Purdue is in the midst of arguably their best Big 10 run since 2010-2011. Granted, Purdue has put together a few 3 game runs in the Big 10 over the last three seasons, but back to back wins against Minnesota and Michigan is the best we've done against decent competition. Starting the Big 10 slate with 2 home games has been beneficial, but after watching Purdue blow home games to North Florida and Gardner Webb, I wasn't optimistic playing in Mackey was going to prevent us from starting 0-2. In fact, after the Notre Dame treated us like we treated the Hoosiers last year, I started research pitchforks online. I wanted a something light and yet sturdy when Purdue the Painter/Burke coup kicked off, and then it happened, Purdue magically became not terrible at basketball again. How did this miracle transformation happen? How does a team that leads the nation in air balls and plays layup line defense pull it together and run off two straight against quality Big 10 opponents? Matt Painter finally overcame his coaching ADD.
During the non-conference schedule, Painter was substituting like he was coaching a 3rd grade rec-league team with a participation requirement. Everyone played, regardless of outcome. To be fair, this is Purdue's first team with legitimate depth since, well, I can't remember, the last three years of Purdue Athletics induced binge drinking has taken a toll on my memory. Unfortunately, Painter couldn't decide what to do with his depth, so he played everyone, to the detriment of actually winning basketball games. Then, the second half of the Minnesota happened. Painter decided on a lineup and actually let that lineup play extended minutes, and something interesting happened...we stopped sucking. The defense improved, the offense improved, the turnovers decreased, and I stopped screaming at the television in frustration and starting screaming in celebration. The second half of the Minnesota and Michigan game looked like this in terms of personnel:
PG: In the Minnesota game, Scott started the half at PG, gave the team a shot of energy, and then retired to the bench to watch Octeus actually play the point the way God intended. In the Michigan game, Scott was on the bad list, so P.J. gave Octeus a quick breather in the second half. Octeus is the point guard Purdue has been missing since Lew Jack graduated. He might not make flashy plays, but he makes winning plays. I want al of you who questioned adding Jon to the team to please
SG: Painter stuck with Stephens through a wretched first half and was rewarded with a red hot Kendall in the second half, and for once, he kept him in the game to ride his hot streak. Kendall is the definition of a streak shooter. He needs to see the ball go down, and it might take a few air balls before that happens, but once it does, he can heat up quick.
SF: Ray Day played determined defense, and found his Maui formula of driving to the goal, getting fouled, and punishing teams from the line. Ray specializes in grinding down opponents with his physical play and will to win. I almost felt bad for Levert in the second half of the Michigan game, because Ray had stolen his will.
PF: Vince was allowed to work himself into both games, and seemed to find his place after several lackluster games that saw the freshman phenom seemingly disappear on the court. Right now, Vince needs time to figure out how he fits into a game before he starts attacking. He is now getting those minutes consistently.
C: The Hammons/Haas rotation saw A.J. take over the bulk of the minutes. I like Haas, and I'm thrilled he is on the team, but at this point, A.J. is light years ahead of him on offense and defense. Painter has started using Haas in shorter bursts; taking him out before the defense realizes that double teaming him almost guarantees a turnover. I mentioned in an earlier article that A.J. needs to be part of the offense, and not the entire offense. I'm starting to see that more and more. A.J. is passing the ball well, hitting the offensive glass, and passing the ball out and reposting instead of trying to attack the rim from outside of the lane and traveling. He is doing a better job (still not great) of closing out on shooters on the pick and pop, and is still blocking shots
Honestly, I think Painter threw away 2 winnable games away in the preseason because he was coaching to figure out the team and North Florida and Gardner Webb were being coached to win the game. However, now it looks like Painter has figured out how he wants to handle the minutes, and it looks solid. You'll see P.J., Basil, Bryson and Dakota a pick up some minutes in the first half, but as we saw in both the Minnesota and Michigan games, the above listed rotation is going to get most of the work in the second half. Of course, there will be games when foul trouble dictates changes in the second half line up, and it's yet to be seen how Bryson (when not in the dog house) fits into the rotation, but It appears that Painter has finally settled on a consistent lineup and distribution of minutes. Hopefully throwing away two winnable games doesn't come back to bite Purdue come Tournament selection time, but we'll worry about that when we get there. Right now, I'm just sitting back and enjoying some solid Purdue basketball. Now let's go put another good win on our resume against the Badgers.