Getting High In July (On Purdue Basketball)
It’s been a while since we did an old-fashioned BS roundtable – or at least since we did one worth posting. One thing that I keep thinking about is the way that so many people already seem all in on Purdue basketball for ’15-’16, largely thanks to Swanigan coming here and, of course, AJ coming back. Obviously, we’ll do this again at the start of the season, but as you sit here in July, the questions to the BS boys are:
What do you see as the ceiling for ’15-’16 Purdue basketball? What’s the fallout if they don’t have a memorable season?
Dave (zlionsfan): The ceiling is a Final Four appearance: the bigs wreak havoc in conference play, Painter works
his NCAA magic, and bad memories of Duke and Wisconsin are erased. (Obvs we'll keep remembering 1980!) There's enough randomness in single-elimination play that a team can catch a wave and outplay its ability, but I think the Good Guys are still a little short of extending that magic all the way through the final game. Note that I'm not saying they're Final Four-caliber, just that I could see them making that kind of run. (The difference IME is that the former would be a team where anything short of a FF appearance would be disappointing. This team not making the FF ... not disappointing in and of itself.)
If they don't have a memorable season? A.J. will get an unreasonable amount of blame for it, as high-profile players often do. Painter will get some blame for it - hard to say whether or not that would be unreasonable. We still have that ugly question floating around the program: how much of that wonderful first class was MP, and how much of it was various factors that he just hasn't been able to reproduce? There's no way to know, not even if you're a stat guy, but if the team falls hard enough, it may not matter. Football failure is disappointing, but basketball failure is unacceptable. (Which, in Burke terms, would mean sitting down with Painter and having a talk about how he's really expecting more from the team and Painter is really disappointing him, perhaps complete with finger-wagging. Other ADs would pack up the coach's office first.)
Michael (rrt1): I think this team's ceiling is the Elite Eight. What's this Painter NCAA magic you speak of? I think Purdue's losses in the NCAA Tournament have all been pretty appropriate. They've played tough (eg. against Florida in the Chris Kramer days) but generally speaking, have beat the teams they should beat and lost to the teams they should lose to. Which, frankly, could be the official words of House Keady and House Painter. Generally speaking, Painter's teams tend to perform in ways that make sense, even the disastrous ones prior to this past season were predictable (even if we wanted to ignore the warning signs headed into the season).
The fallout will be ugly, and will fall on Painter's shoulders. But let's be clear: that's from the fan's perspective. Many within the Athletic Department view Swanigan's recruitment as a vindication of the Painter way. Right, wrong, or indifferent, it's really going to take either a gigantic NCAA rules violations or several (4+) years of missing any postseason play for there to be any sort of "win or get fired" pressure on Painter. I dunno; I like him. I'll go down with that ship.
Back to the ceiling question, I think Purdue has some nice pieces, but you gotta recognize that fans tend to overvalue our own players. I mean, we have people talking about Kendall Stephens like he's Jon Diebler but from a pure stats point, he's no where near that level. Not to pick on him (he is one of my favorites), but through two years we've felt like he has more than he's shown. Is that because he does in fact have more than we've shown and it's just a matter of the stars aligning for him to go supernova (that's how space works, right?) or is it just not going to click? I hope it does. But you can't talk about him being a dominant shooter until he becomes a dominant shooter. Just like you can't talk about AJ Hammons dominating every night until he dominates every night. Similar things can be said about Dakota Mathias; he looks like he's prime for a break out, but he's got to do it first. The same can be said about Swanigan to be honest.
So we have two shooters that we think can become dominant but haven't done it yet (Mathias and Stephens), and a third whose jumper is so wet that people think it'll outweigh other glaring holes in his game (Cline). Then you have a big whose light only recently turned on (Hammons), backed by another big who showed a ton of promise (Haas) paired with an incoming freshman who has all the talent in the world but will be playing in a new system at a fairly new position (Swanigan). Add in a swiss army knife who expends so much energy on defense (not complaining) that he really has to pick his spots on offense (Davis). An unproven transfer point guard (Hill) and a returning sophomore point guard with some questions that need answered (Thompson) will compete for the final starting point. Point being, the raw material is there for a really good season, but there are a couple directions that things could go sideways as well.
