Coach Matt Painter returns to Purdue for his eighth season, without the core that has brought him so much success in the lat few years. Purdue has lost a ton from last year, as much as anyone in the conference. However, it seems no matter what you give Painter, he will win 20 games and make it to the NCAA Tournament. He has won at least one NCAA Tournament game at Purdue for the past four seasons, astounding evidence of his fantastic consistency.
That is why Purdue’s losses, though significant, should not stop them from another successful year. Their biggest loss is obviously Robbie Hummel. Hummel, who has been at Purdue for fifty…err five seasons is finally gone. He has been the constant for Purdue basketball, whether he was actually on the floor or hurt, he has been there. Not just a great leader and presence, Hummel was also a fantastic player. He is in the top ten all time in both points and rebounds at Purdue, despite missing huge chunks of seasons due to injuries. That presence of a veteran player is huge for a coach, and a major factor in Painter’s consistency.
Other key losses for Purdue were Kelsey Barlow and Lewis Jackson. Barlow was a big piece of the team, using his physicality on both ends of the court to change games. In Big Ten basketball you need a guy who will fearlessly go after rebounds and who is not afraid to get into it with the opponent, that was Barlow. Unfortunately, he was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. He has since transferred to UIC. Jackson was the starting point guard for Purdue and their second best scorer, after Hummel, as well as the engine that ran the offense. Both Jackson and Barlow were huge defensive presences, a pride of Painter’s teams.
As I said before, Painter always finds a way to win. They will have a loaded back-court, that will do a majority of the scoring. He has guys who he can stick into roles and make it work. He has a good mix of freshmen and guys who have been around that will take on new roles.
First off, are the returning players who will be asked to step up. The two top returning players are guards Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd, a junior and senior respectively. They both averaged around nine points a game last season. With the losses of Hummel, Jackson and Barlow the scoring load has to go somewhere. Expect both of these guards to score at least 15 points a game this year. The potent scoring attack will cause trouble throughout the Big Ten. Byrd’s terrific three point shooting abilities will be specifically important with the losses of Hummel and Ryne Smith, two sharpshooters.
Joining Johnson, is his brother, freshman Ronnie Johnson. Johnson is a point guard who will take over the minutes at the position as the season goes on. Johnson can be a dynamic player, but how quickly he develops will have a large part of how well Purdue can be this season. Having his older brother on the team should help tremendously. Another notable freshman is the enormous A.J. Hammons. Hammons who is 7 feet tall and 280 pounds could get minutes early on due to their questionable front-court.
That front-court includes Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius, two juniors who had supporting roles last season. How they play will determine how often Hammons plays and if Painter chooses to go small, as he often did last year. Their strong guard play could be offset by their lack of impact talent down low.
Painter has an interesting and challenging job ahead of him this year. If he can make Purdue a 20 win, NCAA Tournament team again it will be just more proof of how good and consistent he is as a coach. A major storyline throughout the season will be how well the Johnson brothers can play together. If they have a strong connection in the back-court, along with Byrd, Purdue can have the one of the best back-courts in the conference if not the nation. If they get just average play from their big men, whoever they end up being, they can be a mid-level Big Ten team and get yet another NCAA Tournament bid under Painter. Whether Purdue can build around the core of the Johnson brothers this year and beyond will be fascinating to watch all season. Big Ten Record Prediction: 9-9