Following the loss v. MSU, J posed a question for fellow Purdue fans- Does Purdue have a leadership problem? I think the answer is yes...but it might not be as simple as what we thought...or even where we were looking...but things are not good; there's no doubt.
If you look at the moving parts, it's easy to see, Purdue has big problems in the frontcourt. I believe Travis Carroll is doing everything he can at this point...but neither he nor Marcius are skilled enough to consistently score versus B1G big men and struggle mightily on the defensive end...especially versus athletic bigs. The same can be said about Jacob Lawson...but as he's struggled to understand what's expected of him defensively, Painter has responded by reducing his minutes drastically during the B1G season.
DJ Byrd, at 6'5" and 235 lbs has been the most-consistent defensive player in the post...but is not now, nor will ever be a guy who can play with his back to the basketb. Rob Hummel has also been forced into the five spot, especially recently...and while Hummel's bigger and stronger than he's ever been, he's still not really made for banging in the blocks for 30 minutes.
Atop of the frontcourt deficiency, Purdue's freethrow shooting is consistently-atrocious. Hitting 63.2% from the line places them in 314th in the nation...and 12th in the conference.
Along with being a bad free throw shooting team, they're a pretty poor shooting team as well. They're hitting 42.9% of their shots- that puts them at 202nd in the nation...and 9th in conference.
But we've seen lousy shooting before...and that can be overcome by Purdue's patented defense, right? Wrong. The defense that has been a trademark of Painter teams is a mere pleasant memory at this point in the season. When Purdue needed a stop versus Michigan in the closing minutes, they struggled to get it- in fact, they merely traded buckets for multiple possessions as they trailed. Versus Wisconsin, they allowed the Badgers to find their three point shot again after three straight games of poor shooting from three. And most-recently, versus IU, after Purdue had dug itself a familiar hole in the first half, they simply couldn't stop any of IU's players from scoring on route to allowing the Hoosiers to shoot 57% in the second stanza.
There's currently a lot that seems broken...and it's been making me nuts trying to figure it out; but I think I finally understand what's happening...and it starts with decisions made at the top.
Effort has never been a problem for Purdue teams under Painter before this year...but this year's team looks disinterested at times playing defense, scrapping for loose balls or simply taking charges. Hustle plays have defined Purdue basketball forever; long before Matty even played for Keady...but that piece is nowhere to be found at this point.
I hear people on the message boards, twitter and elsewhere ripping the talent level, but I think that's only part of the story. Painter has coached teams without a ton of frontcourt talent before...and those teams still were able to play a high level of defense with great consistency...because they played together...and they knew and trusted the system. Everyone knew their role and the guy's role next to them. There seems to be none of that this season.
The substitution patterns seem to make no sense, guys seemingly are getting pulled just when they're hot on the offensive end...The trademark help defense and switching man to man has been a step slow all year. We've seen five guys play the five spot...and none of them have looked great. We've seen four guys play the one spot...but none has been able to be declared the point guard of the team due to injury or inconsistency. 23 games in, this team still has no identity...or perhaps anonymity has become their identity.
So why can't this team find out who it is? Seems to me it's because the team doesn't know who to follow.
There's a sports adage that says leadership is seen in games but forged in practice. If that's the case, these Boilers are a snake without a head. Two of the captains practice little if at all due to pretty serious injuries...so honestly, what more can we expect?
Painter never chose to place LewJack on the shelf and just play with the team that practices...and Jackson's play has been erratic because of it...and he has never gotten healthy either. So no one's winning. At the same time, as Hummel's bouts with tendonitis have kept him from practice consistency...and the result is we are now watching one of the best Boiler shooters in recent memory completely lose his ability score as he struggles with both mental and physical issues on the court.
Next, Painter's decided not to just play Lawson and let him take his lumps (and fouls) as he figures out the demands of B1G play. And he's not willing to give the reigns to Carroll either (let's remember that he's just a Sophomore)...and these two players couldn't be more different. One is uber-athletic, but struggles with some of the defensive concepts. The other understands his assignments, but is limited by his athleticism. On top of this, Bade's slow development and subsequent defection along with Marcius' slow development and Hale's redshirt have made Purdue nearly frontcourt player-less at times this season.
If you want to say the roots of this year's issues lie in Painter's inability to sign a top-150 big man from '08-'11...or even a true center, period, in that same time...I think that's a fair criticism. But I still contend that with better chemistry, this team would be a more familiar-looking defensive team...and in turn would have a better record than they do now.
I'm not a proponent of people blaming kids for the state of a program...especially underclassmen. Furthermore, I hate the idea of making the excuse that injuries are the reason Purdue might not be able to make the NCAA tournament this year; every team in the nation has injuries to some extent. So if you're really looking for a place to lay blame for what we saw versus IU...and in other games this season, I believe that has to come back to the head coach. I hope this is seen for what it is- not a ridiculous demand for him to be fired or the thought that he's not the right guy for the job...but recognition that things aren't as they should be, and need to get better.
Hindsight is 20/20...and the coaching decisions made back in November and December have put Purdue in the place it is now- on a bubble for the NCAA tournament whose skin is as tenuous as wet tissue paper. Matty, the players and the fans all have to deal with the state of the program that is what it is...and at this point, Painter simply must find a line-up of five guys who can grind out victories...even when the odds are long as they seem to be right now. He said that after the game v. IU, he was bothered that the players didn't seem willing to fight through adversity...it's his job to find the guys who will do so, and if he must, start looking to the future.
One of the big problems of course is, the upcoming schedule is murderous...and aOSU is up next in Columbus...so don't expect things to get better on Tuesday; that one might get ugly.