Boilerdowd: Keady lost appropriately in the autumn of his time at Purdue...BUT...he lost like Pitt in the oughts early in his career- as a 1 through 4 seed, his Boilers lost too early way too often.
URI, Temple (maybe Florida?) and Texas losses stand out in my memory with the painful Mitch Richmond KState loss still two rounds too early.
But NCAA magic is not something that I think of when it comes to Purdue except for 1998 and 2000...neither put the good guys in the Final Four, of course.
Dave (zlionsfan): Yeah, '87 (Florida) was a 3-6 loss, '88 (Kansas State) was 1-4, '90 (Texas) was 2-10, '95 (Memphis) was 3-6, '96 (Georgia) was 1-8, '98 (Stanford) was 2-3, '00 (Wisconsin) was 6-8 ... I think only 1990 and 1996 were really bad, but that's still a pretty good string of NOT AGAIN. Actually, 2000 was bad because a) that was when Wisconsin was painful to watch and b) INDIANAPOLIS NEXT. Keady consistently put away first-round opponents, but after that, it could go either way.
Anyway, if Painter gets a team to the Final Four, it will in fact be magic, a kind Keady never wielded. So there!
Michael (rrt1): You know the worst part about that loss to Wisconsin in 2000? That Wisconsin team was .500 in conference, and beat Purdue in two out of their 3 non-NCAA Tournament games. Those losses prevented Purdue from winning the conference (they finished 2nd behind Michigan State, only 1 game behind) and then prevented them from making the Final Four for the first time since 1980. Arg! That Wisky team wasn't even good!
J: I agree with this. I've thought about it many times. You can't get a much better deal than a middling 8-seed in the Elite Eight. And I remember Cardinal wanting it so badly...he's loved now, but imagine how beloved he'd be if he'd taken that team to the FF.
Aneesh the Swamy: Ok, old guys. Let's talk about the team that will play in the 2016 tournament.
That's right, I said it. That's my "bold" prediction...the floor for this team is what we saw in 2014/2015: a largely inconsistent bunch of parts that gels just enough to sneak 20 wins and into the tournament, and doesn't make it out of the first round. With the amount of talent on this team, barring a catastrophic bout of ACL tears, I really don't see how they miss the tournament.
I'm with Mike... [You wish –Ed.] I'll ride and die with Painter to the end, and this summer has really validated his recruiting methods in the eyes of administration. But if Purdue can't grab 20+ wins, it's time to start looking at that buyout. Not just because of this single year, but because it will become so easy for coaches like Izzo, Matta, and Beilein to sit down with high-level recruits and say "Even with a stacked roster, Matt Painter can't get you into a nationally relevant position."
And as for the ceiling...let's take a step back from Mike's 'glass half empty' perspective and give a more optimistic look at Purdue's roster. Hammons and Davis are among Painter's most talented senior class, definitely behind JJ/E'Twaun and (I think) on par with Hummel/LewJack/Ryno. (I'd argue they bring better leadership than JJ and Smooge, but that's another argument for another day.) Kendall Stephens, a long shooter with NBA size, would start for any other Big Ten team but projects to come off Purdue's bench. The other junior, Basil Smotherman, is an experienced and skilled 10th man with "Break In Case of Emergency" lock-down defensive abilities. The sophomore class is the deepest returning bunch of 2nd years in the conference, consisting of a capable point guard (Thompson), a deadeye shooter (Mathias), the greatest basketball player of all time (VINCE), and an Ent (Haas). And, oh yeah, Purdue just brought in the 9th best freshman in the country, who (optimistically, I'll give you that) projects to be somewhere between DeJuan Blair, Paul Millsap, and Zach Randolph. The other freshmen Cline, Weatherford, and Taylor will have trouble getting in even in garbage time this year.
No, this is absolutely Painter's deepest and most complete team. I did that (fairly stupid but pretty fun) 2010 vs 2015/2016 comparison, and my biggest takeaway was the depth of this team. Purdue fans should have been prepared for an injury to derail that 2010 team, mostly because that bench was so inexperienced. This year brings a combination of size, skill, and experience that very few collegiate coaches have the luxury of working with, making expectations sky high for the coaching staff. And I think we should do our part in keeping those expectations as high as possible.
