After a tough loss against Minnesota, Purdue is starting to see their window for the NCAA Tournament shrink. Some people have started to paint a "doom and gloom" picture for the Boilermakers a bit prematurely though, as the Ohio State loss was expected and it's very difficult to win on the road. It's still a tough pill to swallow when you realize that both of Purdue's conference games so far were winnable and just how different their season would be looking if they could capitalize on these kind of opportunities.
So why is Purdue struggling to pick up these close games? A lot of people will most likely point the finger at A.J. Hammons or Matt Painter, but the reality is the poor guard play for Purdue's backcourt has been the key catalyst here. I know it's kind of weird to blame the group of players that tend to create the most points and scoring opportunities, but it's honestly the cold truth for the Boilermakers. As much as Terone Johnson, Ronnie Johnson and Bryson Scott can help this team and lead them to victory, their play has still proved costly time and time again for Purdue.
Let's start off with Terone Johnson, Purdue's veteran senior guard who is more or less the driving force of the offense, for better or worse. When it comes to the NBA, I'm a Golden State Warriors fan. One of my favorite players on the team for awhile was Monta Ellis, who would routinely lead the Warriors in scoring and put up some pretty PPG numbers. Of course once you analyzed his statistics you'd see that he was a below average shooter with poor efficiency ratings and made up for it by being a volume shooter. If Ellis had shot the ball less, or if more players shot as much as Ellis, his numbers would have been pretty awful when everything was said and done.
So here in West Lafayette we have Terone Johnson, Purdue's equivalent to Monta Ellis at Golden State. Just like Ellis, Johnson tends to lead the team in scoring and has became a fan favorite because of this. Last season as the teams offensive leader, Terone led the Boilermakers in scoring by almost three points per game. While he was the teams leading scorer, he was ninth in field goal percentage and tenth in two point percentage. Or in other words, while he scored he was relatively inefficient in doing so.
The trend has continued once again for Terone as he currently leads the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game. While he has a nice scoring total, he's still only shooting 46.6% from two (9th on the team) and while he leads in free throw attempts, his 60.9% nears the bottom of the roster (only Peck and Smotherman have a worse percentage). Interestingly enough, though, Johnson's overall shooting numbers are held up by a strong 41.2% start from three. This wouldn't be a surprise if you watched the Minnesota game as Johnson had gone 4 of 7 from three and a mere 1 of 8 from inside the arc.
This style of production isn't limited to Terone as his brother Ronnie seems to have a very similar game from a production standpoint. Ronnie Johnson is currently second in team scoring, with 11.4 points per game, but is 12th in two point shooting percentage. The only person behind him (that has shot the ball more than 3 times, excluding John McKeeman and Neal Beshears) is none other than backup point guard Bryson Scott, who is shooting 38.3% from two point range. Should it be any surprise that Scott also happens to be Purdue's third leading scorer, averaging 8.9 points per game.
The reality is those numbers are ugly. The fact that Purdue's two point guards are shooting a combined 40.2% from two is atrocious. These guys are guards and should be able to convert the closer they get to the rim. Time and time again they fail to convert on their shots, only making up for their woeful shooting percentages thanks to a high volume of shots. Purdue's inability for their guards to convert from inside shouldn't be a huge surprise once you realize why they tend to struggle so heavily. It seems like time and time again the trio tends to forget that basketball is a team game and they start acting like they're the only ones capable of doing anything. How many times have we seen all three of them throw their head down and run the court, forcing a layup in a crowded paint that completely misses everything? How many times have we seen them run the court when the team should be slowing it down, only to launch a quick contested jumper that rims out and wastes a possession. Both Ronnie and Bryson fell victim to this yesterday and at times it appears like Terone thinks he's the only guy who can score when he's on the court.
So that leads us to the question as to what Purdue should do here. The Boilermakers have a set of poor shooting guards who all are acting as volume shooters to make up for their inefficiencies. Of course the idea of them shooting less and taking a backseat would probably be considered crazy talk if you asked a lot of Purdue fans. The reality is we don't know how the team would fare because we simply haven't seen the offense operate anyway else the last two seasons. We know Purdue has a talented frontcourt with A.J. Hammons and Jay Simpson, yet the offense completely neglects them time and time again, especially when facing the zone. We know we have some talent at the wing with Basil Smotherman and Errick Peck, but both guys seem to be ignored besides the occasional Smotherman dunk. The team has given plenty of looks to freshmen Kendall Stephens, quickly turning into a solid three point shooter, but his youth has led him to pull the trigger on some poor three pointers, commonly creating easy points in transition for opponents.
Honestly, it feels like the offense needs to reinvent itself. Purdue has a whole variety of players that can produce on offense and while the ball does get spread around, it's more split from game to game with certain players producing one night and then seeing nothing the next. Time and time again the offense starts running through maybe two or three guys instead of the entire team and the one-dimensional offense has created huge issues with Purdue being able to score consistently. If Purdue wants to make a tournament run they're going to need for their guards to either shoot the ball less and spread the rock around or start making better decisions with their shots. The reality is Ronnie, Terone and Bryson would all have higher shooting percentages if they didn't throw up so many bone headed shots and improving their decision making would go a long way.
If Purdue's offense continues like it currently has, with the scoring production being based around a set of inefficient volume shooters, it's looking like these Boilermakers are heading to the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament.