Thursday, November 18, 2010

John Gasaway Knows Basketball Better Than Coaches

John Gasaway gets to work on his next article.
I happened to be browsing Twitter earlier today and I came across something interesting. And by interesting, I mean "fodder for Purdue fans to get irritated about."

T-Mill from H&R had said on another site that this year's Purdue basketball offense could actually wind up better than last year's. Naturally, simple-minded people took this to mean Travis was saying Purdue is better off without Rob Hummel. That's not really what he was saying and people with brains knew that, but that doesn't include everyone.

Big Ten Geeks said that Travis' comment was the craziest thing they'd heard all month. Then John Gasaway said it was the craziest Big Ten comment.... of the decade. Yes, he actually said that. The mere idea that Purdue might be better offensively this year than last year is the craziest thought....of the decade. Maybe Gasaway thinks of the decade as just having started with 2010 so there haven't been many crazy things said. I don't know.

Anyway, this leads us to a column Gasaway wrote for ESPN last week, cleverly hidden under the "Insider" shield. Fortunately, while we're not rich, our readers are and many of you who pay for ESPN content (and that's a whole other issue) provided us the content of that post, entitled "Purdue Boilermakers aren't a top-10 team." 

The content of that article is as follows:

The nice thing about having two major polls is that we can compare the thinking of college basketball writers (AP poll) with what Division I coaches (ESPN/USA Today) are seeing. So what do we find when we put these two preseason polls side by side? 

We find that the two groups of observers have remarkably similar opinions when it comes to ranking the nation's top teams. Whether you're parked behind a laptop along press row or pacing the floor in the coach's box, you're very likely to think that Duke is the best team in the nation. In fact, as we saw in last week's edition of "Poll Position," the writers and the coaches are in more or less complete agreement when it comes to identifying the top seven teams in the country.

And yet just outside that top seven, there's a team that the coaches and the writers clearly can't agree on: The Purdue Boilermakers, ranked a lofty No. 8 by the coaches, are ranked a more down-to-earth No. 14 by the writers. No other team in either poll's top 25 is the source of so much disagreement in terms of ranking. Who's right?

Sorry, coaches, but I have to side with my fellow writers on this one.

The first thing to understand here is the source of the disagreement: Robbie Hummel. Before Hummel suffered a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 16, Purdue was widely held to be one of the top five teams in the nation. It's safe to say the Boilermakers wouldn't be the cause of this kind of polling divergence if head coach Matt Painter had a healthy Hummel in uniform.

In other words, the disagreement between the polls really comes down to a simple question: How important is Hummel to the Boilers? Unfortunately for Hummel and for fans of Purdue, we have some prior evidence close at hand for answering just this question. Last season Hummel tore the same ACL on Feb. 24 and, in effect, the Boilermakers played their last four conference games without him. (He played 12 minutes in the Minnesota game before his injury occurred.) You may remember Purdue then went on to play one of the ugliest games in recent college basketball history, a 69-42 loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. In that game Painter's team scored just 11 points in the first half. 

To their credit, the Boilers recovered from that loss, went on to make the Sweet 16 and even took eventual national champion Duke to the 30th minute of a closely played contest before eventually losing by 13. So I'm going to do Purdue an analytic favor. I'm going to ignore that Big Ten tournament game, which fairly screams "outlier," and instead look at the 250 regular-season possessions they played without Hummel after he injured his knee.

There's something about Robbie

Purdue's offense and defense, with and without Robbie Hummel, on a points-per-possession basis.
(Conference games only, 2009-10)

Purdue PPP Opp. PPP
With Hummel 1.08 0.97
Without Hummel 0.97 0.91

By the way, this table comes to us courtesy of an excellent new book that I highly recommend, one that has this to say about these after-Hummel figures:
You could just as well conclude from these numbers that Hummel is the only thing standing between Purdue and true defensive greatness, but for better or worse that's not my read. As I said at the time, I think Painter responded to Hummel's injury last February by more or less declaring the coaching equivalent of martial law. Offensive rebounds, to pick one example, were clearly banned outright by Painter post-Hummel. In effect, Purdue curled up into a tight defensive ball and did their level best to bleach offense out of each succeeding contest entirely.
In terms of our present question -- who's right, the coaches or the writers -- the conclusion I draw is that Painter, even though he's a coach, actually agrees with the writers. He thinks Hummel is really important, so much so that when Hummel is not there, Painter changes his team's whole approach. Who knows, maybe if JaJuan Johnson or E'Twaun Moore went down with an injury, Painter would react the same way. But what we do know is that in the past, Hummel's absence has had a specific and measurable impact.

