Let’s take a stroll down memory lane all the way back to last March. Even though Purdue basketball stumbled down the stretch in the Big Ten race, there were still high hopes for that team. Many thought that Purdue, with an insanely athletic lottery pick and one of the best front courts in the nation, had one of the most legitimate shots at a final four in quite some time. Then Purdue runs to the Big Ten tournament championship falling short to the Murray twins led Iowa. Still, hopes were high that this team could do some damage in the tournament.
Then comes the NCAA tournament where Purdue cruises easily past Yale in the first round for a chance to play Texas to make it to the Sweet 16. And they did exactly that, beating a Marcus Carr led Texas squad in an 81-71 victory. Carr got his, scoring 23 in that game, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Purdue’s offensive punch.
Little did we know that our hopes would be squandered once again of making the final four when Purdue fell in the Sweet 16 to 15 seed St. Peter’s. Another season with a disappointing ending; for all the hype, we ended that season with no hardware. We were losing lottery pick Jaden Ivey, experienced seniors Trevion Williams and Sasha Stefanovic. Eric Hunter and Isaiah Thompson decided to enter the transfer portal and we just lost Nijel Pack to an NIL deal to Miami.
It’s safe to say at this point not many of us had high hopes coming into this season. We knew we had some solid players coming back, big man Edey returning and some good freshman ready to make a mark but this season was going to be, more or less, a rebuilding year. Finish top 4 in the conference and win a couple games in the tournament and I think most of us would have been happy with it. Everyone has down years. This was probably going to be one of them. Losing our point guards and Nijel left a big question mark on who was going to be running the offense and who was going to fill the sharp shooter role?
Fast forward to today. I know it’s only January but I’m not a player or coach so I can speculate about the season all I want without overlooking anyone. We are nearly halfway through the 2022-2023 basketball season and Purdue is currently 16-1 overall and sitting first in the conference with a 5-1 record. We are the #3 team ranked in the country and sat at #1 four weeks in a row. I’ll say that again. We were ranked #1 longer this season than last year. Our rebuilding year.
Maybe at the point I shouldn’t be surprised. Matt Painter is so good at finding guys that fit his system and doing more with less. His players buy into their roles and rarely do you catch them yelling at fans on social media like that team down south. He doesn’t care about the stars listed next to a players rating because as he said “they’re five stars to us.”
I’ve been wanting to write an opinion piece on this basketball team thus far but struggled to come up with what angle I wanted to use. When I look at this team, who do I write about?
Of course there’s Zach Edey who is cementing his way to become NPOY. Averaging 21.9 points and 13.2 rebounds a game; not to mention he’s shooting nearly 75% from the stripe which is pretty impressive for his size. He’s everything you want and more in your big man and the type of player that will easily get a double-double and it seemed like a quiet night.
But then there is our dynamic duo; freshman Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith. Loyer is that sharpshooter I talked about earlier. You need a bucket and he’s the guy you trust to take it. He knocked down the clutch 3 against OSU to win the game. Not many players have the poise to hit that, he did it as a true freshman after not having the best shooting night in the first half. And what can you say about Smith? He’s easily one of the best players on the court on any given night. He’s the type of player we usually hate because he’s on the other team. He is unfazed by a press, dives after loose balls, alley-oops to Edey and will just decimate another teams defense. Painter talked a lot about how fans would be surprised with him when the season started and question why he wasn’t recruited more. Painter wasn’t wrong. He’s been phenomenal thus far.
Of course then there’s our other big men… Furst and TKR. So smooth with their post moves by the basket and both have came up big when we needed points in the paint. Next to Edey it’s hard to shine, but these two are stars none the less.
And then we can’t forget the glue guys. The players who hold it all together for us: Mason Gillis and Ethan Morton. Gillis is just that dude. Loose ball on the floor, 3 to hit, eye to make black. He does it all and more with his junkyard dog style of play. Ethan Morton is a lockdown defender that you put against your best opponent. He’s so good at channeling in and making the opposing player uncomfortable enough to impact their game.
So here I sit, still unsure of how I write about this team. They have so many playmakers who play unselfishly but make so many big time plays. Could I sit here and write an article about each one separately? Of course. But they are so much more fun to write about as a team.
Much is said about Painter as a coach and his success in March. Believe me, I want nothing more than winning a Natty and hanging a banner but being on top of the Big 10 year after year is also a huge feat. Teams in March win with talent, a little luck and just having “it”. You know, that thing that just gels a team. The thing that makes star players unselfish when they need to be. The thing that makes an offense looks like a piece of art. They rarely get rattled and always stay poised. We’ve played those teams. We’ve lost to those teams. Is this the team that has “it”? We still have a lot of games ahead of us and time will tell if this is the squad that finally breaks through. But half-way through the year I do know one thing, I really like this team.