronnie Johnson - RJ is going to be compared to Kevin Ferrell of Indiana because they are in the same class, in the same state, and played their high school careers two miles apart. Both are starting as freshmen on opposite sides in the state's biggest rivalry, and will likely do so for three more years. It's been helter-skelter at times, but Ronnie's numbers (9.7-3.7-3.7, only 2.5 turnovers) are quite good for a freshman. Ferrell actually possesses a jump shot, however. Every time Ronnie shoots a non-layup or runner I am shocked if it goes in.
Ronnie doesn't need to become a lights out shooter, but he at least has to stay in the gym and become effective. He's 15% from long range and only 36% from the field. If he gets up over 40% from the field and even 25% from long range he's scoring probably 15 points per game and the offense is more open instead of collapsing down on Hammons.
Anthony Johnson - Will Little AJ still be a Boilermaker? He's almost universally loathed by fans and every time I hear rumors of transfers it seems like he is at the center of them. Supposedly a great shooter in high school, he is not right now. You're looking at a player shooting 39% from the field and 28% from the three and he does the exact same things as about four or five other players on the team. If Little AJ stays he has his work cut out for him because there isn't a lot that will separate him from Kendall Stephens and Bryson Scott.
AJ is 70% free throw shooter, however, so he has that going for him.
Rapheal Davis - In 2010-11 a 6'5" freshman averaged 7.4 points per game, struggled from long range at 30%, and averaged 3.7 rebounds per game. His name? Victor Oladipo, and he is now a National player of the Year candidate on a team that has no valid excuse for losing the National title.
Davis is currently a 6'5" freshman listed at three pounds lighter than Oladipo and averaging 5 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 27% from long range. The lesson? Hard work pays off. Oladipo Busted. His. Ass. to become one of the best players in the country after being pretty much an also-ran on a team that went 12-20. Will Davis become the next Olapido? There is no guarantee. If he works hard, improves his outside and midrange game, and develops that edge we saw in the second half against Notre Dame into a regular performance Davis can certainly be an impact player.
When I see Davis I see so much potential, but there is still a bit of timidness there. It's almost like he is looking for permission to breakout. Well, you have my permission, Rapheal.
Donnie Hale - Sometime forgotten that he is only a freshman, Hale can find as role as what I call a scorer of opportunity. We're likely never going to center an offense around him, but if he can be a scrapper on the glass and someone who moves without the basketball he can catch the defense napping. Sometimes it is all about seeing that you're not a concern of opposing defenses and taking advantage of it, be it through making the rare open 15-footer you get, crashing the glass for an offensive putback, or protecting the other side of the rim on defense from a POTY center. Hale showed us he can be solid with a double-double at Penn State. He now needs to be a rebounder, hustler, and Little Things guy that gets his points by work.
Jay Simpson - When was the last time Purdue had a true power forward and center at the same time? Was it 1998 with Brad Miller and Brian Cardinal? In very limited action before being shut down due to injury Jay showed some promise, especially in New York. He now essentially gets a second freshman season. The same thing that applies to so many others apply to him too. Jay needs a midrange game that can pull bigger players away from the basket and Hammons. He needs to be a worker who uses his athleticism to get rebounds and putbacks. He needs the give-a-shit always turned on. Coach Painter once said he could be the best player of the four that arrived last fall. Show us why, Jay.
Jacob Lawson - Another transfer possibility, Lawson started well, showed great athleticism, and even a nice midrange game, but has done virtually nothing since the Illinois game at home. Something isn't right when he's had two DNP-Coaches decisions and they were in Purdue's only two wins Since West Virginia.
Jacob needs to prove he can defend at the three position and still have an effective midrange game. He also needs to work on cuts to the basket like Hale so he can get points of opportunity that are the staple of a motion offense.
Sandi Marcius - In any scenario where Purdue adds a player many think it will come from the Chooch transferring as a graduate and playing immediately somewhere else. Personally, I hope this doesn't happen. The Chooch is having his best season at Purdue and the last two games, when everyone else has looked disinterested, he's played hard and opened some eyes. Big AJ is going to need rest next year, and Sandi is the one player that could come in and provide something similar and effective for a few minutes at a time. Just give me four points and four rebounds 10 minutes a night, Chooch.
Travis Carroll - This marks the third year that Carroll has played out of position, but has played because his effort trumped players more suited to play at the four or five. For his senior season I propose a drastic change to Tacos' role: make him a shooter. He's shooting 70% from the floor this year (yes, on a career 27 attempts, but bear with me). He has a midrange game and last year he proved he can hit the three. Why can't he play more that Nemanja Calasan did? Give him two three-point attempts per night, like Chally had, and let him draw someone away from the basket. If he can hit it frequently enough to be a concern then again, it opens up so much more.
I'm not asking Tacos to somehow transform into a low-post beast averaging 15 and 10 per night. I am asking him to play hard, rebound, set screens, and knock down open shots because no one in the league expects Travis Carroll to knock down open shots. Defensively he's not quick enough to guard threes and gets bodied by fours or fives, so he needs to pick which area to work on here.
Neal Beshears and Stephen Toyra - With a combined three points between them it is hard to see where they find a larger role, especially with three freshmen coming in, but coach painter has shown he is not afraid to play walk-ons if they can contribute. Mark Wohlford and Bobby Riddell proved that. Work hard, find a role, and it will pay off in minutes on the floor.
I still think the pieces are there. For some reason they did not fit this year. No one can shoot with any consistency, there is no real leader on the floor after five years of having a Hummel, Moore, or Kramer on the floor at all times. Bryson Scott seems like he could fit that role very well, but somebody clearly needs to. Purdue is still losing only one piece in Byrd (all respect to Dru Anthrop, but he's out now and hasn't had much of a chance), while adding three. It really adds four with the return of Jay Simpson. Even then, it will still be a very young team with TJ, The Chooch, and Tacos as the three seniors. If Lawson and Little Aj leave as some suspect it will have no juniors, either.
That youth needs to start delivering though. There are too many sophomores and freshmen in this league having a large effect for youth to be an excuse. Outlined above is just one obsessive fan's rough outline. They are the guys that need to listen to coach Painter (much better at this than I am) and put in the work necessary. That work will pay off if it is done, however.