One of our features we've been working on here has been a reasons for optimism post for all of the conference teams. Well optimism is great, especially when it's for your team, but there's usually just as much reason for some fan bases to be pessimistic heading into the season. Taking that into consideration I'll be kicking off a series of posts with the exact opposite theme, dealing with reasons for concern heading into the upcoming season.
Enter Purdue. My beloved Boilermakers have had a difficult time the last few seasons, missing the NCAA Tournament in back to back seasons, seeing a mass exodus of talent across the roster and now fielding a roster with considerable inexperience and even more question marks. But yes, there are still plenty of fans that see this as the year they get back to the NCAA Tournament. I was in that boat last year, I even believed they'd still be there two years ago. It didn't happen and heading into this year I've been overfilled with some dreaded pessimism, though I feel like it's finally warranted.
Purdue has talent, Purdue has potential, Purdue has a coach. But they keep losing. And year in and year out I've seen the comments and Twitterverse act like bringing in a four star recruit means a guaranteed star from day one. I've seen numerous fans assume that because a guy was here last year it means there's a guaranteed improvement from the previous season. And I've seen reoccurring problems brushed under the rug as some people simply act like they won't happen this year because...well they'll just be fixed, for some reason.
So with that, here's why I'm entering the upcoming season with a bit of unease as I think Purdue has a moderate chance to disappoint me once again.
Major questions at point guard
Ronnie Johnson had his problems. He was an inefficient volume shooter that couldn't hit from outside and bounced back and forth between being a ball hog and simply eyeing in on his older brother. But when he opened up his game there was some potential for him to be a solid point guard in the conference. He's gone now and with all his flaws, I think the cons outweighed the pros and Purdue could be better in the long run. The problem right now, though, is that leaves Purdue with two options at the point: Bryson Scott and P.J. Thompson.
Scott played the role of backup point guard last year and tanked hard. He's capable of playing either the one or two but being forced into the point guard role was a rough transition and Scott would likely benefit considerably to play the two, which is the position he would ideally play if Purdue had a better option at starting point guard. Enter P.J. Thompson, a three star recruit from Indianapolis that was a late commit to Purdue. If you remember the timeline here, he committed shortly after being offered, which also happened late in the recruiting period around the time Painter was likely aware of Ronnie Johnson's intentions to transfer out. So while Thompson could blossom here, it's hard to not see his scholarship offer as something that only happened because Purdue needed a point guard.
And that's a definite concern, as you'd like to think Thompson could have earned the offer beforehand. Either way, he could turn out to be the next Lewis Jackson but the reality is if he's forced to start, he'll be a true freshman in the Big Ten and that will mean growing pains. As good as Thompson plays he's going to have his problems and it means Scott could be misused if he's forced to play the point guard role once again.
Who will score on offense?
Purdue's biggest issue the last two seasons has been scoring. Everything from horrendous shooting to simply being inconsistent and having too many scoring droughts. I've witnessed too many 40 minute games where the Boilers played 30-35 minutes worthy of winning but then had 5-10 minutes of absolutely nothing and lost because of it. Now Purdue will lose both of the Johnson brothers. As inefficient as they were throughout most of the season, they still scored about a third of Purdue's points.
So who will fill the void? Center A.J. Hammons should continue where he left off but he still needs help from outside to open things up inside. Last season didn't see guys like Bryson Scott, Rapheal Davis or Basil Smotherman look like predominant scoring options and Kendall Stephens will benefit from being healthy, but still has looked like mainly a perimeter option. That means Purdue will be forced to rely heavily on their 2014 recruiting class and if the incoming freshmen struggle to score it could be another long year. It could also mean Purdue has to hope one of the returning veterans simply gets it and makes a huge transition heading into this season, but I've been waiting for someone to make the leap the last two seasons and have yet to see it.
The reality is if Purdue's offense doesn't improve it won't matter if the culture has gotten better or if the effort level has improved, Purdue will still lose games. And the reality is it's hard to see a considerable improvement here this season.
Can we finally shoot the ball?
The Boilermakers were 259th in field goal percentage, 243rd in three point percentage and 267th in free throw percentage. And they weren't much better the season before. Now the Boilermakers will need to improve considerably here to finally establish an offense and they'll be doing so with a ton of guys who were already struggling from the floor last season. Sure, we could see some solid contributions from the likes of Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias, but that was the assumption from the freshmen coming into West Lafayette the last two seasons. And of course we saw a ton of growing pains and issues plague each class the last two seasons.
My thought process here is to no longer assume that the incoming classes will hit the ground running. A sound logic considering the last few seasons and it's not exactly a new trend here. Remember Anthony Johnson, that guard who couldn't hit from anywhere on the court here? Remember how he was a great shooter in high school? As great as some of these kids are prior to college, it means nothing until they do it on campus. And until Painter's recruiting classes consistently produce instant results I feel like it's becoming necessary to remain hesitant here.
Will the mentality finally change?
There's a lot of optimism in this area because the fan base sees all of the transfers and roster turnover as Painter and company weeding out the rotten apples and creating a better culture in the locker room. I agree with that and we should see a more united team that puts in a higher level of effort week in and week out. The problem here is that Purdue's issue hasn't always been their effort level, as it seems there's only a handful of games where the team looks completely lifeless out on the court.
The problem is the teams struggles with adversity and consistency. It seems like whenever the team falls behind everything falls apart. When they finally need a big play or momentum change, no one can step up and make it happen. There's no major leader that can help turn things on a dime and when things go bad they go bad quickly. We've seen guys like Rapheal Davis talk the talk off the court and show signs of leadership on the court but we have yet to see the team ever rally around a specific player or situation. And until that happens Purdue will once again struggle whenever faced with adversity, which becomes a major issue when you realize the teams inconsistency means that they struggle to put away teams and will routinely be challenged this upcoming season, especially in conference play.
So while we could discuss reasons why Purdue fans should be optimistic, especially after the sudden nosedive the football program took this past weekend, the basketball season might not be that much better. I'm hoping I'm wrong, but until this team shows it's finally back it's hard to be that optimistic heading into the season.