2007-2008 Purdue Boilermakers
Record: (23-7, 14-3 Big Ten)
Key Wins: @Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Michigan State, N-Louisville
Key Losses: Wofford, Iowa State, @Missouri, @Ohio State
Key Stats: 8.2 – Purdue’s steals per game, second in the Big Ten.
87.9 – Purdue’s defensive efficiency (points allowed in 100 opponent possessions), 11th in the country
Key Numbers: RPI: 31; SOS: 90; NCSOS: 241; Vs. Top 50: 5-4
Biggest Strengths: Energy. Call it youth juice, but it seems that Purdue’s entire team drinks it by the gallon prior to all games. Coach Matt Painter’s defensive mindset is to play in-your-face defense, making the opposition take a contested shot every time down the floor. That means if the point guard is dribbling 30 feet from the basket, a Purdue defender is 29 feet from the basket, hands swiping at nearly each dribble. Teammates gobble up this type of energy and it spreads worse than a flu virus. This energy is why Purdue racks up more than eight steals per game – with five different players averaging more than a steal per contest.
One attribute that every member on Purdue’s team has that many other teams don’t is guts. It could be crunch time in a big game and every player on the Boilermakers has the green light to take a big-time shot. Against Ohio State on Tuesday night, it was Scott Martin who sank a 3-pointer from the corner (it was a rainbow 3-pointer that even Joe Dumars couldn’t duplicate) that, for a moment, silenced a rabid Buckeye crowd. Factor in the fact that Martin and many of the Boilermakers’ stars are freshmen and sophomores and it is obvious to see these Boilermakers have plenty of guts and a minuscule amount, if any, of fear.
Biggest Weaknesses: Height. The saying goes, “You can’t teach height.” Well, through 30 games, Painter hasn’t worried about this weakness much. The Boilermakers play without a center, explaining why the tallest player usually on the floor is either 6-foot-8 Martin or 6-8 high school teammate Robbie Hummel. Obviously, on defense, this is a gigantic weakness in the post. Hummel and Martin give up not only inches in the post but girth as well (Hummel is the heavier of the pair at a “hefty” 208 pounds). What Purdue does so well to counterbalance this problem is play lock down defense on the perimeter so that getting the ball into the post becomes more difficult than getting Jennifer Aniston to marry you. This forces opposing teams into a jump-shooting identity, which is precisely what the Boilermakers want. When a team can get the ball in the paint, and the Boilermakers can’t swipe it away, it is an easy basket.
Most Important Player: Robbie Hummel. Believe it or not, Hummel is the Big Ten Player of the Year not named Eric Gordon. And, honestly, if I had a vote, Hummel would get mine. Hummel not only does the big things – scoring 11.7 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, dishing out 2.6 assists and collecting 1.3 steals per game – but he does the little things as well. In a win over Michigan State in mid-February, Hummel leapt out of bounds to make a tremendous save. Immediately he got up and ran to the corner of the floor where a teammate hit him in stride and Hummel swished a 3-pointer. This was on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays that day but, in all honestly, that is what Hummel does game in and game out. He uses his height as an advantage on offense because he spends most of his time beyond the 3-point arc. And why shouldn’t he? Hummel is a 46.3 percent 3-point shooter. But he also has the green light to take it to the rim because, if he gets fouled, he’s money from the stripe, too. Hummel shots a team-best 85.7 percent from the free throw line. On a team that has an assortment of valuable weapons, Hummel is the most important by far.
X-Factor: Chris Kramer. This is a tough call, since Purdue has so many players capable of being the make-or-break player on any given night. Kramer gets the nod here because he is the pulse of this Purdue team. Kramer, if Joe Tiller is reading this, would be a great fit on the gridiron for the Boilermakers at linebacker. The way Kramer defends is the type of defense a coach would put on one of those $19.95 instructional videos. Kramer is in your grill, following your every move. You move left, he’s already there. Move right, same thing. Coming off a screen, an opposing player will feel as if Kramer is literally attached at the hip. This defensive energy is unmatched and is why Kramer likely will win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors (his only competition is likely Wisconsin’s Michael Flowers). It is odd that a player with unnoticeable offensive numbers (6.7 ppg and 2.2 spg) would be a team’s X-factor but for a team that thrives on defensive pressure and creating easy baskets by taking the ball away from opponents, this choice is easy.
Might Lose When… the 3-pointer isn’t falling. Check out these three examples of Purdue’s long-range woes. 3-for-16 (18.8%); 3-for-19 (15.8%); 7-29 (24.1%). There is one common thread in all those putrid outputs – Purdue lost all three games. The first was a 69-66 home loss to Wofford; The second was a 73-63 setback at Missouri; And the third was a recent 77-68 hard-fought defeat at Indiana. Because of the major size disadvantage inside, Purdue loves the 3-point shot. Luckily, the Boilermakers have three players – E’Twaun Moore, Hummel and Keaton Grant – that shoot better than 42 percent from long range. But, if those three players have 3-point struggles, the Boilermakers will be in a world of hurt.
Might Surprise You With… the ability to play small and physical. As stated above, this is a very small Boilermaker team. But Purdue doesn’t worry about that, explaining why it is so successful. Purdue never hesitates to switch on screens beyond the arc, regardless that an already height disadvantage has become greater. The Boilermakers offset that with quick feet and even quicker hands. If the opposition believes trotting out a few 7-footers will intimidate Purdue, they might as well not even take the floor because they are about to be shocked.
Predicted finish in the NCAA’s: Sweet Sixteen. Off all the Big Ten teams literally guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Purdue is the toughest to gauge potential success. After rolling through the Big Ten – Purdue is the only team to defeat Wisconsin and has “good” losses at Michigan State, at Indiana and at Ohio State on their plate – the Boilermakers seem poised for a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the Big Dance. But, can a team that really lost, at home to Wofford make a deep tournament run? That is the major question surrounding Purdue. The feeling here is that Purdue will surprise opponents in rounds one and two, but in a matchup against a No. 2 or No. 1 seed, size will matter and Purdue will exit. Keep in mind that, despite the loss, Purdue loses just one senior – Tarrance Crump – and brings in another outstanding recruiting class.
Editor’s Note: Matt Painter doesn’t get nearly enough mention as one of the top up-and-coming coaches. He has Purdue solidly headed in the right direction, but they might be one year away from true greatness. Their late-season loss in Columbus, albeit a close one, signals that they’re not quite able to step up for the biggest games. Yet…