The 2015 BTPowerhouse Recapitulation Series will look back at the season of each Big Ten team through a 10 point analysis designed to reveal what went right, what went wrong, and whether the team met expectations in 2014-15. The series will be released this summer in reverse order of conference standings, meaning the last place team will be reviewed first and the Big Ten champions will be reviewed last.
Confused? See the advanced stats glossary here.
The 2014-15 season was an extremely surprising one for Purdue. After coming off a disappointing 15-17 season, few expected Purdue to be competitive in the conference and even fewer expected it after the team's underwhelming 8-5 start to the year. After that, not even Boilermaker fans could have felt that confident about the team's performance heading into Big Ten play. Of course, the team did end up playing much better and not only made the NCAA Tournament, but ended up as the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. It was remarkable turnaround for a program and a head coach starting to feel the pressure after some underwhelming seasons.
Let's look back at the season in its entirety.
1. Preseason Expectations
Entering the season, Purdue had very low expectations. Though they brought back some of their top pieces from the previous season, it was from a team that had gone 5-13 in Big Ten play, had lost 12 of their final 14 games to end the season, and had lost their final seven games. There were some reasons to be optimistic about the team including the arrival of 4-star recruit Vince Edwards and the return of star big man AJ Hammons, but the reality of the situation was that it was difficult to be too positive about a team that finished dead last in the conference in 2013-14. Considering their situation and previous struggles, I slotted Purdue in at #11 in my Big Ten preview.
Here was my preseason storyline for Purdue:
The biggest storyline for Purdue this season is going to center around whether AJ Hammons can live up to his hype and lead the Boilermakers back to relevance in the conference and on the national level. There are certainly bigger NBA prospects in the nation than Hammons, but Hammons has shown that he has the ability to perform on an elite level. If he can finally do this on a consistent basis, Purdue could be a lot more dangerous this season. The other aspect of Hammons taking the next step forward will be more productive players on the wing and in the backcourt. Kendall Stephens was a pretty good shooter for Purdue last year, but not many others contributed on any consistent basis. If the Boilermakers can get more talent on the perimeter, it could help Hammons grow into his potential and be the difference maker for Purdue this season.
The Big Ten writers were on the same page as they also put the Boilermakers at #11 in their preseason conference standings behind Maryland and ahead of Penn State. There was talent and options across the lineup, but just not enough proven contributors and incoming prospects to really feel confident about the team taking the next step forward as a program.
2. Non-Conference Play
Thanks in large part to the underwhelming preseason expectations, Purdue was expected to have a respectable, but not great non-conference performance. They would have some challenging games against teams like Kansas State, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt. If the Boilermakers could pull off a few wins they would put themselves in a nice position heading into conference play, but few were that confident the team could be consistent enough to pull it off. Here is how things went.
Purdue 2014-15 Non-Conference:
- Win (1-0): Samford, 80-40
- Win (2-0): IUPUI, 77-57
- Win (3-0): Grambling State, 82-30
- Loss (3-1): Kansas State, 88-79
- Win (4-1): Missouri, 82-61
- Win (5-1): BYU, 87-85 OT
- Win (6-1): North Carolina State, 66-61
- Loss (6-2): North Florida, 73-70
- Win (7-2): IPFW, 63-43
- Win (8-2): Arkansas State, 87-46
- Loss (8-3): Vanderbilt, 81-71
- Loss (8-4): Notre Dame, 94-63
- Loss (8-5): Gardner Webb, 89-84
Purdue had one of the most inconsistent non-conference performances in not only the Big Ten, but the entire country. Overall, the team went 8-5 which appears decent on its face, but when one steps back and takes the look at the wins and losses, the record is pretty astounding. On one hand, Purdue notched off wins against BYU, Missouri, and North Carolina State, but on the other hand, they also lost home games to Gardner Webb and North Florida. The Boilermakers knocked off two wins against eventual NCAA Tournament teams, but failed to beat two teams on their home court that were rated #139 or worse on KenPom. That's a pretty uncommon scenario.
