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Pressing Issues

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The Iowa collapse was alarming, but was it an aberration or something to worry about going forward? Hint: our problems aren't only the press.

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

My oh my, how things change. It was just a few weeks ago that I was writing that Purdue's starting lineup was here to stay. That their configuration made the most basketball sense. Now, Purdue has lost to Butler and given up a win to Iowa in Mackey Arena and I'm ready to burn the starting lineup to ashes.

If you want to know why the Boilers lost against Iowa, don't blame the press. Iowa's press was lazy and dangerous. If you want to blame Painter, fine, his rotation was poor, but the real reason is 3 of Purdue's 5 starters.

11 points (4-21!!!), 10 rebounds, 5 assists, and 9 turnovers!!!!

That's the collective line for Rapheal Davis, P. J. Thompson, and Caleb Swanigan.

If it's even possible, their actual play looked even uglier than their number. This isn't an aberration either. The three have struggled in both the Big Ten games to start the season. And now that we're in the Big Ten season, Purdue can no longer just outsize their way out of a hole to start both halves. If Coach Painter hasn't already considered a change to his starting five, it's time to.

We'll give senior captain Davis a pass. He's got three years of being a highly efficient slasher, who has shown improvement from range. Also, he doesn't look quite right. He was unable to get up for a clean dunk late in the Wisconsin game on a fast break, and seemed to favor it a bit afterwards. While he hasn't looked horribly moving laterally, his offensive game has went into the tank. He's always relied on a quick step, balance, and a whole lot of strength driving to the hoop. He's struggled the last few games at getting there, losing the ball on multiple occasions in attempts to blow by his defender.

He's struggled defensively as well compared to what we're used to seeeing from the senior but Iowa's Uthoff is a tough matchup for anyone, let alone a guy giving up five inches. Blame that on Painter for not using his 6 foot 8 inch wing with a 7 foot wingspan who was born to guard these exact players on Uthoff instead. But we'll get back to this.

But Davis is not going to the bench, and he shouldn't.

That leaves the sophomore point guard, P. J. Thompson, and the much more heralded true freshman Caleb Swanigan.

First off, you don't bench someone unless there's an obvious replacement on the bench. There is. Dakota Mathias, after a slow start, has started to absolutely smolder on the basketball coach. Of course, there's more than just shooting. The sophomore is 'the best passer' Coach Painter has ever recruited. He's been red hot in Purdue's first two Big Ten games, making 5 of his 11 three point attempts and collecting 5 asssists - granted, he's turned the ball over 3 times as well, but he's a ball mover and a shot maker, two things Purdue sorely needs.

He's also shown massive improvement on the defensive end, when it looked like he'd be a major liability on that end last year. He's in better shape, quicker, and works his ass off to chase opposing shooters off of screens.

While Dakota has improved as the year's gone on, P. J. Thompson has only found struggles. His inability to break the press is damning, but not because he can't beat it. It's that the press shows his most glaring weakness, and that's a lack of aggression. At his size, he's never going to be a guy that can just get to the hoop. On pick and rolls, if he gets around his man he drives to about the free throw line, then stops, realizes he can't do anything there and then dribbles back out to the three point line.

His assist to turnover rate is astronomical, over 4 assists per turnovers, and he started the year on an absurd streak of assists without turnovers. This is a positive, but it also speaks to his game. He doesn't take risks, and a lot of those assists are empty assists. Simple passes to shooters who did the work to get open, not a play where Thompson gets his guy open which is what Octeus was able to do for us last year, and what good point guards do around the country.

 photo p. j. looks off dakota.jpg

Up 3, with less than nine minutes left, the Boilers were reeling, but there were plays to be made. This is as simple a read as there is. Thompson and Dakota are being occupied by the same defender. The play is simple. P. J. needs to dribble once into the defender to pull him in, and then hit the wide open and red-hot Mathias for a wide open corner three.

Instead, P. J. pauses, dribbles backwards, and waits for Swanigan to move to the left block, bringing over an extra defender that's able to take away the open Mathias shot. This is inexcusable. It's an easy play, and one you have to make as a basketball player.

But ultimately, Johnny Hill's lack of shooting is more of a problem than Thompson's lack of play making. Defenses can absolutely ignore Hill on the perimeter, and that allows teams to front Haas. Fronting Haas has been very effective, Isaac has struggled to catch the ball clean and go up without getting blocked by guards and bigs alike. At least with Thompson, the defense has to be nervous about leaving him wide open.

So, we're left with the freshman. Here's some Swanigan facts:

  • Caleb Swanigan's offensive rating is 94.3. Kendall Stephens has the second lowest offensive rating on the team. His offensive rating is 105. Third  lowest is Rapheal Davis at 110. Ouch.
  • Caleb has attempted 127 shots this year, most on the team. The three players with a lower field goal percentage? P. J. Thompson, Ryan Cline, and Kendall Stephens - all 3 pt. specialists.
  • Swanigan has 46 turnovers, 20 more than the next closest player on the Boilers.

Despite this, Caleb Swanigan has played 410 minutes this year, 45 minutes more than Vince Edwards who is second on the team in minutes. That's on Coach Painter. Swanigan has potential and there's pieces of a good player there, but he's been our worst player. Besides when Stephens gets trigger happy, there's not a Boiler in the conversation of who actively hurts this team more. He relies on difficult turnarounds in the post, and fires passes that have little chance of being turned into anything but a turnover.

And instead of realizing his struggles, he's only pressed more as the years gone on. Forcing the issue, thinking he has a mismatch that doesn't exist.

 photo caleb looks off hammons.jpg

Again, a very easy read. The Boilers are only down six here, and Hammons has his man perfectly sealed with an easy dunk right in front of Caleb's eyes. Instead, the true freshman faces up and attempts a drive to the hoop. As has been the case over and over again this year, he holds the ball out for the defender to swipe out and the ball ricochets off Swanigan's leg and goes out of bounds. Iowa's ball. Iowa's win.

Swanigan's limitations are very real. He's a terrible defender. He mucks up the spacing as much as helping, running into clean post-up chances for Haas and Hammons, and forces them the ball when they're not open. He takes ill-advised shots too often. Painter has given him more leash than any player I can recall and he's getting bit for it.

Of course, Caleb's not the only reason we lost.

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There was a concerning amount of lack of effort and smarts from the Boilers. Down just five, a two possession ball game still, and a simple rebound leads to a breakaway dunk because Davis and Mathias fail to run back with the Iowa player who slams it in and seals the victory.

But he's one of the bigger reasons.

There needs to be some changes. Painter is playing his true freshman too much. We're almost halfway into the season now, Swanigan isn't an unknown quantity now. He's been much closer to our worst player than our best. He doesn't need to be leading this team in minutes. Maybe don't change the starting lineup, but the rotation has to get better. Edwards needs to play more, especially at the four. Mathias needs to see the court more. Stephens has improved on defense and continues to have a higher ceiling on offense than most our wings. Hill is our only consistent ball handler that can get to the rim. Cline has been impressive in his short stints on the floor.

Caleb Swanigan might be the future of Purdue basketball, but right now he's hurting the now. It's on Coach Painter to pull back on the reigns and use his depth over appeasing his 5-star freshman.