My interest in college basketball starts to ramp up in January. I catch the vast majority of Purdue, Clemson, and Kansas State games because I write about those schools, but other than that, November and December basketball don’t do it for me. I’ve been burned too many times by hot starts that fizzle out into disappointment (looking at you Clemson) or slow starts that blossom into historic seasons.
As you’re all well aware, Purdue hasn’t exactly covered its self in glory so far this season. The team struggles on the road (I probably need a stronger word for Purdue’s road woes), the offense is putrid, and it’s obvious that Matt Painter is searching for something (anything) that works based on his constantly shifting lineups.
Needless to say, some Purdue fans aren’t handling this well.
Purdue, however, isn’t the only team struggling to replace talented senior/junior classes this year. In Manhattan, Bruce Weber hasn’t found consistent late game scoring and in Knoxville, Rick Barnes is staging regular rock fights.
Watching Purdue basketball insult James Naismith, John Wooden, and any non Illinois fan unfortunate enough to tune into the game was painful, but we can take solace in the fact that other teams are suffering right along with us this year.
Record: 25-9 - Regular Season Big 12 Champions (14-4) - 4 seed
Points Per Game: 65.8
Points Against Per Game: 59.6
Key Players Lost
Barry Brown - G - Sr. - 14.6 Pts (1st Pts)
Kamu Stokes - G - Sr. - 11 Pts 3.3 Ast (1st Ast)
Dean Wade - F - Sr. - 12.9 Pts, 6.2 Reb (1st Reb)
Record: 7-7 (0-2 in Big12)
Points Per Game: 65.6
Points Against Per Game: 60.6
Kansas State hasn’t fallen off that much in terms of production. Even with Brown, Stokes, and Wade they weren’t a potent offensive team. Bruce Weber specializes in making other teams play ugly, and then beating them in an ugly game.
If you’re going to play ugly, you need guys that can produce in the clutch. Last season, even though Brown, Stokes and Wade (when healthy) didn’t put up huge numbers, they were great in the second half of games. This was especially true during conference play where they finished 14-4. Their defense was elite, and their offense was clutch. Yet another Dean Wade (the Robbie Hummel of Kansas State basketball) foot injury derailed the Wildcats in the NCAA tournament.
This seasons K-State is still making teams play ugly, but they’re not able to close out the game like last season. The Wildcats have lost games by 4 points, 6 points, 3 points, 5 points, and 2 points. Most of the losses can be attributed to their inability to hold on down the stretch. When it’s winning time, they can’t score and specialize in soul crushing turnovers. You’ve got to think losing 3 experienced senior leaders is playing a major role in the struggles in Manhattan this season.
Record: 31-6 - Regular Season 2nd Place in SEC (15-3) - 2 Seed
Points Per Game: 82
Points Against Per Game: 69.7
Key Players Lost
Grant Williams - F - Jr. - 18.8 Pts, 7.5 Reb (2 time SEC POY, 1st Pts, 1st Reb,)
Admiral Schofield - G/F - Sr. - 16.5 Pts, 6.1 Reb (2nd Pts, 3rd Reb)
Jordan Bone - G - Jr. - 13.5 Pts, 5.8 Ast (3rd Pts, 1st Ast)
Kyle Alexander - C - Sr. - 7.4 Pts, 6.7 Reb, 1.7 Blk (2nd Reb, 1st Blk)
Record: 9-5 (1-1 SEC)
Points Per Game: 67.1
Points Against Per Game: 59.6
Tennessee fans were expecting a drop off, but I don’t think they were expecting this sort of drop off. They’re scoring 15 points less per game, and while their improved defense has helped cushion the blow, it’s been a struggle for the Vols. Throw in a season ending injury to senior point guard LaMonte Murray, and things aren’t great in Knoxville right now.
The interesting thing about Tennessee is they have a talented roster. They brought in 5* guard Josiah-Jordan James this season, and while his 7.9 Pts and 6 Reb help, they don’t do much to ease the blow of losing Bone, Schofield (and now Murray) in the back court Schofield. It turns out even hyper talented freshmen like James take a year to adjust to the college game. I’m sure he’ll improve as the season goes along, but it goes to show that bringing in a 5* guys doesn’t fix every problem.
The Vols offense has been about as painful to watch as Purdue’s. Now that Turner is out, much like Purdue, they don’t have a go-to guy to take over late in the clock and often settle for contested shots from whoever happens to have the ball last. Scoring comes in fits and starts and long dry stretches aren’t unusual and unlike last years team, turnovers are plentiful. Much like Kansas State, it’s been harder to overcome the loss of talented, experienced players than Vol fans thought at the start of the season.
Why Should I Care?
It’s possible you don’t.
The fact that Tennessee and Kansas State are struggling doesn’t make Purdue’s struggles any more palatable. It does, however, show just how difficult replacing key contributors is on a year to year basis. It’s doubly hard when you’re trying to replace players like Carsen Edwards, Grant Williams, and Dead Wade / Barry Brown. No matter how much talent you bring in, it’s almost impossible to replace the experience of guys that have been through the grind of college basketball. You can replace a shooter, but it’s had to replace a guy that has won (and lost) games with his jump shot.
Bruce Weber has coached in a Final 4, been named Big10 Coach of the Year, Big12 Coach of the Year, and National Coach of the Year, and hasn’t got it figured out yet. Rick Barnes has coached in a Final 4, been named the Big 12 Coach of the year 4 times, the SEC Coach of the Year, and the National Coach of the Year and the Vols are scuffling right now.
Painter and Purdue seemingly get farther away from figuring it out with each road game, but at least Matt is in good company. Personally, I’m disappointed in the season, but not in the overall direction of the program. When I see Weber and Barnes working through a tough transition year after losing key players, it gives me hope that this too shall pass and all will once again be right in West Lafayette. It might not be this season, but hope (with solid justification) spring eternal. It will be interesting to look at this at the end of February and see if these veteran coaches can get it turned around.
Now, let’s go win some basketball games, and please, for the love of all that is holy, let’s never have a repeat of the Illinois game again.