Along with this split, it's also interesting to consider that this split can also been seen in the non-conference schedule itself. Purdue actually started off with a 6-1 record with wins over BYU and North Carolina State and its only loss coming against Kansas State on a neutral court. Maybe the Boilermakers weren't considered Final Four contenders at that point, but most thought they were trending up. Then the team lost four of its next six games including the horrible losses to Gardner Webb and North Florida and a blowout loss to Notre Dame. The two halves of non-conference play really couldn't have been much further apart.
There was still some hope out on Purdue at the conclusion of non-conference play, but with the dreadful home losses and the fact that the team was coming off three straight losses, few very were high on Purdue and probably even fewer thought they had any shot at competing in the Big Ten or for an NCAA Tournament bid. They would have a chance to get back on track with a relatively manageable opening stretch in conference play, but things were looking pretty bleak at the conclusion of non-conference play.
3. Conference Play
The Boilermakers had shown they could beat quality teams in non-conference play, but had also failed to "take care of business" against the lower teams. As such, expectations were not all that high for Purdue for Big Ten play. Most thought they could pull off some wins here and there and beat some of the bottom teams, but few believed they could compete with the Big Ten's top teams or make a real NCAA Tournament run. Still, if Purdue was going to make some noise, they would need to get rolling early with some very winnable games early in conference play.
Purdue 2014-15 Big Ten Play:
- Win (1-0): Minnesota, 72-68
- Win (2-0): Michigan, 64-51
- Loss (2-1): Wisconsin, 62-55
- Loss (2-2): Maryland, 69-60
- Win (3-2): Penn State, 84-77 OT
- Loss (3-3): Illinois, 66-57
- Win (4-3): Iowa, 67-63
- Win (5-3): Indiana, 83-67
- Win (6-3): Northwestern, 68-60
- Win (7-3): Ohio State, 60-58
- Loss (7-4): Minnesota, 62-58
- Win (8-4): Rutgers, 61-51
- Win (9-4): Nebraska, 66-54
- Win (10-4): Indiana, 67-63
- Win (11-4): Rutgers, 92-85
- Loss (11-5): Ohio State, 65-61
- Loss (11-6): Michigan State, 72-66
- Win (12-6): Illinois, 63-58
Considering Purdue's mixed - at best - performance in non-conference play, they really needed to take care of business early and get things rolling. They were certainly not completely desperate for wins, but if they were not able to start playing well, things could start snowballing really quickly for the team.
Luckily, the Boilermakers were able to get off to the nice start that the team needed. They starting by scoring two wins to open conference play at home against Minnesota and Michigan. Both games were relatively competitive, but with the wins, a lot of pressure went off the team's shoulders. Purdue did drop their next two to Wisconsin and Maryland, but considering those teams finished atop the Big Ten standings, neither games were bad losses.
Purdue then won an overtime thriller against Penn State on the road to push their record to 3-2. They did follow that with a road loss to Illinois, but with six Big Ten games wrapped up, they weren't in bad position. The Boilermakers got some luck against Iowa with an Aaron White injury, but were able to take that momentum and win four games in a row including home games over Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio State. It was at this point that people really starting buying into Purdue as a legitimately good team. They had beaten legitimate NCAA Tournament teams and were even taking care of the winnable games as well.
Unfortunately, Purdue did slip up in their next game on the road to Minnesota with a very close loss, but thanks to another four game winning streak, they pushed their overall record to 19-9 and 11-4 in the Big Ten. At this point, they had swept Indiana, had won some tough road games, and were in reaching distance of the NCAA Tournament. They would certainly need to close strong, but things were there for the taking.
The final three games were a bit rough with losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, but with a season ending win against Illinois at home, Purdue sat at 20-11 overall and 12-6 in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers might have a little pressure on Selection Sunday, but with a nice seeding in the Big Ten Tournament, there really wasn't much doubt that Purdue would make it into the field of 64. For a team that was viewed so lowly before the season and early on, it was a remarkable turnaround.
So, how did it happen? How did what appeared to virtually everyone to be another mediocre Purdue team suddenly "turn it on" and not only make the NCAA Tournament, but go 12-6 in the Big Ten and make the field comfortably? This is not something that happens very often, especially with multiple bad home losses in non-conference play. For many, the resume is simply so damaged with these type of losses that they don't have a chance to make a run later on.
