The Purdue Boilermakers basketball program suffered through an underwhelming season last year. They finished with a 16-18 overall record and were 8-10 in the Big Ten.
Purdue has struggled in the recruiting game over the past few years. Purdue has been trying for multiple years now to replace players like Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson. This time they have the 24th ranked class that consists of just three players.
Matt Painter has been head coach for eight years now. He has passed up other opportunities to stay in West Lafayette and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere in the near future. When he has the right players for his scheme, the Boilermakers become a dangerous opponent. The incoming class appears to have talent, but this is going to be a very young team overall.
Much of Painter’s success stemmed from a lack of competition in Indiana. IU and then coach Kelvin Sampson was in trouble with the NCAA when he recruited the 2007 class. Brad Stevens was still an assistant coach and didn’t take over until 2007. Now, IU is back in the Top 25 and Butler is on the list for every in-state recruit (even without Stevens). Competition is making the recruiting trail tough for Painter, but this years class is solid.
Schedule wise, the Boilermakers are going to have a tough time just by being in the Big Ten. As of now, Purdue will face eight ranked teams, seven of which hail from the Big Ten. Oklahoma State, currently No. 8, is the lone non-conference game against a ranked opponent.
Purdue saw a number of players transfer after last season. Anthony Johnson, Donnie Hale, Jacob Lawson, and Sandy Marcius all left the program. DJ Byrd, Purdue’s ace three-point shooter, graduated leaving a big hole in the starting lineup. Byrd was an honorable mention All-Big Ten team last season as well.
I said this would be a young team, and I mean it. Right now it appears that the starting lineup will feature three sophomores, a freshman, and just one senior. That isn’t always a bad thing, but it generally means that there are going to be some rough patches along the way.
AJ Hammons has NBA potential written all over him. The problem is his effort. He was easily frustrated last season and had a tendency to pad his stats late in blowout games (see: both IU games). Staying out of foul trouble will be key for Hammons as Purdue’s frontcourt is fairly thin. With 10 points, six boards, and two blocks Hammons is an exceptional center who needs to take a big leap this season. If he does, he’ll likely find himself in the NBA Draft come June.
Also returning are Ronnie Johnson and Rapheal Davis to anchor the backcourt. Davis saw his minutes explode late in the season but was inconsistent week-to-week. Johnson showed promise last season but at times was selfish and didn’t always listen to Painter. Maturity has a lot to do with these three players development, but Painter is very good at developing players on and off the court.
Freshman guard Kendall Stephens should start. Stephens is an extremely lanky guard who can defend multiple positions and is deadly with the long ball. He will essentially be a more versatile Byrd. Not only can he score at will, but he also makes his teammates better and is unselfish with the ball. Stephens is a very good fit for Painter’s system.
Stabilizing the starting five will be senior Terone Johnson. Ronnie’s older brother has improved every season, but his shooting percentage took a big drop last year. The elder Johnson was responsible for over 25-percent of the shots taken. He is a bit of a volume shooter, but with Hammons improving and the addition of Stephens, its likely Johnson won’t be forced to take as many shots.
Purdue is going to be a better team than they were last year, but so will most of the teams in the Big Ten (notable exceptions being IU). There are a lot of “if’s” with the 2013-14 Purdue roster. They could field a very competitive team, but the ceiling is likely in the middle of the Big Ten. They’ll need to have a near perfect non-conference win record coupled with an above .500 conference record if they want a spot in the NCAA Tourney.
Overall, this team is trending upwards, but I think it will be another year before they are truly competitive in the Big Ten.
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