The Purdue Boilermakers have only played three games, and let's be honest, their first "real" opponent is Old Dominion on Saturday. However, against this lesser competition, Purdue's guard play has been excellent. Before the season started, that unit was heavily doubted by most people outside of the fanbase, and the biggest perceived hole in the backcourt was the point guard position.
The Boilers have three main options at the 1 spot. They are senior transfer Johnny Hill, diminutive sophomore P.J. Thompson, and sophomore combo guard Dakota Mathias. All three were surrounded by question marks headed into the season, and three games into the season it appears that they are all on their way to answering their critics. Will they be able to get it done by the end of the season? Only time will tell, but let's take a look at their progress so far.
Jon Octeus' great season a year ago, had Purdue fans willing to buy into the positive influence of another grad student at the point. The national media, on the other hand, were quick to question whether the former UT-Arlington player could fit into Painter's system and excel. So far, so good for Hill as he has started all three games for the Boilermakers and has played really unselfishly. Hill currently has more assists (11) than field goal attempts (7) and on defense he has racked up 7 steals and 2 blocks. Thus far, his defensive effort and willingness to distribute have him fitting in perfectly to this team and their philosophy.
P.J. Thompson is not an exceptional athlete, shooter, or scorer. No, his game is more about effort (if you would like to see me wax poetic about his "heart" click here). His ability to run the point for a Big Ten team has been doubted all summer, but in his first three games his assist-to-turnover ratio is literally unmeasurable. P.J. has yet to turn the ball over, and you can't calculate a ratio when the second number is 0. On the assist side, P.J. has 6. His shooting from the outside still needs improvement (25% at the moment), but he has hit all 8 free throws he has taken. On defense he has always been relentless, and so far this season it has earned him 3 steals. Overall, Thompson has been very effective in his role off the bench and if his shots start falling he could really be a threat for the starting spot.
Dakota Mathias isn't really a point guard and he honestly is just barely a combo guard. His true position is shooting guard, except last season he shot a paltry 32.2% from three. So what has he done so far this year? Well, so far he is shooting 41.7% from deep, although all of his makes were from a 5-7 performance in the Vermont game. Additionally, he has added 10 assists with just 2 turnovers. Mathias is still more shooting guard than point guard, but he definitely has the passing ability and basketball IQ to slide over when needed.
Purdue fans have heard it over and over again. "These guards at Purdue just don't match-up to Melo Trimble and Yogi Ferrell, you can't win titles without good guard play." While that may be true, I think it is a fallacy to believe that the guards in West Lafayette aren't extremely talented. These point guards aren't superstars, but they fit well in the Purdue offense and have performed admirably so far. If they can keep it up, this is definitely a team that can compete for the Big Ten crown and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. As the competition increases, we'll have to keep an eye on the 1 spot for the Boilers, but after 3 games, everything is trending in the right direction.