Well, the interesting thing about Purdue's performance is that they got some major breaks in the schedule. This isn't to say they were a bad team and only faced bad teams, but they certainly caught some breaks. Just look at their performance in Big Ten play against teams based on their Big Ten Tournament seeding.
2014-15 Purdue's Conference Wins:
The interesting thing here is that not only did Purdue have an underwhelming 1-3 record against the highest seeded opponents in the Big Ten, but they also only faced these opponents a total of four times in the regular season. The Boilermakers not only performed badly against the conference's top teams, but they failed to face any of them in a double-play series, which meant they had one of the easiest slates in conference play.
The other wild card here is that their only win against a top five team in the Big Ten came against Iowa at home where Aaron White was injured and played 7 minutes during the game. It's hard to get a much better draw than that in conference play.
Still, even with the schedule breaks, Purdue still took care of business against the lower teams and scored enough quality wins to put the team in position for an NCAA Tournament bid. They would still try to score some more wins in Chicago, but by this point in the year, Purdue had completely changed the narrative on their season.
4. Postseason Play
With Purdue going 12-6 in Big Ten play, the Boilermakers were considered a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament and a potential contender to move up with a successful Big Ten Tournament. Due to the tiebreaker, Purdue would not be the #3 seed, but would be able to grab the #4 seed and the double-bye in Chicago. In their first game, Purdue would face the winner of Iowa against the winner of the Nebraska and Penn State game. If they were able to win, they would likely face Wisconsin in the semi-finals. Here is how things went:
Purdue 2014-15 Postseason Play:
- Win (Quarterfinals - Big Ten Tourney), Penn State, 64-59
- Loss (Semifinals - Big Ten Tourney), Wisconsin, 71-51
- Loss (Round of 64 - NCAA Tournament), Cincinnati, 66-65 OT
Entering their opening game in Chicago, Purdue would have to await to see what Iowa did against either Nebraska or Penn State. With the Nittany Lions moving on and then upsetting the Hawkeyes in dramatic fashion, Purdue would actually get a pretty winnable game in the semi-finals. Still, even though Penn State was a dangerous team - as stated in my recap on the Nittany Lions - the Boilermakers had 63.4% odds to win before tip-off according to KenPom. They weren't massive favorites on paper, but certainly were considered a decent favorite.
The game started out a little slowly, but by about the halfway mark in the 1st Half, the Nittany Lions had taken a slight 17-12 lead over Purdue thanks to some nice plays from DJ Newbill and Brandon Taylor. Purdue tried to close the gap, but Penn State continued to push it and were in solid control with about 5 minutes left in the 1st Half. They not only led by a score of 26-16, but had roughly a 75% chance to win per KenPom. However, Purdue was able to close the gap before halftime and they went to the locker rooms trailing by just a 37-32 score.
The teams continued exchanging shots early in the 2nd Half, but thanks to some great play from Jon Octeus, the Boilermakers were able to get out to a slim lead just a few minutes into the 2nd Half. Penn State did stay competitive for the remainder of the game, but they continued to lose ground outside of a brief run and Purdue had taken firm control in the final minutes of the game. Ultimately, Purdue won by a final score of 64-59.
Unfortunately, Purdue would not get the same beneficial draw in the semifinals. Instead of facing a Penn State team that went 4-14 in conference play, the Boilermakers would be getting a Wisconsin team that had an overall record of 29-3 and that had won 14 of their previous 15 games. As one would reasonably figure, Purdue was an underdog coming into the matchup and had just 14.5% odds to win according to KenPom before tip-off.
The Badgers jumped out with the first few baskets, but Purdue actually played very well early on and held a decent 21-15 lead roughly halfway through the 1st Half. AJ Hammons was doing work and Vince Edwards was making some nice plays as well. They certainly had shown up, but the question would be whether they could maintain that high level of play going forward. Overall, Purdue continued playing relatively well, but the lead sat at 35-30 at halftime.
