Friday, November 8, 2013

Purdue beats Northern Kentucky, 77-76

Well, I was wrong again. I predicted Purdue would "roll" in its first regular season game. Instead, it stalled, barely, by the skin of its teeth, dodging what would have been an unthinkable loss. I thought I could make a prediction without doing much analysis, if any, because, well, it was Northern Kentucky. Northern Kentucky. One more time: Northern Kentucky. I was wrong.

A few things that I took away from the game:

1. I didn't see its second exhibition game, so take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. They could've been great in this area for all I know. I doubt it, but it's possible. What area am I talking about? Containing the dribble drive/keeping your man in front of you. This is a huge problem for Purdue. Huge. It was bad at containing the dribble in the first game against U of Indy and it was bad again tonight. I started following Purdue closely back in 2008. I know, not a lot of experience following Purdue basketball compared to some alumni that have been following the program for 40-50 years. I've never seen a Purdue teams struggle so much with teams getting into the lane at will. There is no resistance. None. None whatsoever. I don't know if it has to do with the new revisions on hand-checking or what, but to me, this is the biggest concern with Purdue right now. And it's not like Purdue is playing Michigan State or Ohio State. Far from it. It's really odd. Purdue's guards aren't what you would call extremely athletic. But they aren't Jim and Mark from the local Y, either. They have to do better. Maybe they have been so used to having A.J. Hammons at the rim, and he has, in a way, disguised some of the problem. I have know idea.

2. Jay Simpson was impressive. Potential. It's a word that has been linked with Simpson for what seems like a decade. He committed that early, and it seems like fans talk about what he could be every single day. He showed what he can do tonight, and even though it was against a team that has been apart of Division I for like two years, it's progress. That's a positive. To me, a lot of it comes down to Jay just finishing around the rim. Sometimes he makes a really solid move, beats his defender, but fails to concentrate and convert close to the rim. He has a solid shot. Maybe it will just take some time for him to get comfortable. He is a redshirt freshman after all. I thought his stamina looked better as well. Painter took him out fairly quickly in the first half, but he didn't look as fatigued as he did last year (I know, he only played like 10 games). Maybe that's me imagining things, who knows. When Hammons comes back, it will be interesting to see how Painter plays them. Will he play them together? I am going to guess not a lot, but it could happen. More importantly, and it was something that I referenced in my previous post, Hammons' absence provided an opportunity for other players to get more minutes and gain more confidence, so that when A.J. comes back there will be another added dimension that otherwise wouldn't have been there if he didn't get suspended. One of those players is Simpson.

Those are the two things that really stood out to me in this game. Some more jumbled thoughts:

Northern Kentucky was shooting out of its mind (13 of 26 from three) ... Peck hit a critical three in the final minute that probably ended up winning the game ... Ronnie Johnson made some bad decisions, but he played his best when it counted the most: in the final minutes. He hit two clutch free throws, and two three-pointers (one of those coming in the first half), if I remember correctly. Not sure if he could have done all of that last year. I read someone post on basically going crazy (not sure exactly what he said) that Ronnie attacked the rim too early with 13 seconds left in the game. What do you want him to do? Attack with four seconds left, miss and the game is over? You have to give your team time if you miss, so that you can foul and put them on the line, hope that they miss, and go back down the court and try again. Pretty simple ... Terone didn't play too well, that won't happen that much this season, in my opinion ... Stephens is wet ... I'd like to see Scott get more minutes ... It's really hilarious, these message boards. One day Scott should start over Ronnie for the rest of the season. Tonight: He's not good, can't shoot, too much ego, etc... I laugh at some of these posters. Sometimes their statements are so outlandish and pessimistic that I think I am getting punkd. I mean, these people can't be serious, can they?

What to expect

Purdue opens up its 2013-2014 season tonight against Northern Kentucky. The build up to this season has been interesting; for whatever reason, fans have continued to put bigger and bigger expectations on this year's team. It hasn't even played a regular season game yet, and fans are calling for 25 wins and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. It was 22 wins and a first round exit a few weeks ago. And a month ago, it was borderline NIT/NCAA.

What has changed? Sure, Purdue has played two exhibition games, and it won them both. Although the win against University of Indianapolis certainly wasn't what you would call impressive, struggling to put a far more inferior opponent away in the second half.

But that's what fans do: They make predictions and have expectations, sometimes albeit, unreasonable ones. Purdue fans are hoping for anything that can take their minds off of the disaster that is Boilermaker football. They are just begging, pleading for some kind of success for Purdue. They know it won't be in football this year. They are hoping it will be in basketball.

And we'll see. Obviously tonight's game will be missing Purdue's biggest player. And probably its best. That's when he puts his mind to it, that is. So tonight, similar to the previous two games, won't be the team you will see in a week from now. But it gives players that are battling for minutes more chances to shine, hoping that when Hammons returns those players can add another element to this team that might not have been there if the 7-footer didn't get suspended. That's the hope at least. Another hope is that Hammons comes back with a chip on his shoulder, ready to prove to everyone that he is a different player and person. But that's getting ahead of ourselves. One game at a time as they say. I don't think I am getting ahead of myself, however, when I say that Purdue will roll tonight.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Freshmen


Keep things in perspective. Everything's relative. These are some of the sayings that I murmur to my friends every now and then when talking about Purdue athletics.

