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What Purdue Basketball Needs Going Forward

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Purdue needs a reset after losing 5 of its last 7 games.

NCAA Basketball: Crossroads Classic-Notre Dame at Purdue Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

6-5.

Yeah, I am mad about that too. Purdue basketball is still a top 20 team per KenPom, which is the cold, unemotional computer rankings that put everything together in terms of adjusted offense, strength of schedule, and even luck. Purdue has played one of the toughest schedules in the country (fourth out of 353 per AdjEM), but is one of the unluckiest teams in the country at 331st. Somehow, despite our offensive struggles, we’re 8th in adjusted offense but 331st in adjusted tempo (so we’re efficiently slow?).

But really, all that matters is 6-5. We went 0-4 in our marquee non-conference games, losing to Virginia Tech, Texas, Florida State, and Notre Dame by 19 total points. In three of those games we led with less than 10 minutes left. To me, that is what brings the most frustration. It would be one thing if we were getting blown out, but we’re playing just well enough to be in all of these games and have hope that the tide will turn. Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame was a prime example. We didn’t let them run away with the game, as their largest lead was briefly 15, but we only got as close as 4 and it stayed in the 7-10 range for most of the second half.

As always, things are never as good as they seem, nor are they as bad as they seem. This team is still very close to a breakthrough. We don’t even need that much. We’re in the position that if everything was fixed we would be excellent, but we only need 2-3 things to be fixed to be at least good enough to cover many other flaws. Think about it: as bad as we played at Florida State we win that game if not for a couple missed free throws. We beat Texas, Virginia Tech, and Florida State all if we don’t go completely ice cold from the floor in the final five minutes of each.

With the Big Ten season restarting and a wealth of ranked teams on the schedule we’re going to have the schedule strength to still make the NCAA Tournament (which is the bare minimum expectation of this program each season). We’re probably going to have to go at least 13-7 in the league to do so (assuming we don’t lose to Belmont or Ohio), but the opportunity is there. Here is what we need from everyone going forward, however, to seize on said opportunity.

Carsen Edwards – Better Efficiency – I don’t think we can ask much more from Carsen. He is averaging 25.6 points per game, which is fifth in the country in scoring. He almost single-handedly beat Texas by dropping 40 on them. He is good enough to give us a chance in every game and is the biggest trump card we have. We can’t have him go into volume-chucker mode, though. He needed 22 shots for 27 points against Notre Dame. He had 24 at Florida State, but with 19 shots and 8 turnovers. We need him to get his numbers, but while shooting 45% from the floor and 40% from three with few turnovers.

Ryan Cline – Consistency – For his career Cline is shooting around 39% from three. He has hit 162 triples and will finish with more than 200 as one of our best ever in that category. Against Florida State he hit 7 of 11 and was fantastic. He was then 1 of 9 against Texas. Cline is going to get open looks. He is taking 8.4 threes a game this year and really, we cannot afford to have him hit fewer than 3 a game. If he goes 4 of 9 against Texas we win. If he starts stronger against Notre Dame, we win. He can at least drive and keep defenses honest now, too, so seeing him attack is a good thing.

Matt Haarms – No More Ghosting – Haarms has been a disappointment so far and Saturday against Notre Dame was one of his worst games. He scored on the opening possession, then pretty much did nothing the rest of the day. He played a season low 11 minutes and John Mooney outplayed him in every aspect of the game. The same happened against Virginia Tech, where he was scoreless in 16 minutes. Haarms is officially averaging 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and that really needs to be what we get from him each night against the better teams on our schedule.

Nojel Eastern – Actual Scoring – Here is my hot take: If Eastern is going to be an offensive black hole he should not be playing at all. I understand that he is a great defender and a solid rebounder, but he literally cannot shoot a basketball at all. How can he even be a slasher to the basket when he is 25% (3 of 12) from the free throw line? Attacking the basket is great… as long as you can finish. If you attack, draw a foul, and brick two free throws it is practically a turnover, however. Nojel has great athleticism. Unfortunately, when he is on the floor we’re playing 4 on 5 offensively. Even when we had Chris Kramer he was at least a threat to score and had somewhat of a jumper. Nojel’s one offensive skill is scoring off the drive and he needs to attack relentlessly.

Grady Eifert – Back to the Bench – I like Grady, I really do. He is a try hard player that gives everything he has and makes a few plays each game due to sheer grit. He shouldn’t be starting, however. At least against Notre Dame he took some shots and hit a couple of threes. Against Texas he played 21 minutes and didn’t even have a field goal attempt. Given Nojel’s offensive struggles that means we were playing 3 on 5 offensively when they were on the court together. Grady is great for 10-15 minutes a game off the bench and if he can knock down a three or two, even better. We can’t have him starting and not even taking a shot. He played 16 minutes without a shot at FSU as well.