In the 2nd Half, it was all Wisconsin. The Badgers took the lead less than four minutes into the half and though Purdue did a decent job of holding on for the first minutes of the 2nd Half, Wisconsin simply pulled away as the game progressed thanks to the excellent play of Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes. With about 10 minutes left in the game, odds were slim for Purdue and a few minutes later, Wisconsin had near 99% odds to win the game. Purdue eventually fell to Wisconsin by a final score of 71-51.
Though Purdue had a win over a bad Penn State team and got handled by Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, they had more than enough in their resume to make the NCAA Tournament and ended up being placed as a #9 seed in the same region as #1 overall seed Kentucky, #2 seed Kansas, and #3 seed Notre Dame. They would have a matchup with Cincinnati in the Round of 64 where the Boilermakers would be slight underdogs. It was nearly a pick 'em game and the winner would very likely face an undefeated Kentucky team in the Round of 32.
During the 1st Half, it was a back and forth affair for Cincinnati and Purdue. The Bearcats would hit a couple of big buckets and the Boilermakers would respond with a few of their own. However, thanks to some great play from Vince Edwards later in the 1st Half, he was able to get Purdue up to a 29-26 led at halftime. It really was a highly competitive game and a highly entertaining game between two physical teams.
In the 2nd Half, the battle continued, but Purdue was able to hold onto a narrow lead for the majority of the early action. Edwards kept making plays and AJ Hammons contributed as well. However, as the game was winding to a close, the Boilermakers made some big shots and were able to grab a firm lead in the closing moments. With less than one minute remaining, they led 54-49 and looked to be headed for the Round of 32.
Unfortunately, thanks to some huge plays from Troy Caupain and Coreontae DeBerry, Cincinnati was able to come back and tie up the game at 59-59 heading into overtime. There have been far worse collapses in college basketball history with some of them coming in Big Ten play this season, but a look at the in-game KenPom odds for the matchup gives some great insight on the type of collapse Purdue experienced in the game.
Purdue vs Cincinnati In-Game KenPom Odds:
They had the game in hand, but couldn't close the deal. Still, they had a shot in overtime to make up for the collapse and finish off the game. Hammons was able to get a few buckets to start off the game, but again, Caupain and DeBerry made some huge plays to put the Bearcats ahead. In all reality, the overtime period was an ugly stretch, but Purdue simply couldn't convert on a number of attempts. Thanks to that and their poor play at the end of regulation, Purdue fell by a final score of 66-65 to end its NCAA Tournament appearance.
Overall, Purdue took what appeared to be a disastrous season and turned it into an overall record of 21-13, a Big Ten record of 12-6, and an NCAA Tournament appearance. The Boilermakers may have caught some breaks in their schedule and suffered some rough non-conference losses, but it's hard not to think it was a great year for a program looking for some positive energy and a step in the right direction.
Purdue certainly had their issues last season and had to rely on some breaks later in the year to make their NCAA Tournament run, but they did have some real strengths and balance on their team. Particularly, their improved defense with its ability to block shots and their offensive rebounding were huge assets for the team.
The Boilermakers took a step forward in 2014-15 and easily the single biggest area of improvement was on the defensive end. In 2013-14, the team had a decent, but not great defense, but in 2014-15, they had one of the better defenses in the country and the 2nd best defense in conference play. Just take a look at their growth.
Purdue Defensive Stats:
Undoubtedly, that's a significant improvement in just one season. They allowed fewer points, made opponents miss a higher percentage of shots, and, what is even more significant is that, they allowed a higher percentage of 3PT shots in 2014-15 than the year before. Statistically, defensively 3PT percentage is a pretty random stat, which implies that Iowa's defense actually got less lucky in 2014-15 than the previous year and still jumped more than 40 spots in their KenPom defensive rating. That's a huge statement.
Of course, the defensive area where Purdue really showed up was its ability to defend inside. They finished at #13 nationally in defensive 2PT% and #30 nationally in defensive block rate. AJ Hammons was a defensive monster down low and led the Big Ten's contributors in defensive block rate. Still, even though Hammons was easily the team's best shot blocker, the top guys held up well in the conference as well.