As for my personal bar for this team? A virtual tie with Maryland for top spot in the Big Ten and around 27 wins in the regular season. If we hit that bar, I would expect an appearance in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, which sets Purdue up for a 3ish seed in March (based on Maryland's season last year, with a deeper BTT run). And if we grab a 3 seed, oh boy will it set up well for the inevitable Purdue trademark gut-punch loss in the first round.
NO SORRY I'M BEING OPTIMISTIC. If Purdue enters the tourney with the Big Ten regular season title and BTT title, I'll already consider the season a wild success. A second weekend appearance (Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight) would solidify that feeling. Anything beyond...well, that would take a 27 win season, a deep BTT run, no injuries, no internal chemistry issues, no unforeseen ridiculous distractions, and single-elimination basketball luck. So, basically, everything Purdue has never ever ever received.
But if we want to hold that high of expectations for any Purdue team, it might as well be with this stacked squad. 27 wins, Big Ten regular season title, BTT title, Elite Eight berth. Can we please just skip football season?
J: A couple thoughts on that... if Purdue is a 3 seed, they aren't losing in the first round. They'd be playing a 14 that would just be overmatched in terms of talent, size, depth, handsomeness, you name it.
And second, if Purdue wins 27 games, the Big Ten regular season AND the BTT (or even just appears in the BTT title game) and is only a 3 seed....I'll beat up Lunardi just for being associated with bracket seeding.
Dave (zlionsfan): I was going to do a big old data dump here, but then I ran across 2008 Wisconsin: 16-2 in conference play, tourney champs too, and a #3 seed. And that was the year Davidson kicked their asses in the Sweet 16, so there's an argument they were seeded properly. All the double champs since then got a #1, except for 2010 OSU (#2), but I could see Purdue drawing a #3.
That's actually OK with me. I remember Western Carolina.
Dave (zlionsfan): Wait. "inevitable Purdue trademark gut-punch loss in the first round." Inevitable? Dude! They've done that once in 20+ years! Gut-punch losses are a thing, yes, but the Boilers haven't lost a first-round regulation game since 1993 and haven't suffered a legit upset by seed since a one-point loss to #11 Auburn in 1985. (Bonus: it was Auburn's first-ever NCAA tournament win.)
The first round is one of the few places where the Good Guys have pretty much played according to expectations. Even garbage like the '86 tournament turned out OK - a 2-OT loss at 11-seed LSU. Now, the other rounds ... sure. Except for the third-place game. That one's safe, I think.
Aneesh the Swamy: You're totally right, it's the one point of pride that Purdue could legitimately have until the 2015 tournament. I should have said "gut-punch first weekend loss". But still, I don't really believe that will happen again with this team returning most of its key pieces and adding a monster like Swanigan.
But, to me, the key goal should be consistency. That's what this team has lacked since 2010. Consistent, season-long success has been missing with this core group. If they can achieve consistency even as a team in the 3-5 range in the Big Ten, the skill level of this roster could carry them to some really fun postseason heights.
I'm probably way too high on this team, but between the returning players, the culture that's been set by Painter and Davis and Hammons, and the addition of a player like Swanigan without an immediate pressure for him to produce...well, I'm comfortable with my ceiling for this team.
My "most likely" way too early prediction: 25 regular season wins, top 4 seed in the Big Ten tourney, two BTT wins, a 4ish seed in March Madness, and a Sweet 16 berth. After finishing last in the Big Ten two years ago, that would be a hell of a turnaround.
Dave (zlionsfan): It's July! We should be way too high on them. Nothing's happened (yet) to crush our dreams for a respectable 2015-16.
J: You don't think there is immediate pressure for Swanigan to produce? Maybe pressure isn't the right word but....expectation that he produces? I think people expect a lot.
Michael (rrt1): I'm cautiously optimistic about this season, despite what my prior email might have led you to believe. I think this team is really talented, and really deep, and really under the radar. I have to continually catch and correct my own biases about this team, but there's a lot to like here.