Evan Boudreaux – Hit Threes – There isn’t a lot we can do about E-Bo being a step slow defensively, but he was a 37.5% three-point shooter at Dartmouth. At Purdue he is at 28.6%. Overall his averages are pretty good, but he needs to play at the four and not the five while hitting a three or two per game. That opens up the floor more.

Aaron Wheeler – More PT – Right now Wheeler gets 13.7 minutes per game and Eifert gets 23.5. Wheeler needs 10 of Eifert’s minutes. He is too athletic to not be out there. I think at times he settles a little for threes, but he is shooting 37% from out there. I think there is nothing wrong with Wheeler taking at least 10 of Grady’s minutes and having him do ridiculous athletic things on the floor in that time. We saw what he can do against Maryland, yet he played only 10 minutes against Notre Dame.

Sasha Stefanovic – Be Freshman Cline – I say “be freshman Cline” because that year Cline was the shooter who came off the bench and could knock down 3-4 threes any given night as a surprise. Sasha is doing relatively okay for only getting 15 minutes a night, but he is 0 for 7 in the last three games. He needs to connect on his limited chances. Give me a consistent 3-4 points per game and it is a huge difference.

Eric Hunter Jr. – Be a Scorer – Hunter scored 2,583 points in his high school career. That is seventh most all-time in Indiana, only 12 behind Rick Mount. He has two points in the last five games total. If Eastern has been an offensive black whole Hunter has been a supermassive black hole. The truth is that we were expecting a lot more of Hunter this year, yet Trevion, who hasn’t even played in some games, has outscored him. Hunter is clearly struggling right now, but he has the talent to turn it on. He is 21.9% from the field and 20% from three. He needs to be someone that attacks the basket because unlike Nojel, he can actually hit free throws. Coming into the season I think we needed Hunter to average about 5 points per game. Now we definitely need it.

Trevion Williams – More PT – Trevion outplayed Haarms on Saturday. He played with energy and toughness and at least gave us a small chance late had we gotten another defensive stop or two. This was after playing a grand total of 8 minutes in the previous four games. In nine minutes he gave us 10 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block. Was this a “Jacquil Taylor at Rutgers” one-time only performance or a sign of something more? He at least seized on his opportunity and played hard. I have no problem making him the primary backup to Haarms and giving E-Bo more time at the four.

Matt Painter – Make Changes – It is common to criticize Painter and yes, he has earned it this season. I am not going to go all “Fire Painter” because his lengthy track record has earned him at least two more years after this season. He is not going anywhere any time soon unless he is framed for a crime, so everyone just needs to accept that.

However, this season has been far from his best. I find it terribly frustrating that not only has he missed on a lot of high profile recruiting targets, but he has missed on some lower ones too. We have had at least one open scholarship at the start of each of the last three seasons and we’re seeing what can result by not having a developmental guy or two waiting in the wings. Of players he originally recruited who should be juniors and seniors we only have Cline and Carsen left. Yes, part of that comes from Caleb Swanigan (who would be a senior) leaving early for the NBA, but it also partially comes from completely missing on Grant Weatherford. It comes from Carsen being a one-man class. It comes from not taking a chance on someone like Desmond Bane when we had the room. It comes from not getting any sort of true point guard when we knew it was going to be a need this year.

Then there are his rotations this year, which are downright bizarre. At this point we can definitely use more minutes from Wheeler and Williams, but will we get them? 21 minutes for Eifert without a shot? Eifert and Bourdreaux on the floor simultaneously when they are lit up defensively?

A lot of this is armchair quarterbacking. I am some jackass that runs a blog and he gets paid $2.5 million to coach basketball. He’s the one that has won two Big Ten championships, came within a game of three more, and has been a Coach of the Year multiple times. Still, there has been a lot to call into question this year. I still believe in him. He has a track record of developing guys and rebuilding a program because he has done it twice already. He gets a lot of flack for his lack of success in March but his best two shots were undone by injuries. The bottom line is that we still have expectations, and it is a year like this where we need him to come through the most. He can’t just roll the ball out with four seniors and have them take over like the last few years.

Things clearly are not working right now. Something needs to be changed up even if it just sends a message. The next two games are at home and are ones we should win before getting into a Big Ten slate that, quite honestly, is going to be brutal. The good news is that we only need a few things to start going are way because we are pretty close even with a myriad of flaws all over the place.