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A New Challenge For Matt Painter

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The 2021 team is different than any team in Coach Painter’s 17 year Purdue career.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 16 Wright State at Purdue Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I’ve yet to weigh in on Purdue’s 2021 basketball team, and I know y’all are waiting with baited breath for my always correct sports opinions (maybe we should just call them facts?). I’ve been a little tied up with football stuff, but I can assure you, I’ve got my eye on basketball, and once the pigskin tossing has concluded, I will turn like the Eye of Sauron, to Boilermaker hoops.

Without going into too much detail, the one thing that strikes me about this team is that for the first time in his coaching career, the question surrounding this team is “who is going to play” as opposed to “who can play”. Even on Painter’s best Purdue teams, there was at least one spot where he had to make something work in terms of personnel. That won’t be a problem this year.

Bailing Wire and Chewing Gum

In 2018-2019, the 4 position was a huge question mark coming into the season. He made it work with undersized former walk-on Grady Eifert. There wasn’t much of anything behind Grady in terms of a true 4 man.

The 17-18 team had a veteran starting group, but nothing but question marks on the bench, and Vince was the only real 4 on the squad (Grady had yet to take his final form).

The 16-17 team was essentially 7 players deep.

People remember the Baby Boilers fondly, but those teams were paper thin in the front court. The 09-10 that reached 3rd in the nation had Patrick Bade as the only reserve front court guy. Let that marinate in your brain for a moment.

Every team in the Painter era has required some bailing wire and chewing gum to make it work. This team is different, and I’m interested (and excited) to see how Coach Painter handles the roster.

The Challenge

This is where things get tricky. Matt is already redshirting Trey Kaufman, and he’s the 4th highest rated recruit (per 247) Purdue has landed in the “ratings era” of college basketball. In 2020, I’m fairly confident he starts, but in 2021, he gets to sit out a year, work on his game, and heal up from a myriad of injuries late in his high school career. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around Purdue voluntarily sitting the 44th best player in the entire 2021 class, but it makes sense to me.

Even without Kaufman, Painter is going to be challenged to perfect his rotations, not because he doesn’t have enough guys that can play, but because he almost (if this is possible) has too many. Most teams like to cut their rotations down to no more than 8 by the end of the season. Last season Purdue played 9 against North Texas in the tournament, but that was a bit out of necessity. By the end of the year, it felt like Aaron Wheeler was relegated to “break in case of emergency” status. North Texas was clearly an emergency and he still only received 10 minutes.

This year, once Gillis returns from suspension, Painter has 10 guys he genuinely wants to play. The challenge is figuring out how to play all 10 and still maintaining a solid in game flow, or figuring out which guys (or guy) gets dropped from the lineup later in the year. Coming into the season, I thought those two guys might be I.T. and Morton, but after watching the first few Purdue games, I’m not so certain. Gillis did himself no favors by going full idiot in the offseason. Maybe he doesn’t break back into the lineup. Furst looks incredible early on, and Morton brings something different to the position. At the same time, it will be hard to keep a worker like Gillis off the court.

Injuries, of course, could have a role to play in this conversation. If Waddell sacrificing his ACL to the college basketball gods appeases their lust for Purdue knee ligaments, I think he should be named team M.V.P., but bumps and bruises are sure to come up along the way. The awesome thing about this roster is Purdue is legit 2-3 deep at every position. If a guy gets banged up, Painter has the luxury of letting him get healthy. The team should be fresh for the tournament, because it won’t be an “all hands on deck” situation to make the tournament. It may not even by an “all hands on deck” situation to win the Big10 (I’m getting way ahead of myself here and need to slow my role substantially).

This year is going to be challenging for Matt Painter, but it’s a challenge I’m sure he will relish. Hard choices will have to be made at some point (or maybe not, I seriously have no idea how this is going to play out) and I’m interested in how the roster is handled as the season progresses, but “too many good players” is a problem Matt will happily tackle.

Anyway, this is my first salvo aimed at Purdue basketball this year. If y’all could please remind me that it’s a long season, and to not get too excited or depressed by anything that happens before New Years, I would greatly appreciate it.

Now back to football.