When the field for the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas was released back in August, it looked like the Purdue Boilermakers were going to have an opportunity to do something that you must do in the non-conference schedule to help yourself come Selection Sunday. They had a chance to potentially play two teams that are largely considered to be two of the best in the country, Arizona and Villanova.
However, as we know now, things did not pan out that way for Matt Painter and his veteran squad, which had come into the Bahamas rolling through the fairly weak competition they had faced so far this year. Other than Marquette, Purdue had not played anyone in their first four games who you would think could give them a game, and they acted like it, winning their first four games by an average of 39 points per game.
That would hardly be the competition to judge this team by, but The Battle 4 Atlantis provided top tier competition from major conference schools and major basketball powerhouses. Unfortunately, Purdue faltered on their opportunity to provide some marquee names to their tournament resume come March. These two games need to serve as a wake-up call to this senior laden team that the urgency needs to exist from start to finish of every game.
After losing sophomore stud big man Caleb Swanigan to the NBA Draft, many had convinced themselves that this team, through the first four games, could be better than the team that was led to the Big Ten title and a Sweet 16 by Swanigan last year. While that may still be true, the issues with the Purdue team in life without him need to be addressed, and quickly.
Against Tennessee, the Boilermakers gave up 21 offensive rebounds on the way to losing 78-75 in overtime. In the consolation bracket against Western Kentucky, they were out-rebounded 36-33 against a team whose tallest player comes in at 6’9”. For reference, Purdue has three players on their roster at 6’10” or taller.
Rebounding, of course, isn’t all about height. Position, instinct and heart all play a role and it’s what made Swanigan such a gifted rebounder. With him gone, Purdue will have to figure out ways for 7’2” Isaac Haas to secure more than six rebounds, as he did against Western Kentucky. Matt Haarms, at 7’3”, pulled down only two rebounds against the Hilltoppers. Simply put, that is nowhere near good enough to beat even decent competition.
On top of that, the Boilermakers looked lethargic at times in these two games, allowing a 16-0 run against Tennessee on Wednesday, and being down essentially the entire game on Thursday against Western Kentucky. While it can be hard to get a senior laden team to play with the same type of energy that a team of newcomers plays with, that’s a must for this team to expect any type of repeat of the success from a year ago.
Perhaps it is time in West Lafayette to start looking at making some lineup changes, giving guys some minutes that haven’t seen many in the recent past. Jacquil Taylor is finally healthy for this team, and could be an asset in the frontcourt for Matt Painter. Eden Ewing, a 6’9” versatile and athletic wing player could provide a spark if given a few minutes off the bench on occassion.
If nothing else, it is quite obvious that the trip to the Bahamas can be looked at as a failure for the Purdue Boilermakers. What looked so promising back in August upon the bracket release, now looks like nothing but a handful of lost opportunity and question marks abound. In the event that it serves as a wake-up call for the Boilers, who will face Louisville in the Big Ten - ACC Challenge next Tuesday, it should show this team that while blowing teams out by nearly 40 points per game early in the season, they have plenty of flaws.
Luckily, for Purdue, they are flaws that can be corrected. Defensive miscommunication, an occasional lethargic half or handful of possessions, those are things that can be fixed. The talent is certainly there for Matt Painter, and the team isn’t going to shoot a combined 17-50 from the three point line over a two game span this season. Purdue fans, however, are scrambling for answers and expecting them soon.