Purdue's team in '12-'13 was tough to watch for a myriad of reasons. It's funny, when you wade into the murky waters of message boards and just listen (read) you'll hear Purdue fans admonish others for not grinning and bearing it while ignoring the awful brand of basketball our Boilers played this season. You'll hear others, on the opposite end of the spectrum, act as if the world has come to an end because of Purdue's sub-par, fundamentally-unsound season.
I think the BS staff falls into the middle. We like good basketball...and like most Purdue fans, we really like good defense, and there's there's the rub. Purdue's defense was generally bad this season...granted there were a few flashes of the old Purdue, but those flashes were fleeting at best.
Atop of that, Purdue's offense was painful to watch. Watching back-to-back games, as many of us did this March showed just how bad Purdue was on offense. My wife noted when watching IU and Michigan play, that it looked like those two teams played a different sport than did Purdue this year...and really, they did. They were fast, spread the floor out and had the option to score from about anywhere. Good shooting creates space...shooters like Hulls and Stauskas force defenses to respect a team to 25 feet...and athletes like Oladipo and Hardaway slash teams and push the pace. Purdue looked slow and unathletic for stretches of the season while they made fewer three pointers than any Purdue team in the last 25 seasons. Not a good combo.
Now, let's contrast this with the number one overall seed of the tournament, Louisville.
They play stifling defense that mentally and physically wears out opponents. They have two very experienced guards in Siva and Smith that make good decisions, can score and make their teammates better...and they are experienced as a team. One Freshman on the Cardinals played 16.5 minutes...two others played around 3 minutes/game. With experience comes understanding of a system...and this is one of Louisville's biggest advantages- the players buy in to the system and play hard. But, that's not why Louisville is great, in my opinion...They're great because of their chemistry, and I'd argue that their chemistry is great because of great leadership.
I posted a video on Twitter of Kevin Ware's interview yesterday in which he detailed what happened just after the gruesome break to his leg. He said he looked at Pitino, who was just feet away...and the coach looked sickened. He said that he thought he had only hurt his ankle...but when he looked down, saw something completely different.
Some of his teammates reacted in horror; I would have acted like them. A few of them threw up...but a couple of the upper classman came and just started talking to him. And most importantly, Ware acted selflessly.
When he saw that he had a compound fracture, he knew the injury could hurt the team...but instead, the Sophomore said he quickly tried to change the focus with his teammates. He told them he'd be alright and they needed to go out and win the game. That might seem like a big deal or may just seem like athlete speak...but I think it's indicative of Louisville's focus as a team. This is why they're great.
When you look at Louisville's roster on paper, you don't see horses like Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina. They're actually pretty similar to UM and IU; the three and four star guys do the lion's share of the work and they all know their role. But, everything with Louisville is clicking right now (much like Michigan, actually). And one more thing, Louisville has Pitino at the helm; that doesn't hurt.
Make now mistake, I'm no fan of Pitino. I think he's nearly-impossible to like and root for because of his scandalous past and the fact that he's actually been found guilty of major NCAA violations...once a cheater, always a cheater. But it's tough to deny how good of an in-game coach he is...and his tournament record is crazy good.
Now let's flip back to the reason you come to this site- what's this have to do with Purdue? Well, other programs' successes as well as Purdue's failures should both teach us a lot.
Above, I talked about how Louisville doesn't have to rely on Freshman for many minutes...that surely wasn't the case this season for Purdue. Purdue had Freshmen that averaged 19, 23 and 31 minutes...that's a lot to ask of guys in their first year at this level. 31 minutes specifically from a Freshman point guard is Herculean. Relying heavily on Freshman and having a Freshman point guard generally leads to inconsistency, inability to win close games down the stretch and an inability to compete with physically and mentally mature teams...things we saw from this Purdue team this year. This chart shows Purdue's inconsistency.
Louisville's leadership, cohesiveness, talent and focus on a common goal are obvious, when you watch them play...in the same way, Purdue's issues were obvious. There is hope for Purdue's future, in my opinion, but it's tempered.
