This time last year the Purdue men's basketball team was all but officially eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. Their only chance was a miracle run in the B1G Tournament. This season they sit at 18 wins with four games, including two winnable home games, to go. I know the magic number doesn't seem to be 20 wins anymore, but I have a hard time seeing the selection committee leaving a 20 win, including 12 in conference play, out of the tournament. So how did Purdue turn it around? There are many factors but in my mind Jon Octeus is the catalyst.
Jon Octeus came to Purdue via that lovely 5th year transfer rule that Coach Painter is suddenly so adept at exploiting. He didn't come at the normal time though. He didn't have a full offseason with the team. He missed the normal trust exercises and all the delicious S'Mores (I'm just assuming that's a normal Matt Painter offseason). After his apparent transfer to UCLA was scrapped due to some sort of academic drama he found a home at Purdue on Oct. 8th. Purdue's first game would be just over a month away, November 14th, against Samford. With just over a month to find his footing with a brand new offense, and new teammates, Octeus has transformed this team into his own. He started off slow with around 20 minutes a game including splitting time with P.J. Thompson and Bryson Scott. Following those first few games though things started to change. In the OT win at Penn State Octeus played an astounding 41 minutes and was instrumental in the victory. It's not often you hear a coach lament about not playing a player enough. Matt Painter has done just that multiple times this season. Painter has lamented that with more minutes from Octeus and better subbing patterns Purdue wouldn't have lost those games to Gardner-Webb and North Florida. I'm inclined to agree.
I don't want to just focus on statistics here because I don't think they tell the whole story. Though it's true that Octeus is second on the team in minutes, third in points, and an incredible second on the team in rebounds (on a team with two seven footers remember) he's so much more than that. Jon Octeus is the heart and soul of this team. Rapheal Davis has grown up this season thanks in large part to the calm and businesslike demeanor of Jon Octeus. The man seems to command the team. When he speaks, the team listens. One such example was this week's IU game. After he fouled out I let out an audible groan. The man has become so important to this team that I couldn't see how Purdue could maintain a victory in the final three minutes without him. Octeus didn't seem worried. When Bryson Scott came out to replace him you could see Octeus coaching him up. More importantly you could see Scott listening. Regardless of what you think of Bryson Scott you know the guy has an attitude. It's an attitude that he uses to fuel those great runs, but it can also put him in Painter's doghouse. On Thursday, Jon Octeus got through to Scott. Bryson Scott gave Jon Octeus his full attention and helped Purdue get through those final three minutes.
After Ronnie Johnson announced his transfer during the offseason I wondered what Purdue's future at point guard was. Bryson Scott was here of course but he was more miss than hit last season. P.J. Thompson was coming in but a freshman point guard often struggles in Painter's system. The addition of Jon Octeus not only stabilized Purdue's weakest position, he made it a strength. I don't worry when Jon Octeus has the ball. I can't say for sure what goes on behind closed doors at practice but I get the feeling that Octeus has rubbed off on all of his teammates. You can see it in the passion of Davis. You can see it in the renewed intensity of A.J. Hammons. You can see it in the improvement of Basil Smotherman. You can see it each and every time this team takes the floor.
Octeus came here with a goal in mind. Get back to the NCAA Tournament. No other player on Purdue's roster has played in the tournament. With Octeus Prime's help Purdue will get back and Octeus will go down as a Purdue great despite just one season in the uniform. Regardless of the outcome of the season we can all agree that Jon Octeus has had a transformative effect on Purdue Basketball.