Jon Crispin, BTN men's basketball analyst, October 31, 2015
There are many Division I coaches in the country who have a wish list in regards to personnel and pieces on the floor. While we have seen some schools (Duke and Kentucky, in particular) benefit from having the right players at the right time, I?m sure Coach Cal and Coach K would tell you that the one thing they?d add was experience. Experience, on top of talent, is what allows coaches to relax in tight-game situations and gives them confidence and trust that the group on the floor can get the job done.
As I look across the country, there are not a lot of schools in college basketball that have the size, depth, weapons and experience that Matt Painter and the Purdue Boilermakers have in West Lafayette. To quote Voltaire (and Marvels Spiderman, too), ?With great power comes great responsibility.? In West Lafayette, with great size, depth, talent and experience comes great expectation and some good problems to solve.
I was initially hesitant to write about the Boilermakers as the Caleb Swanigan eligibility situation certainly impacted the initial outlook on the season. Now that he has been cleared, we can talk about the front-court dominance you?ll see at Mackey Arena this season. Adding Swanigan to a team that features a pair of ?footers,? in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, gives Painter and crew a balance in the paint that otherwise may not be present, because Swanigan occupies different space and shows an ability to move and react to create his own scoring and rebounding opportunities.
Watching him in the intra-squad scrimmage, he reminded me of a young Kevin Love. Nothing flashy about his game, and there?s a part of you that questions whether he?s really that good. But, when you look at the numbers and the impact he has on the outcome of every possession, you quickly realize that he may just be the quietest double-double man in college basketball. His presence allows Hammons and Haas to capitalize on one-on-one situations in the post, and his knack for the ball is tremendous. While his skill and work ethic will make him successful in the Big Ten, his presence alone will help Hammons and Haas reach their true potential.
Watching @BoilerBall scrimmage....ton of size and talent. Inside-out play on offense makes them tough to cover with man or zone.— Jon Crispin (@BTNJonCrispin) October 24, 2015
As a guard myself, I?m surprised at how much I can rave about the big men on campus at Purdue. But the more I think about it, I realize how dominant inside play can bring out the best for perimeter players. Just another case of, ?Wish I knew then what I know now.?
Offensively, the ability to draw the defense in by dumping it inside creates numerous scoring opportunities for the guards around the 3-point line and for the slashers cutting to the basket. On defense, having multiple rim protectors allows the perimeter players to be more aggressive with switches and taking chances to create turnovers and capitalize on easy transition baskets.
But I don?t want to talk about defense right now. That?s just not my style. I was thoroughly impressed by the way Purdue executed offensively, which resulted in high-percentage shots at the rim and from deep. A lot of the easy baskets came from the guards, such as Vince Edwards, Rapheal Davis and, even, PJ Thompson, who made cuts to take advantage of a defense that was clearly concerned about giving up baskets to the trees in the post. Additionally, I took particular pleasure in watching Dakota Mathias, Kendall Stephens and the sneaky-good Ryan Cline knock down long, but open, 3-pointers in transition and in the half-court offense.
Just as it should be, the bigs ran the floor well and occupied the post. The guards ran their lanes and the defense was forced to pick their poison. You either give up a layup or dunk or you give up yet another back-breaking 3. Both teams had success in scoring points. In my opinion, good offense beat good defense on this day.
Looking back at what I?ve written, it would appear as if I?ve covered (even if just scratching the surface) size, talent and depth. The last would be experience, and for that I value the experience of those who will have the ball in their hands for the majority of the game. Even though senior transfer Johnny Hill was not playing in the scrimmage last Saturday (as he was attending class), the report card on him and PJ Thompson has been very good. Hill comes to West Lafayette with a wealth of collegiate basketball experience and Thompson gained big-game experience down the stretch last season, which will pay dividends in the future for him and this program. He was the clear difference-maker in the regular-season finale against Illinois and finished the season strong. He looked solid and under control at the helm on Saturday, and I expect those two to be a great 1-2 punch of energy, enthusiasm and poise on the court. Clearly the experience of Davis and Hammons, both seniors, and Stephens, a junior, is key. But Painter has two point guards who will dictate the tempo, make good decisions and distribute to keep all of the weapons involved.
The key for Matt Painter is similar to what most high-level coaches with these types of ?good problems? face. It?s about finding the right core group and establishing the roles and responsibilities of the rest of the cast. That does not happen overnight. Those questions don?t get answered following a preseason intra-squad scrimmage either. For Duke, it took them three quarters of the season to grow into its true potential. To Boilermaker fans, I beg you to be patient. There may be ups and downs early this season as the team comes together, but the potential for this team goes well beyond winning a Big Ten championship. As the season progresses, the rest of the country is going to realize that as well.