Ryne Smith talked to us on the Handsome Hour a few weeks ago about the importance of losing a leader like Rob Hummel...and sadly for Purdue, I'm not sure if I see another leader like that on the roster right now; leadership is something some guys just have, but very few guys lead teams as Freshman or Sophomores. Next year, the team will be TJohn's. Not a bad guy to have as the leader...but leaders need to be consistent and set a precedent of doing things the right way all the time. Johnson is a capable scorer and solid defender, at times. In order for Purdue to make a huge jump next season, it'll take TJohn making a quantum leap forward in his consistency.
Next, leaders need good followers...this is something Purdue might do better in '14, simply because so many of the key contributors are a year older. Players like RonJohn, RayDay and Hammons are the key here. If these three guys can develop on the off-season, Purdue can be solid...and Purdue can get 10-15 minutes of solid contribution from two of the incoming Freshman as well as Simpson, the rotation will be better than what we saw this season.
The biggest questions about next years team though are still yet to have been answered. GBI has all but assured Purdue fans that there will be multiple transfers this off-season. Will it be two or three players and which ones will it be? A few seasons ago when Lutz, Vandervieren, Uchendu, Watt, Spates and Minnoy all transferred in a two year period...that's a ton of attrition. But, none of the guys were fitting, for one reason or another. It's pretty clear that there were a few square pegs in round holes this season...some of that is because of youth, but some of it isn't.
Watching Louisville in March and IU in February this season, you could see two teams that had a bunch of guys with their focus in the right place. Until Purdue has a bunch of like-minded guys, success will be limited. That's a simple fact.
Regardless of whom (if anyone) decides to leave in the next few weeks, Painter will have his work cut out for him in the off-season. I've heard as many as five different names rumored to be looking to find greener pastures next fall. The problem with these rumors is I can only find a solid root on one of those (Marcius' request for release) but think a few of the others seem to be logical based on what I saw with my own two eyes during games this season in Mackey. My hope is that everyone returns with a better attitude...but if guys aren't willing to work, they should head elsewhere; it'd be better for all parties.
Back to Coach Painter for a minute. I've heard some say that 2013-2014 is a make-or-break season for him. The problem with this idea is no one really knows what the breaking point is in this equation. I think another sub .500 season would be unacceptable; I actually thought this team should have been better than .500 in '12/'13. What I believe is a coach with his resume and his contract simply should not average 15 losses a season (which he has over the last two years). But most-importantly, I'm confident that next season will be much different. I do know that many of you who visit this site disagree with me on this opinion. I guess we can debate this until next fall.
Does Any of this matter in 2014?
Last night, Iowa got crushed in the championship of the NIT by Baylor. Unlike Penn State's fanbase a few seasons ago, Iowa fans didn't seem to catch NIT fever...but I think they thought the NIT was a positive for the team (at least until last night).
The question often asked by fans is how does a blowout loss in the NIT championship affect the team the next year? Or how does a defeat at the hands of might Santa Clara at home in the CBI affect a team the following season? Would Iowa had been better had they edged into the dance and lost in the first round? Would Purdue had been better had they not been invited to the CBI?
The truth is, there's no formula. Some NIT teams come back stronger the next season, others return to the NIT...some CBI stay mired in mediocrity, others are ranked next year.
Painter wanted the team to play because he thinks basketball teams should play basketball and want to play basketball. As it turns out, many of Purdue's players looked like they didn't want to be there.
What really matters for Purdue as they prepare for next season is if these guys are competitors, if they want to play with the guys who are their teammates and if they buy in to the coach's philosophy.
Screw Conference Loyalty, Everyman for Himself.
As UM and Wisconsin lose three starters and IU potentially loses four, Purdue and Iowa will only lose one player in their 8-man rotation. The problem is, the same can be said for MSU and aOSU. The B1G will still be the best-coached conference in the nation in 2014 in spite of two rookie coaches taking over at Minny and Northwestern. It gets no easier for our Boilers in '14 as the conference will once again be the best in the nation.