Any discussion of how important a player is to his team is incomplete without asking the obvious question: Who's going to be getting those minutes instead? In the case of Purdue, the names that Painter brings up as candidates to inherit Hummel's possessions don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. 

Now, maybe that will change. Maybe one of the young Boilers will seize the moment and become a third scoring threat alongside Johnson and Moore. We are, after all, talking about a conference where a once-unheralded recruit like Northwestern's John Shurna emerged as a legitimate scoring threat after Kevin Coble suffered a season-ending injury last November. Stranger things have happened.

But that is my point: A strange thing like that does need to happen for the coaches to be correct and for Purdue to be considered a top-10 team without Hummel. Until that strange day comes, this writer's completely unbiased advice is to believe what writers are telling you about the Boilermakers.

So it's going to take "something strange" happening for Purdue to be a top 10 team? Really? Because they kind of already are. 

I'm not going to give this article the usual BS dissection because, frankly, I don't care that much. If John Gasaway thinks that this year's Purdue team -- with different personnel and the ability to prepare for a full season without Rob -- is no different from the shell-shocked team that lost one of their key guys in mid-February last year and had to adjust on the fly.... well, then he honestly doesn't know the first damn thing about college basketball.

Seriously. Is this clown honestly saying that Matt Painter is so lacking as a coach that a team that was a possible #1 team and widely-agreed national title contender is not even a top ten team any longer because of the loss of one guy?

How many teams in the nation have not one but TWO potential all-Americans who are seniors? Hard to think of any others, right?

As for Gasaway's posit that the thought that Purdue's offense might actually be better this season being the craziest thing he's read all decade, well....all we can say is this, John:

Let's get crazy.


Scruffy_P said...

Can that be our motto for basketball this year? "Let's get crazy." Simple, and much more fun than "we are makers, all."

John said...

I love "Let's get crazy." Since you already offer T-Shirts for this basketball season, might I suggest putting this slogan on mens and womens undergarments and adding them to the BS Shop?

von Nostrand said...

John Gasaway is probably the smartest and best writer who writes regularly about the Big Ten. He's not a "clown" by any stretch of the imagination. No offense, but I'm going with his word over your word.

By the way, I like the "Let's get crazy" motto.

DJS said...

What these "writers" always fail to acknowledge is that Purdue has been playing without Hummel since February. He did not play all summer long in open gym; He did not go to Europe to play, like other Boilers; and he did not work with team USA. Other players have evolved their games and coach Painter has reworked his offense. These writers are stuck in 2009 and cannot make the transition to 2010. Only Purdue's play will convince them.

L2F said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
L2F said...

We may or may not be worthy of that ranking but we won't know until we play some quality opponents. However, that can be said about any team in the nation. Because of this, I do not have a problem with people questioning the ranking, but I do have a problem with the reason why the ranking is questioned. The consensus of the media is that we should not be ranked in the top 10 because we lost 16 pts and 7 boards a game and they don't know who will make up those numbers. Based on this logic why did an Evan Turner-less Ohio State begin the season ranked in the top 5 and why is a Kentucky team that has no one returning ranked ahead of Purdue in the AP poll? They also love to point to that points per possession stat without mentioning the circumstances surrounding it or the fact that this year's back ups have experience. I don't have a problem with Purdue being held to this level of scrutiny but I am upset that no other team is.

jas07 said...

I actually read his article at school on my phone through ESPN MVP. I don't even have a real nice touch screen phone either. I just got it through the Get Now or Media Center and then the Browse & Download section in the menu. Through ESPN MVP you can read all insider stuff for free. I just thought I'd let you all know.

BG said...