You have to. Otherwise you and your friends would go crazy. Purdue University is not Kentucky. Get that out of your minds and we have a prayer to get through this together. Some may say they love Purdue for what it is and never want to be like Kentucky, where it is common practice to bring in a four- to five-man class each year, loaded with five star talent, and watch the previous year's freshmen bolt for the draft, year after year, as expectations continue to rise and rise. But they win a lot. They're preseason No. 1 in the country this season after not even making the final rankings a year ago and getting knocked out in the first round of the NIT. All this with, and we can all agree and it doesn't matter what these coaches say, putting academics on the back burner. Some, on the other hand, would like to see Purdue do some things that Kentucky does -- lower its academic standards for athletes, toe the line in recruiting, etc. -- so that the basketball program sees more success. Who knows if these things would actually make a difference.

Nonetheless, Purdue is not Kentucky. So when you think of freshmen success, don't think of the Wildcats and then form your opinion on Purdue's freshmen. Fans probably don't explicitly compare the two programs' players, but they probably do it subconsciously. It's not the norm. Don't compare them to Kansas' freshmen, either.

This year's freshmen are not going to average 16-18 points like the Wildcats' Andrew Harrison or Andrew Wiggins.

They simply don't have to, for one. And they aren't in the same echelon as those two players. Not many are, and we haven't yet seen either play in college.

My point in all of this: Purdue's freshman are going to produce this year and help the Boilermakers win games this season, but they aren't going to be averaging a bunch of points, throwing down NBA-type dunks, or forgoing their final three years of eligibility to enter the draft.

Ehh...Smotherman might have a few NBA-type dunks. We'll see.

Smotherman, Scott and Stephens are going to come in and work hard and do what Matt Painter asks of them. Or at least that's what fans hope happens. Matt does too. That's all you can ask. These freshman seem to have that maturity and work ethic that the Baby Boilers brought to Mackey Arena back in 2007 -- both characteristics that left the program for a few years. 

That's one of the main reasons for excitement: To not only see this team as it opens its season officially in just a few weeks, but see them when they enter March. There is a lot potential with this team. Potential to be one of those "scary" teams in March Madness that enter the tournament on a high and have the ability to beat anyone and make a run.

And Purdue might make a run, who knows.

But, please, let's not chastise Bryson Scott if he turns the ball over five times and goes 1-9 from the field, in a 10 point loss to Oklahoma State. Let's not scold Stephens if he throws up a few air balls or doesn't shoot a wide-open three. And let's not get down on Smotherman if his all-around game is a few notches behind his athleticism.

After all, they're just freshmen.

And this isn't Kentucky.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

First look: Purdue basketball 2013-14

There's a lot to be excited about if you're a Purdue basketball fan right now. Can't say the same for football, but I still think Coach Hazell will turn the program around. It will take some time, though. It was certainly a disappointing season for the basketball team last season, which culminated in a loss to Santa Clara in the CBI -- I think we paid like 50K to play in the tourney -- and a 16-18 overall record.

Gone: D.J. Byrd, Dru Anthrop, Jacob Lawson, Anthony Johnson, Sandi Marcius.
Enter: Errick Peck, Sterling Carter, Kendall Stephens, Bryson Scott, Basil Smotherman.

Not very much is being made of the roster turnover. It is interesting. Many believe the players who are coming in far outweigh, in skill and potential production, the players that graduated or transferred.

I would agree. It's still interesting to think about: how different this team is going to look. That's five new players that seem to be headed for playing time this season. Some more than others, but I think the consensus is all will play. How much? Who knows. What I do know is that the players above all bring different things to the table, something that can only help a team that struggled with depth a season ago.

I'm more interested in the returnees, however. Will Hammons realize his potential to be one of the best centers to ever come through Purdue? Last season he showed flashes, but he needs to show
consistency this season. He needs to become more mature on and off the court and it looks like he has made strides.                                                                                                                                     
He can't put himself ahead of the team and show up late to the team bus, sit on the bench to begin the game, and watch his team give up the game's first 12 points at Northwestern. That stuff just can't happen. Not at Purdue. It's probably not his personality, but I'd like to see him take over more games this year, although he probably won't be asked -- or needed -- to do so. I expect a pretty balanced scoring attack this season.

I think the only emotion I saw from the 7-footer last season was during the IU game in Mackey. After a dunk to start the second half, down 15 or something, he showed emotion and fire. That's what this team needs. Not everybody needs to do it, and it probably won't start with Hammons, and that's OK. Players like Bryson Scott will help with this.

Ronnie Johnson's development in his second year will be another interesting element of this team. Like Hammons, fans are expecting Ronnie to take that next step. How big that next step will be nobody knows. I think for how fast Ronnie plays, coupled with being a freshman in the Big Ten, the ultra-quick point guard performed quite admirably last season. Most expected his shot to be better, but it will improve this season -- it has to. The arrival of Bryson Scott is big here. Scott will be pushing Ronnie all year for the starting point guard spot. He probably won't ever get it, but that doesn't really matter. Last season, Painter talked about wanting to sit the younger players sometimes after mistakes, but he didn't have the personnel to do so. This season it looks like he does. That will surely bring up the competitiveness of the team.

I am pretty excited about a player who goes unnoticed a lot of the time when it comes to Purdue basketball: Rapheal Davis. Part of the reason for the excitement: work ethic. Davis has the maturity and work ethic that you wish all Purdue players have or would grow into. I'm confident that Davis worked on his game over the summer and will be a much improved player. He's 6-5 and already physical enough to play big minutes in the Big Ten. I think he will be an improved shooter this season as well. I always think about that Notre Dame game last season when I think of Davis and what he could become. I think he takes that next step this season.

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