staff, November 7, 2013

It was a frustrating and disappointing season for Purdue basketball. For just the second time in the Matt Painter era, the Boilermakers missed the NCAA tournament, and they really weren't even that close. Will things be better this time around?

First, let's look at our standard preview numbers for the Boilermakers:

2013 Record 16-18 (8-10)
Conference Offensive Efficiency 0.98 (9th)
Conference Defensive Efficiency 1.04 (9th)
Percentage of Conference Minutes Returning 60%
Percentage of Conference Minutes Played by Returning Freshmen 40%

Purdue returns a middling amount of minutes overall, but that preponderance of minutes going freshman-to-sophomore points to meaningful improvement. Those minutes were played by A.J. Hammons, Ronnie Johnson, and Rapheal Davis, three players whose development will largely determine where the Boilermakers end up this season.

Hammons, in particular, will look to build on a surprisingly good freshman campaign, during which he put up better conference-only numbers than another freshman big man from Indiana:

Poss% ORtg 2pt FG% FT% FTA/FGA OR% DR% Block% Fouls/40min
A.J. Hammons, 2012-13 25 104 50 69 51 12 18 9.4 3.7
Mitch McGary, 2012-13 20 107 54 40 21 14 17 4.7 4.7

Hammons was more involved in his team's offense, posted a similar efficiency, and was comparable on the glass, yet it is Mitch McGary that  has landed on the preseason all-conference team. It's not that Hammons has gotten no hype at all, but it's worth stating that Purdue's burly center could very well be one of the conference's ten best players. It feels like Hammons is underrated.

With Hammons operating inside, the biggest question mark with this Purdue team is whether there are enough shooters. Last season, Purdue attempted the fewest threes in the conference, and the guy who took the majority of them (D.J. Byrd) is now gone.

Players being allergic to threes may satisfy Pat Knight, but that's not necessarily how Matt Painter likes to operate:

For Purdue to reach its potential and get into the NCAA tournament, somebody will have to step up and make some threes.

Fortunately, there are candidates. Graduate transfer Sterling Carter brings a career 37 percent stroke from three, and freshman Kendall Stephens possesses excellent shooting ability. Improvement can also be expected from Ronnie Johnson and Rapheal Davis. This isn't going to be a perimeter-oriented team by any stretch of the imagination, but there should be enough shooting ability on the floor to keep defenses honest while Hammons does his thing in the paint.

With fewer minutes going to freshmen, Purdue should also improve on the defensive end, assuming the new hand check rules don't cause the Boilers to be whistled into oblivion. This doesn't appear to be an elite defensive squad like the ones anchored by JaJuan Johnson, but it should be better than the last two editions that each finished ninth in conference defensive efficiency.

Purdue probably isn't a top 25 team, but this should be a solid squad with a good chance at making the NCAA tournament. Painter's period of lackluster recruiting caught up with the Boilermakers last season, but those type of struggles shouldn't be seen again in Mackey for a long time.