The 2012-13 season did not a lot of expectations for the Purdue Boilermakers, with many picking the team to finish in the bottom third of the conference, but two-thirds into conference play, Purdue sits right in the middle of the pack (5-6, 12-12) and certainly aren’t a pushover inside Mackey Arena.
Coach Matt Painter knew coming-into the season that he was in a transition year of rebuilding, after losing top scorer Robbie Hummel and point guard Lewis Jackson to graduation. Trying to find the right mix has not been easy, as 11 different players have started games for the Boilermakers. Statistically speaking, the team has been very inconsistent on both ends of the floor, ranking ninth in the conference in both offensive and defensive scoring.
What has kept Purdue afloat has been interior defense and a strong rebounding game. The Boilermakers rank first in the conference in rebounding at 40.6/game, led by freshman A.J. Hammons (6.8 rpg), a 7’0” center who uses his strength/length to be a force on the boards. Hammons’ 2.1 blocks/game ranks first in the Big Ten and has helped Purdue ascend to the number two spot in total team blocks.
Scoring has been a little problematic for Purdue, as only two players score in double figures, Terone Johnson at 12.7 ppg and Hammons at 11.3 ppg. The rest of the lineup is very balanced, but with that, a virtual uncertainty on night-to-night basis, as to where the points are going to come from.
Hammons has been the obvious star of the team, while T. Johnson has shown the most consistency and has been the facilitator on offense, leading the team in scoring while being second on the team in assists from his combo guard position. Younger brother, Ronnie Johnson (9.8 ppg and a team-leading 90 assists), has the makings of a playmaker from the point, but doesn’t have the consistency that the team needs. Senior D.J. Byrd (9.5 ppg) offers the team a solid three-point shooter, but contributes little else.
The interior, an aforementioned strength, has received defensive contributions by two wide-bodied players, junior Travis Carroll, Jacob Lawson, and redshirt freshman Donnie Hale, but they rarely contribute on offense (combined 8.8 ppg). On the perimeter, inexperience has hindered the performance of two promising shooters, sophomore Anthony Johnson (5.5 ppg) and freshman Raphael Davis (5.2 ppg).
Despite the youth and inconsistent play, Purdue has been able to hold its own, with the end result being a pleasant surprise. While a post-season appearance seems unlikely, there are several building blocks in-place and force-feeding some of the younger players will provide dividends going forward.
The top of the Big Ten standings has gotten a little more crowded, with teams really struggling to win games on the road against the top two-thirds of the league. This week’s top games include Michigan @ Michigan State on Feb 12, Wisconsin @ Minnesota on Feb 14, and Ohio State at Wisconsin on Feb 17.
Big Ten Power Rankings
1. Michigan 2. Indiana 3. Michigan State 4. Ohio State 5. Wisconsin 6. Minnesota 7. Illinois 8. Purdue 9. Northwestern 10. Iowa 11. Nebraska 12. Penn State
Deric McKamey is a Scout and Correspondent for NetScouts Basketball and covers the Big Ten.