Who wins: 2009-2010 vs 2015-2016 Purdue Basketball?
Ok. I get it. This is a ridiculous thought exercise, because that 2010 team has three jerseys in the rafters, one of the best leaders in Purdue history, and chemistry out the wazoo. But that 2009-2010 team was the best Baby Boilers team, and Robbie got this question during his delightful Campus Insiders analysis segment, so let’s take a deep deep dive here. For the record, we’re comparing the team as of February 10, 2010 to the current roster. With the benefit of hindsight (mostly that our Big Three would never play together again), these two squads are Coach Painter’s best and deepest teams, and expectations are pretty high.
2010 was much more top heavy with Hummel and Moore close to their peaks and JJ just before he exploded, and since short rotations are better in March maybe that squad was better for a deep tourney run. But 2015 looks to be deeper, more experienced (believe it or not), and much much much much bigger (giving 2015 a HUGE rebounding advantage).
There’s no way to know which team would win, mostly because time travel is illegal in most states and we haven’t actually seen this 2015 team play together. Still, it’s my post so I’ll do what I want, and I’m going with individual matchups. Most of them are positional, but a few are based on their role.
Spoiler alert: Kramer vs Davis might be Mackey Arena’s wet dream, Edwards vs Hummel almost killed me to think about, and Hammons vs JJ is super tough.
Winners are in bold, and determined on criteria that exist within my head. If you agree, comment below or tweet lovingly to me at @aneeshswamy. If you disagree, comment below or direct all hateful tweets to Mike Henry at @therailroadtie.
Keaton Grant (SR) vs Johnny Hill (transfer SR)
The battle of two offensively minded ball handlers, and basically point guards by default. Grant was more of a shooter, while Hill looks to be a slasher and potential defensive ace. Grant, along with Kramer, helped give the Baby Boilers leadership after the young guns got to campus with sky high expectations. That leadership mainly manifested in LewJack’s development, and had great chemistry and trust with the team. I might be a little biased, because KG is one of my all-time favorite Boilers, but I think he takes this one pretty easily. Hill is a newcomer, so he has none of that chemistry and has to start from scratch. Octeus got to a Keaton-esque place with last year’s team, can Hill do the same this year? I actually think PJ Thompson gets the starting nod over Hill come this fall, but these two felt like a much better comparison to make (as did PJ vs LewJack). The biggest piece missing from this 2015 squad is a turnover-less ball handler who Painter can trust with the offense, and if Hill gets even close to where KG was in 2010 or Octeus was last year Purdue will be a true national force.
Chris Kramer (SR) vs Ray Davis (SR)
Oh sweet Jesus. The defense. The grit. The grind. The leadership. The ugly, ugly jump shots. These two seniors are total analogues, playing very similar roles for completely different Purdue generations. It seemed like Kramer had that hella-leader role from his freshman year, which is crazy because Painter was thinking about redshirting Kramer before he got to training camp in 2006. Ray took two years to get to that point, and went through two tough losing seasons, so he knows what it’s like to be at the bottom of the Big Ten ocean. Both are the locker room leaders of their team, both are Big Ten DPOYs, both will do absolutely anything to help their team win. But Ray seems like a much nicer guy on the court…and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Leadership takes a ton of different forms, and I don’t think I’ve seen Ray even look at the other team in a trash-talk type of way, instead focusing on building the confidence of his guys. I think that style works perfectly with Hammons, Edwards, Stephens and the rest of the guys, and is the perfect leader for this team.
Kramer…yeah, not so much. His specialty was getting under the opponent’s skin, and kicking his teammates in the ass until they reached unexpected heights (see: dragging a floundering post-Robbie ACL Boilers to the Sweet 16). He was the perfect pest, and a great foil for every opposing student section. He was also bigger than most Purdue middle linebackers, stronger than the Boilermaker Special, and could (DID) guard anyone from 5’5” point guards to 7-foot centers. Purdue loved him because he was ours, but if he went to IU or OSU or anywhere else, we would hate his guts. Coach Painter might as well name the offseason Hustle Award after Kramer, who will go down as the most nationally underappreciated lynchpins to a tremendous team but will never be overlooked by Purdue fans. Combine all that with his abilities filling in at point guard, and even with Davis’ better offensive game this one swings to Kramer. But don’t let me convince you otherwise…they will go down as two of the most beloved Boilers of the Painter era.
