Freshman Class Just SSSScratching the SSSSurface
If you watched last night, you saw what I saw...if you didn't, and the last Purdue basketball you got to see was played in Orlando, our perspectives might differ a bit.
As @BigTenGeeks put it on Twitter during the game, "I'd like to be the first to welcome the Purdue Men's basketball team to the 2013-14 season!"
THIS was what many of us were expecting. THIS was fun to watch.
Purdue played fast, they played hard and they used the tools at hand to distance themselves from an inferior opponent. When BC double teamed Jay or AJ, RonJohn would drive around the open side of the lane. When BC collapsed on the drive, Stephens took advantage in the corner- again, and again and again.
I referred to BC as an inferior opponent...but not all of the computers agree with that assessment. Our Boilers are currently 181st (RPI), 92nd (KenPom) and 122nd (Sagarin). They're higher ranked than BC only in the Sagarin and KenPom polls. But how can you blame the computers...I mean, they saw the Wassu game too.
Purdue looked more athletic, more skilled, more motivated and better coached than BC last night. Polls aren't needed in that unscientific observation...and honestly I expect nothing less what we saw last night. Sadly, I was let down last weekend by the Forces of Good.
Something clicked last night as the four Freshman did their thing in the first half. First The Kid hit a few bombs...then Smotherman buried one from the same corner (and added a flush for good measure)...then BScott flew by a defender as if he was in mud...and Simpson cleaned the glass and deterred the Eagles on the other end. For the first time in their young careers as Boilermakers, we saw all of this Freshman class doing what they were recruited to do at the same time...and Purdue blew the game open.
The defense was communicating better on switches and was on the same page. RayDay got gritty and won almost every 50/50 ball on the ground. RonJohn slowed down enough and facilitated, and the other half of the two-headed monster in the middle, Hammons, blocked shots and looked like he was having fun doing it. Oh yeah, Terone got silly in the post as he went away from the teardrop and hit high percentage bucket after high percentage bucket over the less-physical Eagle attempting to guard him.
I pontificated that the Senior class would define the success of this year's team. I thought aloud that TJohn is obviously the most imperative, but rest of this year's graduating class also would help lead the Boilers back into the tournament this year. It seems I might have been looking at the wrong class as the lynchpin.
Purdue's success could be defined by the new guard- S-Cubed, The Fab Four, The Fantastic Four...whatever you wanna call 'em. Just don't call them the Baby Boilers. BUT, this class has a few similarities to that group, no?
This isn't 2007. Purdue's surrounding cast is stronger and deeper, mostly because that Sophomore class is also coming into its own, slowly but surely.
Matty might have figured something out versus Siena (Part Deux). He noted that Smotherman is tough to keep off the court because he does so many things well and is such a tough match-up. That's thrust him into the starting line-up...but more-importantly, has made him a part of the end of game line-up.
Three Freshman and a pair of Johnsons started yesterday...not because Painter is still fooling around with combos, but because he's beginning to know what to expect from that group. Sure, Stephens simply MUST figure out how to stay out of foul trouble...but that will come. I'm already excited about a night in February (to be named later) in which The Kid hits 6-8 shots from distance and absolute tears open the roof of Mackey Arena.
As I said a few weeks ago, the process matters...and when a team leans heavily on 7 guys who haven't even been on campus for two years yet, there are going to be some growing pains. This team is still learning how to play together and play within a system...Look no further than Painter chewing on Hammons for shooting a three yesterday as evidence of that. But yesterday was definitely a step in the right direction and more along the lines of what I was hoping we'd see this season.
Here's to a few more confidence builders prior to the conference schedule.