What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
I’m not one to cover Purdue sports despite the fact I live in the heart of Boilermaker country. But since Purdue starts its exhibition season tonight, all I’ve been exposed to in the local sports media is how the Boilermakers are a B1G Ten contender and poised for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Right after that happens, we can all join hands, sing a chorus of “Abraham, Martin, and John,” and visit the fairy princess together.
Not to be the resident buzz-kill in the greater West Lafayette area, but homer-ism is one thing, realistic expectations are another. I don’t specifically have a beef against Purdue, otherwise this could easily be a another installment in my Grinds My Gears series. To be ever more fair about it, I can even understand why Purdue fans are whipped about this team. The football team has a new coach nobody really knows what to make of, they have yet to beat an FBS opponent, and more importantly, the Boiler hoopsters actually have a roster that includes some honest-to-goodness NBA talent. When I first re-located to the Hoosier state, Purdue fans were in full-throat over guys who will never be more than bench players at the next level…JaJuan Johnson, E’Twuan Moore, and the sainted Robbie Hummel, who the Minnesota Timberwolves had to ship off to Obradairo of the Spanish League so he can learn to be a 6’9″ spot-up shooter à la Detlef Schrempf (if you are old enough to get that reference).
Overall, there has been a fair amount of turnover on this team, such as the additions of freshmen Bryson Scott, Kendall Stephens, and Basil Smotherman, plus senior transfers Errick Peck and Sterling Carter. The Purdue powers-that-be are selling this as a positive which will bring “talent, energy, competition and maturity to the program.” Of course, one part of this they don’t want you to remember is the loss of senior F/C Sandi Marcius to DePaul. Despite the official story you’ve heard, that departure is pretty much all head coach Matt Painter and athletic director Morgan Burke’s fault. These guys would be the two biggest butt-holes in B1G Ten basketball if it weren’t for Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague and and head coach Fetal Pitino, Jr. The bottom line is that Painter loves to recruit potentially dominant bigs, then stunts their development because he doesn’t know how to use them. The fact that he kept calling Marcius a “project” then never allowed him to expand beyond nine minutes per game bears that out.
Having said all that, let’s take a realistic look at this year’s version of Purdue Hoop and give the Boiler faithful an honest position-by-position assessment of what they can expect.
Ronnie Johnson got a lot of hype last year, and did little to live up to it. That’s why nobody wants to admit that during the exhibition season, there’s going to be a battle for playing time at the point between Bryson Scott the younger Johnson. The elder Johnson, Terone, doesn’t look to get pushed by either of the youngsters, but the fact that they are already looking past Ronnie to the future doesn’t bode well for him. You can sugar-coat it all you want, but the fact is that Ronnie Johnson only performed against C-list talent last year.
Let’s face it. The only reason E’Twaun Moore is in the NBA is because he played in the Painter system which feature guards and wings who can shoot, So, that means we are looking for the next E’Twaun in this cast. Specifically, were are looking for a point-guard sized guy who can shoot so as to draw attention from the spot-up shooter at forward who can’t make his own shot. Could it be the 6’1″ Jon McKeeman? How about the hometown boy; Lafayette’s’ own 6’3″ Stephen Toyra? It could also be 6’1″ Anfernee Brown.
My guess is the majority of the minutes here are going to the senior transfer Sterling Carter…why the fuck else is he here? Besides, he’s an E’Twaun clone, meaning he’s a 6’1″ guard who can shoot from anywhere.
Just like we said about E’Twaun Moore and the two-guard spot, the small forward position at Purdue will for now, and as long as Matt Painter is the head coach be all about finding another St. Robbie Hummel. This year, that ain’t going to happen, if for no other reason any guy who plays in the Boiler front-court at 6’9″ or better runs the risk of spending a lot of time at the 5-spot spelling center spelling A.J. Hammons, especially in light of his recent 3-game suspension. Short of that, there just isn’t a guy in this crowd with Hummel’s pre-double ACL athleticism.
The best bet is 6’6″ senior transfer Errick Peck, who averaged 9.7 points per game and 4.8 rebounds for Cornell last season.
Do you know what the difference is between a center and a power forward? A power forward has an explosive first step to the basket, whereas a center is happy when the bolts in his neck get tightened. I mention this only because had I been the Purdue head coach when they had Robbie Hummel, he would played power forward rather than small forward or wing. That way, I wouldn’t be asking a 6’9″ guy with stork legs to make those knee-shredding cuts guys at the 3-spot are asked to make. But that’s only one of the reasons I think Matt Painter’s head is so far up his own ass his brain thinks oxygen smells like hair gel mixed with the corn from last night’s dinner.
Purdue only has one guy who meets the definition of a true “4,” but as I said, the 6’10” Jay Simpson is going to spend a lot of time at the 5-spot, because aside from the aforementioned suspension of center A.J. Hammons, there’s the fact that Hammons isn’t going to play 40 minutes every night. Like it or not, Simpson will be a staple of the floor at Mackey Arena as a “4” or a “5,” and probably both.
Then there’s the matter of A.J. Hammons himself. For starters, the season hasn’t even started, and he’s already gotten himself suspended for both exhibition games and the season opener for a violation of team rules. Last season, Hammons averaged 10.6 points per game, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks, which actually makes him statistically one of the best Boiler freshman ever. He was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team, despite some serious inconsistency. It is that very same inconsistency which makes Hammons just as likely a candidate to lose his starting spot and spend the season in “Hair Gel” Painter’s doghouse as he is to be all-B1G Ten and bolt West Lafayette to become an NBA lottery pick. After all, Is Hammons the guy who dropped 30 on Cody Zeller in the first game against Indiana last year, or is he the the guy who barely played in the rematch because he was unfocused and Sandi Marcius outworked him? Your guess is as good as Hair Gel’s.
The early signs aren’t good as Hair Gel is already banging that same big, stupid Purdue complaint drum he was banging last year when it comes to Hammons.
Get ready for a big soap opera in West Lafayette.
The Bottom Line:
Here’s what it all “Boilers” down to…Purdue showed some signs of life late last year, and this year finds the Boilermakers deeper and more talented. They’ve got maturity, but they also have a lock of focus. They have all the pieces, but they have more than their fair share of question marks.
The upside for this team happens if everything falls into place, they avoid injuries and A.J. Hammons looks more like a lottery pick than a lottery ticket, they can be a mid-B1G Ten team with a slot in the Big Dance come March. If not, look for the Boilers to be “on the “bubble,” and look for the first stirrings in the “Fire Painter” campaign.