2014-15 Big Ten Defensive Block Stats:
Though Purdue was not quite as strong on the defensive side as they were on the offensive side, theyactually turned into a pretty solid offensive team and relied on a stellar interior game to get the job done. Not only were they #59 nationally in 2PT%, but they were one of the best teams in the country in offensive rebounding. In fact, they finished at #22 nationally in team offensive rebounding rate and were #2 in the Big Ten during conference play.
Again, AJ Hammons led the way here for the Boilermakers, but Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards also performed well on the offensive boards. It was huge for the team and certainly added a lot of extra possessions over the course of the season. Here's how the team's top rebounders compared to the conference.
2014-15 Big Ten Offensive Rebounding Stats:
The ability to control the boards, especially on the offensive end pays huge dividends for the performance of the offense. Having this edge made up for a lot of the other areas where the team was not that great, such as Purdue's underwhelming perimeter shooting.
There was a lot of growth for the Purdue program offseason, but the team's impressive defensive improvement and their control of the offensive boards really were the key parts for the Boilermakers. They certainly had some issues, but in terms of interior play, this was a really good team.
Despite all the improvement and the impressive interior play, Purdue also had some areas where they could have played much better. Particularly, the team's underwhelming perimeter shooting and their inability to hold onto the ball were major issues for the team. If Purdue had even mediocre outside shooting last season, the team would have likely been one of the best teams in the country and would have certainly been better if they could have avoided some turnovers. Still, it's hard to be perfect everywhere.
Purdue was a really good interior team on offense last season. They were #59 nationally in 2PT% and got 53.3% of their points from 2PT buckets, which was #99 nationally. They relied a lot of getting to the bucket either with their backcourt or with their big men. It was a reasonable strategy given their roster, but there was not a lot of production from long range for the Boilermakers.
In fact, of Purdue's most used lineup late in the season, the only player to shoot above 35% from 3PT range was Kendall Stephens, who came in at #20 in the Big Ten in 3PT% of players who saw at least 40% of the team's minutes last season. Along with this, as a team, the Boilermakers ranked #238 nationally in 3PT% and got just 24.7% of the team's points from long range. There's not much debating that this was an area where the team could have been better last season.
Another area where Purdue could have used some improvement was in the team's turnover rate. They had several players that turned over the ball early and often and it played a factor in slowing down their offense. The interesting thing is that the turnovers came from the frontcourt, the backcourt, and the wing. The team came in at #228 nationally in turnover rate and it was an across the board issue.
2014-15 Big Ten Turnover Stats:
The Boilermakers were a good team last season, but their unimpressive perimeter shooting and their turnover problems were major culprits in holding the team back from the next level last season. If they could have simply improved in one, it's hard not to think this team is right at the top of the conference.
7. Top Player
Coming into the season, many believed that Purdue returned the team's best player in AJ Hammons, but with the loss of major contributors in Ronnie Johnson and Terone Johnson, there were some major voids to fill. There was some talent around Hammons including the addition of 4-star prospect Vince Edwards, but unless Hammons could really improve on his previous performances, a lot was in their air for the team. The good news was that several players did emerge and allowed the team to have several All-Big Ten listings.
Let's take a look at how the players compared.
Purdue 2014-15 Stat Leaders:
- Minutes - Rapheal Davis
- Field Goal Attempts - AJ Hammons
- Points - AJ Hammons
- Rebounds - AJ Hammons
- Assists - Vince Edwards
- Blocks - AJ Hammons
- Steals - Jon Octeus
Things were pretty evenly split in the advanced stats.
Of course, advanced numbers may not necessarily be a perfect reflection compared to how a player performs in big games and whether he can push them over the top. To help assist in this, KenPom does an analysis of an MVP in each game and awards it to the best player during the game. Here is how Purdue stacked up.
Though Purdue had their issues, their top end production was pretty well divided between the team's top contributors. In fact, Davis, Haas, Hammons, and Octeus all had their moments. Considering how tight this comparison was, he was a look at the usage of Purdue's top players last season.
2014-15 Purdue Usage Stats:
As expected, things were pretty split again, but considering the top end production of Hammons and how he held up in each group, he was likely Purdue's best player last season. However, considering the successful of the Boilermakers last season, having so many significant contributors was huge news for the team.
