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2008: 25-9 (15-3 Big Ten)
Lost to Xavier 85-78, NCAA Second Round
In-conference offense: 1.05 points per possession (4th)
In-conference defense: 0.94 points allowed per possession (2nd)
What Purdue did well: Give Wisconsin fits.
Recall that last year the Big Ten champion Badgers were 0-2 against Purdue and 16-0 against the rest of the conference. Wisconsin had two shots at the Boilermakers and even had the psychological advantage of hosting the second game (payback, etc.). It didn't matter. The Badgers just weren't the same team when they played Purdue.
One factor that enabled the Boilermakers to succeed where every other Big Ten team failed was clearly their ability to get under Wisconsin's ball-handling skin, a feat generally regarded as impossible with regard to a Bo Ryan team. Not for Purdue. Against the rest of the Big Ten Wisconsin coughed the ball up on just 18 percent of their trips, but in two games against Matt Painter's team they gave the ball away 24 percent of the time.
Creating opponent turnovers is a collective endeavor in West Lafayette but they do have a ringleader in Chris Kramer, who's posted one of the highest steal rates in the nation in each of his first two seasons. Kramer plainly lives for steals the way most guards live for threes. Opposing offenses need to account for his whereabouts at all times. Certainly Wisconsin will try to this year.
What we learned in 2008: Two-point shots are optional.
Going into last season Purdue had lost Carl Landry, a preternaturally efficient scorer who was something of a two-point-making (and foul-drawing) machine. So a year ago at this time we sage writer types were all saying that Landry was going to be a huge loss for Painter.
Well guess what? Landry was a huge loss. Purdue's two-point percentage didn't just dip, it plunged into a dark and hitherto unexplored sub-Michigan abyss in Landry's absence.
Life without Landry: Purdue offense, 2007 vs. 2008
Conference games only
PPP: points per possession
2FG pct. 50.3 43.7
PPP 1.01 1.05
Record 9-7 15-3
This was easily the worst two-point shooting in the conference last year, recorded by a team that actually improved on offense, went 15-3, and enabled Painter to win Big Ten coach of the year honors in a walk. What happened?
Two things: much better ball-handling and, you guessed it, threes. Duke and South Florida were the only major-conference teams who slashed their in-conference turnover percentages more dramatically than did Purdue last year. (Keaton Grant had a particularly vivid tale to tell here: turnovers a-go-go one year, closed spigot the next.) And Painter would have danced a jig if you'd told him a year ago that his young team would drain 40 percent of their threes in Big Ten play.
I've never really understood the practice of bringing in college coaches, be they basketball or football, to talk to your company about "leadership" or "motivation." As one who has spoken to some of these coaches, I can personally attest to the fact that they do indeed put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us. That being said if you really feel you must bring in one such coach, I nominate Painter. He replaced the sun around which his entire offense orbited (a player who, we now know, was NBA-ready) with a couple of supporting players, offensively speaking, and a passel of freshmen-highly-rated freshmen, to be sure, but not one-and-dones. And in what was supposed to be a "rebuilding" or at least "transition" year, it would appear that Painter decided simply to control what he could control, more or less: shot selection and turnovers. His team shot a lot more threes and committed a lot fewer turnovers. It worked.
Suggested presentation title: "Putting Change to Work, the Matt Painter Way."
What's in store for 2009: Scott Martin transferred to Notre Dame but everyone else is back: all five starters from a team that outscored Big Ten opponents by 0.11 points per trip in 2008. Historically speaking, having five starters return who outperformed teams the previous year by such a significant margin is a recipe for very happy fans. Not that the Boilermakers are foreordained, mind you. I don't expect Purdue's three-point shooting, for example, to be as good as it was last year but then again I don't expect their two-point shooting to be as bad.
Meet the Boilermakers:
Robbie Hummel (6-8, 210, So.). Hummel had a surprising, outstanding, and misleading freshman year. Misleading because his season totals would lead you to believe he was merely a commendably efficient role player. Those who saw this team in action, however, know better. By late in the year Hummel was actually a decisively efficient star. In Purdue's consensus-sealing five-point win at Wisconsin on February 9, for example, Hummel scored 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting. Last year he functioned as the hoops equivalent of a decathlete: defensive rebounding, assists, trips to the line, threes, twos-whatever it took. If Hummel continues to develop along his present trend lines, we will officially have our next paradigmatic cognitive challenge in the field of player evaluation: a force of college basketball nature who still looks like the kid who asks if you want paper or plastic.
E'Twaun Moore (6-3, 180, So.). In an unusually balanced offense, Moore took a few more shots than any of his teammates last year and had a magnificent season from the perimeter, nailing 43 percent of his threes. His work inside the arc was less rewarding, however, and, strangely for a player who attempted more than 200 twos, Moore for some reason is never fouled.
Chris Kramer (6-3, 210, Jr.). Kramer's felonious streak is alluded to above. In addition he's the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year and something of a competitor, certainly not one of those laconic internet-surfing young people I hear decried nowadays. When Illinois' Demetri McCamey buried a three in Kramer's face to send their Big Ten tournament quarterfinal to OT (where Purdue would lose), I thought Kramer was going to implode before my eyes. On offense he's a pass-first point guard-assists were split three ways between Kramer, Moore, and Hummel-who poses no shooting threat from the perimeter. Last year Kramer suffered through a season of miserable (62 percent) foul shooting after a freshman year where he had at least been acceptable (71 percent) in that area.
Keaton Grant (6-4, 205, Jr.). Purdue inflicted a lot of pain on opposing defenses last year by putting Grant and his 44 percent three-point shooting on the floor alongside Hummel (45 percent) and Moore (43). Grant had knee surgery in mid-April and is reportedly on-track for a healthy return in time for the start of the season.
Nemanja Calasan (6-9, 245, Sr.). Calasan shot often but not very accurately during limited minutes in 2008. Moreover his defensive rebounding was strangely subdued for a player of his size in a Purdue uniform. Painter flew the team to Australia in August with the stated purpose of, among other things, wanting Calasan to improve his work on the boards.
JaJuan Johnson (6-10, 210, So.). Johnson and Calasan effectively split minutes last year, with Calasan customarily starting. If they both play the same way they did last year it'll be interesting to see if Painter gives the honorary status to Johnson. Calasan has intermittent three-point range and is perhaps a better offensive rebounder. But Johnson makes twos at the same (below-average) rate as Calasan while exceeding him on the defensive glass and bringing shot-blocking to the table.
Marcus Green (6-4, 230, Sr.). In averaging 16 minutes a game last year, Green's most important contributions were probably made on the defensive glass, where he provided a modicum of support for Hummel, Calasan, and Johnson. Indeed of the four players named here the lowest defensive rebound percentage was posted by Calasan.
Lewis Jackson (5-9, 175, Fr.). There aren't many players under six feet tall who make it to D-I by being slow, granted, but Jackson arrives in West Lafayette labeled as really super extra fast. He should provide a nice change-up when Kramer needs some rest.
Prospectus says: A TV analyst doing advance work for a Purdue game last year approached Painter at the shoot-around with a sheet of stats provided by yours truly-stats that suggested Purdue was on-track to be better than people expected from a team that had just lost to Wofford. With a wave of his hand Painter dismissed the unsolicited minutiae. "I just want to know if my guys are playing hard," he said. Painter doesn't do tempo-free stats but tempo-free stats love his team. Both halves of that statement will be true again this year.
John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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