I think Swanigan is a talented guy, and I think he'd make an impact wherever he went, but I think he's going to have a huge impact at Purdue, if for no reason other than he's an amazing passer. Yeah, I know, "good court vision, high bball IQ" shows up everywhere in his scouting report, but I'm telling you, his ability to read a defense and make the right pay (including the right pass) is at a level I don't think Purdue has seen out of its frontcourt players. So he will produce. I could see him being a 12-8-4 guy, which would be amazing. If the shooters can hit their shots (and everyone is talking up Dakota Mathias this offseason) then this Purdue team will have one hell of a potent offense. The potential is there for a lot of people to be surprised with this team.
I dunno, I'm really excited. Cautious, but excited.
Boilerdowd: The more I think about it, the less I feel I really know about the upcoming basketball season.
I can guess and hope for good things, but there are some massive variables that get in the way of me getting in an all-out giddy mood about Matty's squad.
What we know is that Hammons is still good...he's been rock-solid during his career. He's a great defender, very good rebounder and solid scorer. Some suggest that he'll take the next logical step in his career and become a top-3 center in the nation this season...and I think that's possible, especially if Swanigan demands to be guarded all of the time. A single-teamed Ham Slammich will make teams pay.
RayDay won't forget how to play defense...So the one-two punch of the B1G's two best defenders will make life difficult for Purdue's opponents. Can he be more consistent offensively, is the real question with Davis.
Stephens has potential to be a top-5 All-time Purdue three point shooter...Can he stay healthy enough to make big noise into March is what we don't know. When healthy, he's looked as good as any shooting guard in the conference...when mentally distracted, he's looked like a disrupter for Purdue's offense.
Vince Edwards has TONS of skill...and like his big Boiler Brother, Hummel, is just tough to contain for a full game because of the array of ways he can kill an opponent. How does he fit with the two behemoths in Purdue's frontcourt this season? Does his new explosiveness (seen in videos of summer practice) translate in more production?
Is Mathias as good as I think he is? My thought is that his basketball IQ is as high as anyone's on the roster...and with a full off-season of getting stronger and getting better lungs, he might have a break-out year...might.
Can Thompson consistently run the point? Will he need to with Hill stepping into the sizable shoes of Octeus? Speaking of large shoes, will Haas be the best big man off of the bench in the nation? (not sure how that's not possible) Can Smotherman's jump shot develop a bit to the point that he forces defenses to not sag off of him? Will Taylor be healthy enough to see the court after December? Are Weatherford and Cline good enough that they'll force Matty and co. not to redshirt them?
Hey- I love optimism...it's a ton better than what I'm feeling about our Gridiron Boilers. BUT, I want proof, not theory. To make Purdue better than a 22-win team, some things have to go better than OK for The Forces of Good...and I think many of these things are possible, if not likely.
That said, I need to see this team play against a real live D-I basketball team before I can even venture an educated guess.
My uneducated guess says that Matty's boys are a 24 win(ish), top-20 team that will finish fourth in the B1G and make it to the Sweet 16.
That's a pretty good place to be...but it's not a reason to dance in the streets either. I can remember when I used to all but expect my Boilers to contend for the Big Ten title and be a 1-4 seed in the dance. Times have changed.
Wouldn't it be great to just feel relevant again in March???
Aneesh the Swamy: Though I agree with mostly everything Dowd just painstakingly typed on his reconstruction-era typewriter, the one thing I'd change is the 'national relevance' point. If all goes to plan, Purdue should be a top 25 team that finishes in the top half of the Big Ten and is poised to make a significant tournament run.
If that becomes a reality, then the turnaround from 2014's last in the conference to 2016's national story is as impressive as the fall from 2011 national title contender to 2014's dumpster fire was disastrous. After a few floundering years, Matt Painter should finally have Purdue back where his Baby Boiler teams consistently played. Let's see what this team can do with some real expectations tied to its back.
At this point, the boys became sleepy and went back into summertime hibernation. But football season (yay?) is only a month away.
What say you? Are Purdue basketball fans already a bit too “all in” on Purdue basketball in ’15-’16 or are you in the camp that says “Why the hell not?”