In his quest to put together a schedule that will battle-test the Muskies, Mario Mercurio has pulled in some extremely good basketball programs. Aside from the two-time national runners-up Butler, the Purdue Boilermakers have perhaps the strongest claim to the distinction of being the most recently successful team on this year's docket. The Boilermakers have made the NCAA tournament as a single-digit seed for the past five years running, and they have risen sequentially from a six in 2008 to a three in 2011. They are not a team/program to take lightly, even after losing two players to the NBA, even in the frenzied confines of the Cintas Center.
Matt Painter came to Purdue for the 2004-2005 season after leading the Salukis of Southern Illinois to an NCAA tourney berth. Painter served a year as the Associate Head Coach as part of a succession plan involving Coach Gene Keady's departure after that season. When Keady and his comb-over rode off into the sunset, Painter stepped up to fill the void. After a lackluster debut season, Painter found his stride and quickly began to shape the team to fit his style as a coach.
In the past five years, the Boilermakers have finished no worse than 16th in the nation in AdjD. This smothering pressure has consistently been in the top 100 in EFG% and turnover percentage. Purdue has hovered right around the national average in block percentage and allowing offensive boards, but when the other team is turning the ball over almost once every four possessions and being forced into a low shooting percentage, those flaws can be covered. Offensively, Painter's teams have been in the top 70 in the nation the past five years, owing in large part to excellent ball control. Their offensive rebounding has been suspect at times, and they play at an average tempo.
Purdue lost two incredibly productive basketball players to the NBA draft last year, with JaJuan Johnson going in the first round to the Celtics and E'Twaun Moore following him to Boston a round later. Johnson posted 20.5/8.6/1.0 on .494/.294/.809 shooting and led the team in scoring and rebounding. Moore was good for 18.0/5.1/3.2 on .447/.400/.709 and was second on the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists and led the squad in 3PM. Each player used about 27% of the team's possessions and about 30% of the team's shots while on the court. Any time a team loses one player it relied upon that heavily, there is going to be a void left in the lineup. Trying to replace two players of that caliber is going to be a big ask for Purdue.
The Boilermakers' top returning scorer is Lewis Jackson, a 5'9" senior guard from Decatur, Ill. Despite his Lilliputian stature, Jackson dominated the ball for Purdue, posting 8.0/3.2/4.0 with an A:TO of better than 2:1 on an efficient .503/.300/.716 shooting. Also returning is sniper Ryne Smith, whose 6.2/2.5/1.7 per game came mostly thanks to his 56-127 showing from beyond the arc. Painting him as only a shooter does sell him a bit short though; he did dish out 57 assists while committing a paltry 17 turnovers. DJ Byrd is notable for being the second-best returning rebounder (3.0 per game) and being an awful shooter (.359/.339/.630). Purdue's top returning rebounder is 5'9" and they don't bring back a single player who stands over 6'5" and averaged at least 10 minutes per game last year.
The two most important additions to Purdue's active roster are players who have already spent time in the system. You've probably heard of Robbie Hummel; the 6'8" wing posted 15.7/6.9/2.1 with 1.1 steals and 1.0 block per as a junior before tearing up his knee against Minnesota. He was ready to ride back and lead Purdue last year before he re-tore the ACL and was forced to sit out the year. If his luck holds this year and he returns to his pre-injury form, Hummel is an instant injection of ability and leadership for a team that lost a lot of both. Suiting up for the first time will be redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson, a 6'4" shooting guard. The book on Johnson is that he needs to get bigger to survive the paint in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten, but he is a gifted shooter with the ability to pour in buckets from all over the court.
Joining Hummel and Johnson are true freshmen Jacob Laswon and Donnie Hale, a couple of high-energy power forwards. Hale is an inch taller than Lawson at 6'8" and comes in as a slightly more polished offensive player. The lefty can knock down jumpers out to the free throw stripe or so and is very mobile and motivated inside. He lacks any moves to his right hand though, and is too predictable offensively at this stage. Lawson lacks moves to either hand, but is a sensational athlete who can run the court and make an impact on the glass at both ends. He is also an aggressive defender and shot blocker, but has a tendency to pick up cheap fouls in his zeal. Both players will need to continue to add bulk as they mature.
Purdue seems to be a team in transition after losing two great players, but the return of Robbie Hummel gives them a leg up on being ready to go for the new season. Someone is going to have to step up and make a difference in the paint to allow Hummel to play the three and become a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. If that doesn't happen, the depth of returning guards and the arrival of Anthony Johnson should allow the Boilermakers to put a very respectable G-G-G-F-F lineup on the floor. Painter's teams have always hung their hats on defensive prowess; even if the offense takes time to coalesce, Xavier will have a dogfight on its hands when Purdue rolls into Cinci on December 3rd.