***This was originally in the IU game wrap but it got out of hand and way too long for that so I made it it’s own post. Needless to say I’m upset***
The question you have to ask this morning is how did Purdue get to this point? How did Purdue become the team that lost to IU by 37 points? This Purdue team last night lost by more points than any Purdue team has ever lost by in West Lafayette. This Purdue team has now lost to IU three straight times after beating them six in a row prior. How did Purdue become a team that has zero shooters and the inability to play solid transition defense? How and when did these things happen? It’d be easy to sit here and say that it’s not as bad as it looked last night and that Purdue will be fine but I’m not sure that’s the case. Purdue came in winners of four of their last five but it was fool’s gold. The teams Purdue beat to get those four wins are not good teams. Purdue itself isn’t a good team right now.
In my eyes Purdue’s got two main problems. First off, there’s a large duplication of players in the system. Granted each player is at a different skill level but what they are supposed to do well is matched by an equal skill set from another player. To go along with that each player seems to have some glaring weakness that other players cannot make up for. Think about it for a second. What do Terone Johnson, Ronnie Johnson, Anthony Johnson, and Rapheal Davis all have in common? They are all players built to drive and are not particularly good jump shooters. That means when teams focus on shutting down the lane they can’t respond by lighting it up from distance or even from 10 feet. Davis and the elder Johnsons make jump shots occasionally but not at a high enough rate. Then you’ve got Jacob Lawson and Donnie Hale who play a very similar type of game with a very similar body type. Each useful in their own way but again neither can shoot from distance. Then Purdue has guys who seem to be one dimensional particularly on offense. DJ Byrd can’t create his own shot and if he isn’t hitting his threes he’s unable to do much of anything. The JWMPOTG is really the only player that has a unique skill set for this Purdue team. No other player can do what he does and that’s what makes him such an important player for this team and this season. Guys like Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll suffer not from a lack of effort but rather a lack of athleticism. All of these players clearly want to win and clearly want Purdue to succeed but at this point it’s not translating into wins. I don’t question the effort of the players just so we’re clear. Rather I’m questioning the composition of the team which leads to the second problem.
The second problem, related to the first, is the lack of athletic shooters on the team. Yes, I know they don’t grow on trees, and yes I know I’m not a recruiter of any kind nor would I want to be. The fact is though this team could look quite a bit different if a few recruiting battles went the opposite way. Gary Harris and Branden Dawson (punk that he is) are both starting for Michigan State. Wouldn’t it be nice to have either of them on the team? That’s just from a skill standpoint. Let’s pretend Dawson’s issues hadn’t cropped up as clearly you wouldn’t know of them as you recruit. What about Glenn Robinson III? Yes I know he blew up late in his career and Purdue didn’t have a scholarship for him but wouldn’t a player of his caliber be a huge help? As many people, mostly IU fans, have pointed out Purdue and Painter were able to build up the program with a couple of very good recruiting classes. I say very good based on players not rankings. Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer helped return Purdue to the top of the Big Ten but neither player was considered a huge get. The 2007 class of Hummel, Moore, Johnson, Martin, Reed, and Calasan really did the heavy lifting to get Purdue into constant Big Ten champion contention. The classes after that have produced some fine players like Ryne Smith, Lewis Jackson, DJ Byrd, Terone Johnson, and hopefully AJ Hammons. The jury is still out on many of those players but it’s safe to say their were some busts. Who can forget Johnathan Uchendu (RIP), Dan Vandervieren, Scott Martin, Chris Reed (love ya big guy!), John Hart (perennially injured), Patrick Bade, and Kelsey Barlow. That’s 7 scholarships given to players who either left the program (Uchendu, Vandervieren, Martin, Hart, Bade, Barlow) or were simply not productive (sorry Chris!). Yes there are intangibles such as Reid being a great locker room guy, but locker room guys don’t win championships. Recruiting misses hurt. These near misses of players like Dawson, Harris, and many others are tough to change. Painter puts himself into a good position by being in the final 2-3 schools. At that point what else can you do? Unfortunately being the runner-up in recruiting means nothing. This isn’t to say Painter doesn’t have his fair share of recruiting victories as Hank pointed out the other day on his site. Recruiting in an inexact science and more complicated than I could ever fathom so there’s no good answer to why Purdue can’t seem to land the players they need. Chris Kramer and Victor Oladipo were two unheralded players who’ve meant the world to their teams so who knows what’s going on out there.
The 2013 class of Basil Smotherman, Bryson Scott, and Kendall Stephens is reported to be very good. Stephens and Smotherman are both good outside shooters with Smotherman getting much better his senior year and Stephens considered a pure shooter despite his recent injury. Scott is a bulldog and great defender who is one of the most intense players you’ll find. Can they come in and have an immediate impact on this Purdue team? I don’t know but something has to be done before IU pulls further ahead. Purdue needs help on both defense and offense. Will these three players be enough to turn the tide? That I don’t know. I don’t follow recruiting videos and I try not to focus on stars because I don’t know enough about it to have an educated opinion. Purdue brings in three players next year and gets the services of Jay Simpson coming out of his redshirt year. Purdue also loses two (Byrd and Dru Anthrop) and lest we forget no team stands still. At this point Purdue is behind where we want them to be. It might take some special talent in order to turn that around. I trust Painter to make it happen but many others aren’t as patient. These things tend to go in cycles with Purdue winning six in a row and IU now at three. These losses are hard to stomach. Let’s hope Painter can get this team turned around or the game at Assembly Hall could be historically bad as well.