One of the characteristics across the better Purdue teams over the last three decades has been the emergence of a team leader. It is not always the best or most talented player, but it is a player that takes the reins of leadership to almost single-handedly turn the team in the right direction if it loses its way. That leader is not always a senior. Matt Painter's first NCAA Tournament team had two such leaders in Carl Landry and David Teague. He then had Chris Kramer as the team's heart for three years before giving way to Robbie Hummel.
That leadership has been missing since Hummel graduated. Consequently, Purdue missed the NCAA Tournament for two straight seasons. Sure, D.J. Byrd and Terone Johnson were supposed to be that leader, but they never took control and imprinted their identity on the team.
Purdue finally got such a leader back this season, and there was a major turnaround because of it.
Rapheal Davis - Junior
10.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.8 spg - Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Academic All-Big Ten
Of all the returning players for this year, Ray D. was the one most affected by the losing of the past two seasons. Last year he was fed up once the Big Ten Tournament was done. He had had enough, and he organized the summer workouts to get the five freshmen involved and integrated. He knew Purdue needed to return to playing Purdue Basketball. That meant a return to team-oriented basketball where the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. It meant that Purdue had to get back to out-working its opponent and defending like mad bastards.
You see, that was the biggest difference between the previous two seasons and this one. You could tell not everyone was on the same page at all times. You could tell the defensive intensity that is a hallmark of Purdue basketball was not always there. In those rare times it was there, Purdue looked great again. When it wasn't, the Boilers simply could not compete.
So that is what we had this year, starting with Ray. He brought the right attitude back to Purdue basketball, and for that we are grateful. Statistically, Ray raised his scoring average by 4.7 points, doubled his assists, improved his shooting to 45.5% from the field, and even greatly improved his three-point percentage to 30%.
Of course, it was Ray's defense that is where he really made his mark. He was selected as the best defender in the Big Ten, with a teammate (Hammons) as the likely runner-up and Jon Octeus also playing a big role. Ray often defended the opposition's best scorer and, like the great Purdue defenders of old, would hound him all night long. He definitely ascribed to the belief that it is a lot easier to win basketball games by holding a team under 70. He brought back lockdown, nasty defense on the perimeter to Purdue basketball.
I think it was the Iowa game without question. He had a season high 24 points including a critical late three-pointer for the win. It was his third triple of the game, which is even more impressive when he had only four made three-pointers in the previous 18 games combined and just two in the 17 before that week's Illinois game.
The Iowa game also showed that Purdue was much, much more effective when Ray was involved in the offense. Ray is one of the few players for Purdue that can consistently get to the basket and score or get to the foul line. That is a critical element needed in Purdue's motion offense to take the focus off of Haas/Hammons in the middle. It is so critical that it might have been the difference in losing to Cincinnati, as his two missed free throws with 1:33 left in overtime loomed lage with Purdue trailing by one at the time.
The whole Iowa game, as it broke a 13-game losing streak against ranked teams and actually started a three-game winning streak against ranked teams.
Final Grade: A
Ray improved his game, took over as the team's much-needed leader, filled that three-year vacancy, and was selected as the Big Ten's best defender. If that doesn't deserve an A, I don't know what does.
Ray will be back next year, and we all know he is a ridiculously hard worker. That work ethic needs to continue as he heads into his final season in West Lafayette. If anything, Ray needs to become a more consistent part of the offense. At times I think his offense suffered because he was exerting so much energy on defense. Purdue lost 13 basketball games this year. Ray was held to five points or less in seven of those losses. He was scoreless against Kansas State, had only four against Notre Dame and at Wisconsin, a single point at Minnesota, two at Michigan State, and just four against Cincinnati. We need him involved in the offense. We need him either scoring or getting to the line.
Aside from that, it was a great year for Ray, and he has set the stage for a memorable senior year.