Robbie Hummel (JR) vs Vince Edwards (SO)
OH SWEET JESUS KILL ME NOW. The do-it-all forwards tee off. I mean, I know the answer is Robbie. And, if I can make a controversial cross-race comparison, VINCE seems to be cut from the same cloth. College small-ball forwards with tremendous court vision, a versatile offensive game, and an unselfish streak that might run a little too deep for the team’s own good. Both have been my personal favorites since the millisecond they got to campus, and both could be the hugely-overqualified glue guys that facilitate offenses without true point guards. Now, 2010 was the year Robbie was a Second Team All-American, First Team All-Big Ten, Jeff Goodman’s slightly inappropriate mancrush, and the national darling from a Top 5 team. So yeah, he’s got Vince beat. But if you compare trajectories after their freshman years…it’s a lot closer than you’d think. Robbie gets the nod, but 2016-2017 Vince looks to be on the same path.
Quick story: my freshman year at Purdue was in 2007, the same year as the Baby Boilers. Nobody on my Harrison Hall floor (shoutout to the 2007 Harrison Hall dudes 1st floor) wanted to go to the first preseason basketball game of the season, but I convinced my closest friend from high school (and coincidental dorm room neighbor) to come check it out. We walked the 12 mile hike from Harrison to Mackey, settled into our upper bowl seats in the half-filled tin dome, and looked for people to latch on to. The crowd seemed to already love Kramer, and he didn’t immediately speak to our souls. But…after barely 5 minutes of game time, we noticed “Feisty Number 4”. Feisty Number 4 was this tall, lanky, floppy haired, goofy looking white forward who was diving for every loose ball and making these crisp, gorgeous passes from the high post to E’Twaun Moore, the most well-known player from Purdue’s incoming recruiting class. Thinking we found a diamond in the rough, we instantly latched on to Feisty Number 4 as our favorite player. And that shit was never the same since.
Our second favorite player after that first preseason game? The Bosnian Barricade aka Boz aka The Iron Curtain aka The Most Gunner JuCo Transfer Forward We’ve Ever Seen, Nemanja Calasan. I’ll never forget that cold February game (I think) when Scott Martin tweaked his ankle really bad, and Boz just bent down, picked up the 230 pound Martin like he was a newborn Chihuahua, and carried him to the sideline. What a legend.
E’Twaun Moore (JR) vs Caleb Swanigan (FR)
Battle of the highest ranked recruits on each squad. Moore was 2007 Mr Indiana Basketball runner-up (to Eric Gordon, because Indianapolis/IU bias is a thing), while Swanigan brought this year’s Mr Basketball title to Homestead HS on his massive shoulders. Moore wasn’t as highly touted nationally as Swanigan (E’Twaun was around 35th, Swanigan 9th), but they both looked to be instant-impact players from the minute they committed to play for Coach Painter. This matchup, though, might be a little too much for the young blood freshman. Moore was, by far, the most dependable offensive player Matt Painter has ever coached, and might have been Purdue’s most offensively gifted player since Big Dog. Few remember that he was the sole member of the Baby Boilers to start from day 1, and was the most automatic 17 points/4 rebounds/3 assists/2 steals in the country that year. 2010 First Team All-Big Ten, 2010 AP All-Honorable Mention, dude was a freaking assassin. All that, plus an incredibly underrated team defender, great passer, and professional bucket-splasher. God I miss E’Twaun.
Biggie might bring a semi truck-load of potential, but E’Twaun brought instant production and automatic buckets. And, as we all know, this game is and always has been about getting buckets. More than anything else expected from the big fella, I’d love to see Swanigan give a Moore-like reliability this fall. But this one matchup ain’t close.
JaJuan Johnson (JR) vs AJ Hammons (SR)
This one, however, is a doozy, and I’m looking forward to your comments and twitter barrage. Battle of the All American-caliber bigs. This might be a little controversial, but I’m riding with Senior AJ over Junior JJ all day. JJ was a versatile weapon defensively, developed a truly dangerous mid-range game in 2010, was an athletic freak and took a huge leap during the summer between his sophomore and junior years. But JJ was (is) skinnier than a beanpole and AJ is roughly the size of a barge.
Hammons has been a disruptive force on defense since the second half of his freshman year, and was massively overlooked for Big Ten and national defensive honors during his sophomore and junior years. Since Big Ten play started last year, AJ was a truly dominant two-way force that helped change the fortunes of a floundering Purdue team (and probably helped save Matt Painter’s job). He’s also taken huge leadership steps, and (for anyone paying attention) has worked through any concerns about his “motor”.