(Conference games only, 2009-10)

Purdue PPP Opp. PPP
With Hummel 1.08 0.97
Without Hummel 0.97 0.91

In conference which would include the B10 tourney. Which one game inflated this:
(Minny in B10 Tourney Without Hummel 0.97 0.91)

Funny how he DID NOT factor in the post season Tourney to his posted statistics.
Painter and crew had made more adjustments and improved as a unit on the floor.

So, von Nostrand I'm wondering how J. Gasaway is brilliant when all he is doing skewing statistics?

historian said...

I think that people are mis-reading TMill's comments. He didn't say that Purdue's offense would be "better" or "score more points" than last year, he said that the offense may be "stronger". He also went on to mention that this may happen because of the added versatility that we could have this year.

Though I don't know that our offense will be "better" or "score more points" without Hummel, I do agree that the offense has a good chance of being more versatile.

What makes this offense potentially stronger than one with Hummel is that "the others" will have the opportunity to make up for Hummel's offensive contributions in so many different ways.

3 big men in at a time? Distinct possibility

Bade driving to the basket & hitting jumpers? Distinct possibility

Terone Johnson scoring with "Smooge-style"? Distinct possibility

DJ Byrd & John Hart hitting 8 3's per game? Already happening

All of the above happening in one game? a real possibility.

That's the reason we have to be excited this season. We've got sophomores who got a ton of experience last year. We've got a deep front court that can contribute on both ends of the court. We've got freshmen who will contribute. We've apparently got 3 different people who can hit the deep shot.

Robbie being unavailable for this season has opened a whole new degree of variety and potential in this offense.

The only way we lose is if we beat ourselves.

Shawn said...

All it really comes down to is that most writers don't want to do any sort of research into non-4/5 star recruits. If the kid's not in the EsPN top 100, he can't possibly have an impact in his first year. OSU is top 5 because they brought in Sullinger. Purdue, meanwhile, addressed a major weakness from last year (front court depth), but because it's guys EsPN has never heard of, the media doesn't care.

As for calling T-Mill's comments the craziest Big Ten comment of the decade? Johnny either doesn't read much or doesn't get the interwebs in his cave. How about everything written about Purdue last season post-Hummel? Is it really all that irrational to say that Purdue has improved on offense despite Hummel's absence by gaining experience and adding talent and depth? It's not like he said our defense would be better now because Kramer was gone. Go find some other dog to kick Gas-away.

I'm channeling my inner Dennis Miller. My word verification was rantrall.

Benjamin said...

Purdue Offense 2010-11 + Hummel > Purdue Offense 2009-10.

Purdue Offense 2010-11 - Hummel > or = Purdue Offense 2009-10.

Why? Because Chris Kramer, for all he brought to the D side, was a major offensive liability. Teams simply did not guard him. We were thus only effective when the entire big3 were on the court because they could take on 5 defenders on their own.

As long as Jackson and Barlow aren't on the court at the same time, we have a more balanced team offensively than last year. So no, it's not crazy to think our offense will be better. It would have been much better with Hummel, but these aren't mutually exclusive.

finntastica said...

Did Gasaway not read anything about Randy Quaid's Hollywood Assassin Conspiracy?

That was certainly crazier than T-Mill's mis-interpreted statement, and that was just a month ago!

Anonymous said...

From Boilergal (can't sign in for some reason)-

I just have a question... It seems that year after year (at least the past 2 years), Purdue is the topic of a lot of these type of articles. Every single article is very negative and harsh. I can't really remember other teams getting the same treatment. Even North Carolina last season... they didn't seem to be bashed quite as badly. Even when Purdue was entering the Wisconsin game last season, the "writers" were wound up against them. Is every single writer for ESPN a grad of IU's school of journalism? I just don't get it. I know, Purdue doesn't have an NC in the modern era, but a lot of the other teams being slobbered all over don't either. This is a main reason that Purdue needs to win the basketball NC way more than the football NC!

Boilergal (can't sign in for some reason)

J Money said...

Great comments all around. Seriously.

And I vote for L2F's comment as the best...he/she said it better than I have to this point. Why is Purdue the only team that can't recover from the loss of a good player?

Anonymous said...

spot on with this write-up, i like the way you discuss the things. i'm impressed, i must say. i'll probably be back again to read more. thanks for sharing this with us.

Lee Shin