8. Sixth Man
The Boilermakers may not have had the deepest bench, but they did have a few contributors that could jump into the game and really shake things up. Over the course of the season thanks to these players, Purdue came in at #133 nationally in bench minutes.
Last season, Purdue's most started lineup was Rapheal Davis, Vince Edwards, AJ Hammons, Dakota Mathias, and Jon Octeus. This was certainly not the lineup for the entire season, but these were the most started players, which is the measure for this comparison. This left the top bench contributors as Isaac Haas, Bryson Scott, Basil Smotherman, Kendall Stephens, and PJ Thompson
Purdue 2014-15 Bench Leaders:
- Minutes - Kendall Stephens
- Field Goal Attempts - Kendall Stephens
- Points - Kendall Stephens
- Rebounds - Isaac Haas
- Assists - Kendall Stephens
- Blocks - Isaac Haas
- Steals - PJ Thompson
Here is how they held up in the advanced stats comparison.
There's no doubt that Isaac Haas and Kendall Stephens separate themselves from the pack, but considering that Stephens played more, he probably deserves a slight edge. Regardless, both Haas and Stephens did a lot for the Boilermakers over the season and both had really nice years.
9. Top Storylines
The storyline of Purdue's 2014-15 season was a surprising one. There's no debating that Purdue caught some breaks in its turnaround, but it was still a pretty good team that proved to be a Big Ten contender towards the end of the season. Nonetheless, with the rough non-conference performance, the lack of huge wins in Big Ten play, and the rough end to the season, it was hardly a perfect season for a program desperate to get back into the national spotlight.
Preseason expectations were very low for Purdue, but there were certainly some who thought they could take some of the team's raw talent - especially upfront - and convert it into a decent team. However, until the team showed some progress and that they could replace major lost contributors like Ronnie Johnson and Terone Johnson, it was hard to pencil them in too high in the conference.
The season started well with some major wins against teams like BYU and North Carolina State, but much of that energy evaporated after suffering some terrible upsets at home and going on a skid to enter conference play. By that point, most were selling on the Boilermakers. However, Purdue was able to get things on the right track by taking care of business at home and winning the manageable games. As Big Ten play came to a close, Purdue had put itself into great position for the postseason. They did drop to Wisconsin and Cincinnati in back-to-back games in the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament, but it was still a remarkable turnaround.
The intriguing thing about Purdue's season is that broadly speaking, it was a good year for the program, but that much of the praise comes from the team's turnaround and poor performance in the preceding seasons. It's hard to belittle an NCAA Tournament appearance, a 21-13 record, and a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, but when one looks at the schedule and the reactions to the run, things might have been a tad overstated. Overall, this was a good team that blew away both preseason and midseason expectations, but may have gotten too much credit its performance simply due to underachieving early on in the season.
(Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)
10. Final Verdict
Purdue's performance during the 2014-15 season easily exceeded preseason and midseason expectations. Though they may have relied on some scheduling breaks and some underachieving early in the year to shape their narrative, it was still a really nice season that included a bid to the NCAA Tournament and some solid wins for a program trying to get back on track.
Despite the losses in non-conference play, one of the biggest things that allowed Purdue to have so much success was their interior game and ability to take care of the winnable game in conference action. In Big Ten play, their only losses to non-NCAA Tournament teams came against Illinois and Minnesota and both occurred on the road. Along with this, taking advantage of both games against arch-rival Indiana was a key to building the team's resume.
Still, even with the relatively consistent play for the second half of the season, it's hard not to notice the terrible losses early on, the very manageable Big Ten slate, and the inability to notch major wins late in the year as concerns. Purdue scored some nice wins against teams like Indiana, North Carolina State, and Ohio State, but these were middling NCAA Tournament teams and not exactly the nation's elite.
One also has to step back and put the midseason turnaround in perspective. It is certainly notable, but how much credit does a term deserve for correcting its own mistakes? At the end of the day, a season has to be viewed in its entirety and Purdue put together a good, but not great year. This massive outperformed expectations and they deserve a lot of credit for doing so, but these factors prevent Purdue from grabbing the very top of the grades for 2014-15.
Season Grade: A-