On a purely emotional level, AJ stuck with a team that was in complete discord during his first two seasons, and now looks to reap the benefits as he’s led Purdue to national relevance and helped continue Painter’s legacy of recruiting and developing high-impact big men. Going into his senior year, I’m expecting a massive season from AJ on both ends of the floor, and that’s something JaJuan only hit in 2011 (his senior year as well). Their stories are oddly connected, with the attitude/motor questions dogging AJ for three years in similar vein to the questions JJ faced about his skill refinement and strength training for three years. If JJ’s senior year is any indication of what we’re in store for with Hammons, we could be in for a really fun year. But if we’re comparing 2010 JJ vs 2015 AJ…I’ll take the Great Wall of Hammons.
Lewis Jackson (SO) vs PJ Thompson (SO)
It’s tough to remember now, but freshman LewJack was an uber-athletic, defensive, somewhat bull-headed turnover machine who had minimal offensive weapons. That’s an unbelievable sentence now, because in 2011 and 2012 he became the calming presence Purdue turned to and, to date, the only point guard who completely earned Coach Painter’s trust. That being said, LewJack was an absolute hound on defense as a freshman, while PJ is only fairly decent in a team defense scheme. With hindsight, LewJack developed into Painter’s best ever true point guard, and turned into one of my favorite Purdue leaders to watch.
But in 2010, the entire Paint Crew flinched every single time he touched the ball. PJ, though, didn’t have a high turnover rate and developed some good chemistry with the team during B10 season and postseason play. PJ shot a pretty poor percentage from the field, but hit some absolutely massive threes in clutch situations late in B10 season. PJ looks to get the starting nod this fall (even though I have him listed as a bench player…this matchup just felt right), as a result of what should be a pretty spirited battle between him and incoming transfer Johnny Hill.
Basically, 2010 LewJack was an athletic freak, and 2015 PJ is much more skill-driven. But the offensive chasm is much bigger in this matchup, and it’s with a huuuuge sigh that I give it to PJ. I’ll always love you, LewJack. But that love started in 2011. Sorry man.
Ryne Smith (SO) vs Dakota Mathias (SO)
Similarly, Ryne Smith was coming off of a pretty weak freshman year. Coach Painter has since used Ryne as his go-to argument in favor of redshirting smaller freshman shooters to develop their body for another year, which was done with Anthony Johnson and looks to be an option for incoming freshman Ryan Cline. Mathias, on the other hand, had a pretty successful freshman season (even though he hit a freshman wall early in B10 play). Mathias showed a great floor-spacing ability, and has a natural passing instinct that can’t really be taught. Neither player are great ball-handlers, but both eventually settled very well in their respective roles. In 2010, though, Ryne was barely a part of anyone’s gameplan. It’s a testament to his dedication that he developed into a very reliable wing option as that year went on, and grew beyond anyone’s imagination as his career progressed. But in the 2010 vs 2015 versions I’m gonna have to go with Mathias.
This is off-topic, and probably will be a future video-based post later in the summer (now that I have my life back after completing my PhD qualifiers), but I think all the quotes and message board talk about Mathias as a point guard option is a terrible idea. Like, so so terrible. Really, do you remember Mathias dribbling last year? Even once? Most of the actions he was involved in last year were weaving through off-ball screens and either launching an open three, or delivering a (usually) on-target entry pass into a posting Isaac Haas. He’s a very good passer, but I think giving Mathias primary ball-handing duties would really hurt the floor spacing we desperately need with two bigs on the court at all times. Mathias is ideally used as a spot-up shooter who is more than qualified to read the extra pass if necessary, and giving him the ball makes him reliant on shot-creation abilities that I’m not quite sure are there yet. Defenses can play him closely, easily create turnovers, and kill any offensive flow the Boilers might have. I’d much rather see a non-shooter but floor leader like Davis develop ball-handling skills, or split time with Edwards who is more than capable of initiating the offense and keeping the defense honest at all times. Basically, point Mathias a bad idea in way more than one context, but I’ll get to that later this summer.
Patrick Bade (FR) vs Isaac Haas (SO)
Both have stone hands, slow footwork, and came to Purdue with lots of potential. Both…uuh…let’s say, slightly lack any refined limb movement. And both are really strong. Bade was a high-major football recruit out of high school and would eventually move to Danny Hope’s squad, and Haas is literally an Ent named Roundball Slowfoot from Lord of the Rings. And both are the primary alternatives behind the established starting center.
