After that gut punch of a loss on Thursday it's easy to just dump on everything Purdue basketball related and just burn it all to the ground. Rather than doing that I think it's time to look forward and see what Purdue basketball can do next year to be great again.
I'm on record as saying I don't think next year's Purdue team will be better than this year's Purdue team. This Purdue team SHOULD have been special. They really should have. They simply flamed out in the tournament and had some player issues we couldn't have seen coming. No one expected Davis to injure his knee and struggle throughout much of the year. No one expected Kendall Stephens to fall out of the rotation due to some personal struggles. Those two things definitely changed the dynamic of this team.
I'm also on record as saying I think the 2016-2017 team could very well do better in the tournament than this team. Obviously I'm really sticking myself out on a limb here since this team didn't win a game in the tournament. I think though there is a distinct difference between being a better team and doing better in the tournament. On the podcast we brought this up. The NCAA Tournament is probably the worst way to decide who is the best team in college basketball. It's all about matchups and with it being single elimination one bad game could doom the best teams. It's a weird scenario but it's the one we've got. So, looking ahead at next year what can Purdue do to become great again? Here's my top three wants for the offseason to truly transform Purdue basketball.
- Number one for me is to learn how to handle pressure. Purdue lost numerous games this year, including the final game of the season, because they buckled like Santa's shoes under pressure. Each time this happened you would have thought that this was the first time any of these players had seen a press. It was this new alien experience that no one had ever prepared them for. We know that Painter worked with this team consistently on breaking a press. It's a shame that this practice rarely, if ever, got put to good use. By next season I want this team to turn this weakness into a strength. Surely with the arrival of Carsen Edwards, and the maturation of the rest of the guards, Purdue will be able to put together a coherent press breaking strategy. That's really all Purdue needed to win on Thursday and if opponents from next year are smart they will use that as a gameplan for how to defeat Purdue until Purdue shows otherwise.
- Next, I want consistency from the shooters. We all know this is a need. There were games where Purdue seemingly couldn't hit water by falling out of a boat. It wasn't just one player either. No one on the team was consistently hitting shots when we needed them to. Cline and Mathias were perhaps the most consistent and with another year of a hopefully healthy offseason their numbers will improve. It could have changed numerous games around this year had the shooters either taken fewer bad shots or hit the open shots. The game at Maryland sticks out in my mind as Purdue went 3-25 from the three point line and wound up losing by 11 points. If you take that 3-25 and even move it back to just below the rough percentage that Purdue shot this year, 37%, you end up with Purdue making 9-25. I'm not a mathematician but that's an extra six three pointers equaling 18 points. I don't think it's absurd to say that you want your shooters to be able to consistently hit open looks. Purdue simply couldn't be that together this year.
- Finally, and this is related to number one, I want to see a renewed focus on taking care of the basketball. Purdue had a turnover problem this year. A big one. I'm talking gigantic, flaky, covered in cream cheese frosting problem. Some of it was related to the press but not all. It wasn't until the first Iowa game that we realized how big a problem the press was with this team. The turnovers however started before that. The biggest culprit, just based on the eyeball test and not looking at numbers, was Biggie. The guy turned it over 25% of the time he had the ball according to Casey on the podcast last night. I believe he got his numbers from KenPom so please don't shoot the messenger if that's incorrect. Biggie gets called for travels. A lot. It's a problem for him and greatly impacted his effectiveness. Just think about that number. If you knew a player turned it over one out of every four times he touched the ball as an opponent you'd be thrilled with that. You would attack that player mercilessly and try to force more turnovers. That's what teams did to Biggie. With growth and improvement from him in the offseason it should result in a drastic drop of turnovers committed by the Boilermakers.