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Purdue Basketball: Team Chaos

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I have no idea what’s going on from game to game this season.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I wrote an article in December saying that December college basketball is meaningless and I would check back once the roles on this team were established and Painter found his rotation...

I’ve been waiting to write the follow up article, but I still don’t have any idea what the roles are on this team and the rotation shifts not only from game to game, but from half to half.

Over the last decade Matt Painter has specialized in consistency on offense. It started with AJ as the centerpiece of a post dominated offense. Next came the Biggie and Haas era of bully ball. Then came the high flying Carsen and Cline 3 point barrage offense. It may not have always worked, but when I turned on a Purdue game, I knew what the team was going to try and do, and what the other team was going to try and to do stop it.

This season, despite multiple attempts at establishing an identity, Purdue remains team without a brand. It’s impossible to extrapolate performance from one game to the next. What Purdue did against Wisconsin last night will be impossible to replicate against Rutgers on Tuesday. They might find a new way to beat Rutgers or they might find nothing at all and look like poorly coached church league squad.

I have no idea what to expect.

Last night we were lead by...checks box score...Isaiah Thompson with 14 points and a double/double from Evan Boudreaux. Trevion Williams, who I thought was going to emerge as the focal point of the offense after he demolished Michigan and Michigan State had 5 points. If you told me pregame that Williams would put up 5 points and 6 rebounds in 16 minutes I would have bet my house on Wisconsin and be sitting in the cold right now.

At this point in the season, I’ve given up on finding an identity and am on board with Team Offensive Chaos.

In some ways, this team reminds me of an old Gene Keady team. The winning formula appears to be stifling team defense, a deep rotation, and offense by committee. Who is Purdue’s “go to guy” on offense? Whoever is hot during any given segment of the game, and it might change 3 or 4 times a game, depending on circumstance.

During one segment, Williams might decide he’s unstoppable and punish the other team in the post.

In the next segment, Sasha might catch fire and knock in a couple 3’s.

Last night Boudreaux went into a fugue state and woke up after the game with a double/double. I swear that was the first time this season I’ve seen a Purdue player drive to the basket and finish through contact, and Boudreaux was the responsible party...mind blowing.

Oh, and let’s not forget Thompson, who could easily pass as a physically developed 8th grader, punishing the Badgers with a 6-8, 14 point performance. If you had Thompson as Purdue’s leading scorer in pregame, you’re either a liar or a psychic.

The frustrating thing about this team is it can up up 70 against Wisconsin, but could turn around on Tuesday and up 45 against Rutgers.

The only thing I’m sure of about this team is that it’s time to stop trying to force an identity on them and embrace the collective on offense.

If you held a gun to my head right now and forced me to settle on a starting 5 and a rotation for the rest of the year (which would be a strange thing to do). It would be the lineup we saw last night.

5 - Williams / Haarms / Boudreaux

4 - Boudreaux / Wheeler

3 - Sasha / Proctor

2 - Hunter / Thompson

1 - Nojel / Hunter / Thompson

This lineup best fills Matt’s traditional roles on offense of a low post anchor, a stretch 4 / energy guy, 2 shooters on the wing and the unicorn that is Nojel Eastern.

This, however, isn’t one of those lineups Matt can send out on the floor and not worry about making a change until someone gets tired or gets in foul trouble. Painter has to spend the rest of the season making changes on the fly and juggling lineups from timeout to timeout depending on the opponent and who decides to show up.

In many ways, this team presents Painter with his biggest coaching challenge of his tenure at Purdue (with the possible exception of his “all hands on deck, who is even physically capable of playing in this game” first season. Even his bad teams had a set rotation and somewhat of an identity (even if that identity was “bad at all things basketball”).

This collection of players is talented across the board, but also inconsistent across the board. Tre and Sasha are the closest to Alpha “go to guys” on the roster, but both run so hot and cold that installing a game plan that focuses on getting them the ball is a futile exercise in frustration.

This team has enough talent to get hot and make the tournament.

This team has enough inconsistency to get cold and miss the N.I.T.

Matt’s going to have to adjust him game plan on the fly for the first time in a long time. Last night was a good example of what this team looks like when things go right. Illinois is a good example of what this team looks like when things go wrong.

We can only hope things start going right more often.