The one difference, and I mean this with all the kindness in the world: Haas is pretty good at basketball, especially when the managers remember to pack all four of his limbs and get them secured tightly before the game. Bade…well, my mom taught me to be nice, so I’ll just say Bade had a great smile and was super nice to me when I saw him once at Brother’s. Seriously, people are already talking about Haas as a 2016 or 2017 NBA prospect. This Ivan Drago clone has got a lot of things to improve on, but c’mon. Bade vs Haas? Get outta here.
Kelsey Barlow (FR) vs Basil Smotherman (JR)
Long, athletic, very promising players that haven’t (or didn’t) quite reach their potential. Barlow emerged as 2010’s fairly surprising sixth man, getting pretty regular run with the starters as Keaton Grant caught a breather on the bench. His presence wasn’t felt on the stat sheet, but he gave Purdue a player who could handle the ball and run the offense (albeit with a fairly high turnover percentage). More importantly, he was a long and pesky defender who would regularly disrupt smaller opposing point guards. Similarly, Smotherman has been used as the Swiss Army Knife defender, capable of staying in front of point guards to power forwards. Unfortunately, Smotherman has been stuck behind a glut of wings on Purdue’s roster, and hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game to differentiate himself from the pack. I do think he’s on the verge of putting it all together, and is a wonderful backup option to have in case of any injury midway through the season (a luxury that would have been great to have in 2010).
Smotherman, who has been lovingly referred to in this space as The Baseline Assassin, will be battling with redshirt freshman Jacquil Taylor for forward minutes as the 10th man, and I’m fairly confident that he wins that battle. Unfortunately, I don’t think he will have the opportunity to make the kind of impact that Barlow made in 2010…but I do think he has a real shot at having a useful junior year and a hugely impactful senior year if he sticks it out in West Lafayette.
DJ Byrd (FR) vs Kendall Stephens (JR)
This isn’t the best comparison, but they were the only ones left after everyone else matched up pretty well. DJ Byrd would develop into a very useful 6th man for the 2011-2012 Boilers, but his impact as a freshman wasn’t huge. Byrd had the body to be immediately ready to defend Big Ten guards and smaller wings, and would develop a three point shot that was extremely useful as off the bench in 2011-2012 and was fairly overmatched as the primary scorer in 2012-2013.
Kendall Stephens…well, he’s shot 37.7% from three on 363 attempts in his first two years, has been a starter for most of his first two years as a Boilermaker, and is poised to have an absolutely monstrous season as a tertiary scorer in the fall. I really do think he was slowed down by a slew of injuries last year, primarily to his pinky and ankle. Even then, he had a pretty good season as the team’s only reliable shooter who would often have an extra defender shading his way on the perimeter. Caleb Swanigan’s decision to play for Coach Painter has given Purdue an extremely dangerous wing rotation of Kid Stephens, Mathias, and Vince Edwards, who should combine to make a ton of space to rain bombs from beyond the arc. Add the potential of Ryan Cline (if he doesn’t redshirt) and The Kid should have plenty of room to shoot. I see a massive year from Stephens this year, which could propel Purdue into a different stratosphere altogether. Needless to say, wins the matchup with Byrd.
Garbage Time Squad
John Hart/Mark Wohlword/Dru Anthrop/Bubba Day/Stevie Loveless/Kyle Coleman vs Jacquil Taylor/Ryan Cline/Grant Weatherford/Jon McKeeman/Stephen Toyra/Grady Eifert
I’m all out of words, but the 2015 team has three potential rotation players in Taylor, Cline, and Weatherford, while 2010 only had one in Hart. That breakout game vs Illinois was super fun, but I’m gonna have to go with 2015.
2009-2010: 4 starters, 1 bench win
2015-2016: 1 starter, 4 bench wins, plus the Garbage Time Squad
Like I said at the top, 2010 was much better at the top of the roster, but in hindsight that team’s lack of depth made the post-ACL collapse easier to understand. 2015 is much deeper, significantly more experienced from top to bottom, and is much better equipped to handle an injury or any single player’s mid-season slump.
Personally? I’d take the fully healthy 2010 squad in an instant, as that top-heaviness would win the B10 and teams with a reliable 7-man rotation make more noise in the tourney. But, ultimately, this is a pretty stupid exercise, and its only purpose was to kill some time as I sat on a plane. The major takeaway? Stuff like this is fun to think about, I loved that 2010 team, and the team suiting up this fall could be something special.