Boilermaker faithful, you need to start wrapping the idea around your head that this team could possibly miss the NCAA Tournament for the second time under Matt Painter this season. Yes I know it’s a hard reality to come to and I’m not sure if I'm quite there yet. In fact, there is still an opportunity for this team to make the tournament, but it’s going to take some growing up, and fast. With only five non-conference games left, including Notre Dame and West Virginia, it’s going to take some big wins to get to the big dance, but isn’t that true for every year?
Going into conference play at 8-4, for the optimist, or the record of 7-5 for the realist, it’s going to take some solid road play in conference for Matty’s boys to get invited to the dance.
That being said, here are my keys for making the Big Dance this season.
More Productivity Offensively
Shooting only 42 percent so far this season, these Boilermakers are on pace to shoot the second lowest percentage under Painter. The only team with a lower percentage was the 2007-2008 season, that class worked out pretty well. The only difference is that that season the Boilermakers shot 37 percent from beyond the arc, a pipe dream for this season's team from what we’ve seen so far.
At 25 percent on the season, better shots need to be taken from beyond the arc. This will come with aging, but the Boilermakers aren’t going to make their money with Ronnie Johnson jacking up threes after a crossover everytime down the court. They also don’t need Anthony running into the lane throwing up a floater over three guys in the paint; that being said, Anthony has really improved his control this season and his decision making is leaps and bounds better.
Byrd will get hot, it’s just going to take him some time get warmed up.
As the season goes on I think we will start seeing more points scored by the big guys. I expect the Boilermakers to heat up a bit from the perimeter thus allowing Hammons, Lawson, Hale and Simpson to cash in.
Keep on the Boards
This season Purdue is averaging just over 43 rebounds per game which puts them at 13th in the nation in this category. Yeah read that again, let it sink in. Now pinch yourself and see that it is actually reality and not a dream. The Boilermakers finally have a presence on the boards and it’s nice.
The guards seem to be crashing down and the big guys are pulling them down with authority. I’ve been really impressed with Carroll on the boards this season when he is in the game. Terone has also started following his shots which has led to him to become the second leading rebounder on the team averaging 4.6 per game.
Hammons was the difference maker here. He is averaging 5.9 rebounds per game this season, just for comparison purposes, JaJuan Johnson averaged only three his freshman year, Hammons is way ahead of the game here. It’s going to be fun to watch him grow into one of the elite big men in the conference.
I have a really good feeling about what the game against Lamar did for the team. The MVP of that game wasn’t even close to the most athletic player on the team. Dru Anthrop emerged as a huge presence. He was a menace on defense and gave all he had while he was out there. I think we will start seeing Anthrop a part of the regular rotation from here forward, but most of all I think it will help motivate the guys.
As a freshman seeing Dru Anthrop diving for balls, deflecting passes like JJ Watt and just hustling on every position has to be inspirational. College basketball is so much based on emotion and once this whole team starts playing with the same team Anthrop plays with, it will be better off. As Matt Painter said in the post game presser, “He’s Solid.”
Eliminate Dumb Turnovers, and Force More Turnovers
The Boilermakers are averaging 14 turnovers per game and have forced around 13 per game. History says that when Painter squads are positive in the turnover margin, they are usually successful. Contrary to this theory though, this season in losses Purdue is actually positive in the turnover margin, but Purdue has also played some really close games this season.
Controlling the ball on drives has proven difficult for this young squad. Making controlled smart drives is going to be crucial for this young squad and playing upfront defense is going to be something that separates them.
Establish a Second Go To Guy
Purdue is going to continue to feed the post and Terone Johnson will more than likely continue his leadership scoring, but Purdue needs another threat. This position is wide open and up for grads. With Anthony Johnson still inconsistent when it comes to being productive offensively and DJ Byrd in a slump which one of the young guys is going to step up?
My guess is Raphael Davis. Davis hasn’t received much playing time this season but I think he will be a great asset off the bench this season. A natural slasher, Davis will provide another driving option from the wing similar to Terone. Davis is already more polished as a freshman than Terone was so I look to him to become a key contributor this season off the bench.
Feed Lawson, Hammons, Hale and Simpson
Jacob Lawson is one of the most athletic player Purdue has ever had. Sometimes he doesn’t give a lot of effort, that’s why he doesn’t play consistent minutes always, but he needs to get some touches inside.
As mentioned earlier Hammons is quickly turning into a star. More touches in the post means more productivity for the big guy. Look for Hammons to make a huge impact when B1G rolls along.
Hale is going to have his number called a lot. He’s going to be crucial in stunting zones this season as he can hit that elbow jumper all day long. Look for him to be a big time contributor.
Simpson is still not in shape. When asked about it in his presser, Painter said he still can only play for around three minutes without getting fatigued. Painter said it wasn’t going to come overnight, but if Simpson can get himself in shape he will surprise some people. He’s down 40 pounds since he got to Purdue and it should be fun to watch him by the end of the season.
Change Their Luck
The Boilermakers have gotten very unlucky this season. In fact, they have had some of the worst luck in all of college basketball but this will change. It’s time to start making better decisions and quit leaving teams in it. A few ways to change the luck would be to start hitting free throws and stop committing stupid fouls. Sometimes the three blind mice aren’t going to get it right, but Purdue has to fight through that in order to be successful.
It’s going to be a tough battle to get into the tournament this season. As of right now College Basketball Stat Sheet has Purdue’s predicted strength of schedule at number three in the nation. It’s a tough battle but if the Boilermakers can win the games they should and grab a few surprises on the way, these Boilermakers could still be tournament bound.
Don’t forget the Baby Boilermakers lost four non-conference games in 2007, so don’t write this team off just yet.
With constant improvement this squad is going to be one that teams do not want to face towards the end of the season. These Boilermakers are far from done, but don't be surprised if the Boilermakers miss it this year and just remember this is a rebuilding season and these Boilers are going to be great in the future.