2012-13: 16-18 (8-10)
In-conference offense: 0.98 points per possession (9th)
In-conference defense: 1.04 points per possession (9th)
Basketball analysts put a lot of effort into pinning down a coach's style of play. Does he prefer the pick-and-roll or more of a motion offense? Does he send guys to the offensive glass? How fast does he like to play? How a coach is ultimately evaluated largely depends on his ability to find productive players that fit his preferred system. As we were reminded last season during Purdue's disappointing season under Matt Painter, the players often have as much to do with style of play as the coach.
Back in 2005-06, Painter went 9-19 in his first season after succeeding Gene Keady, improved to 22-12 one year later, then landed a star-studded trio of recruits in E'Twaun Moore, JuJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel. That kicked off a four-year stretch of high-level success, plus one more solid season during Hummel's fifth year of eligibility. Three times during that span, Painter won or shared the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.
Those five teams had much in common, establishing what we thought was Painter's brand of basketball. On offense, the Boilermakers rarely turned the ball over, four times posting top-20 turnover percentages and leading the nation during Hummel's last campaign. They didn't go to the offensive glass that often, but shot well enough to offset that trait, which also played into the year-in, year-out defensive success.
The point prevention was driven by floor balance, forcing turnovers, hitting the defensive glass and contesting shots inside the arc. Smart basketball and hard-nosed defense became the hallmark of Painter's program. That began to fail when Purdue sunk to ninth in in-conference defense with an undersized 2011-12 squad, and the Boilers repeated that ranking a season ago.
Projected starting lineup
Meanwhile, Purdue slipped from second to ninth in conference offensive efficiency and turned the ball over more frequently than every conference foe except Indiana and Minnesota. To compensate, Painter sent guys to the offensive glass, and while the Boilers were third in retrieving the rate of their own misses, they missed far too often for it to help. On defense, the forced turnover ranking fell into the 300s, though they continued to contest shots inside the arc.
The bottom line was a 16-18 season, in effect bringing Painter back to where he started eight seasons ago. That doesn't render Painter's philosophies obsolete; it just shows how much he needs the players to implement them. The responsibility for finding those players, of course, falls on Painter.
Happily enough for Purdue fans, Painter might have already had those missing pieces last season. They were just too raw to recognize.
The major departure is D.J. Byrd, who last season accounted for more than half of Purdue's made 3s. While there is plenty of growth expected elsewhere, this is one void in the attack that has to be filled.
The top returning player is senior guard Terone Johnson, who took 28 percent of Purdue's shots while he was on the floor, and did so with a startlingly low effective field-goal percentage of 44.6. Many of the playmaking responsibilities Johnson formerly handled were taken over by his freshman brother, Ronnie, who led the team in assist rate. He too flashed a high volume of offense with a low level of efficiency, and hit just 6-of-36 from beyond the arc.
Assuming Ronnie Johnson makes the appropriate upgrades to his decision-making, he can get the ball to higher-percentage shooters while still breaking down the defense with his quickness and ability to draw contact. The Johnsons both shot around 41-42 percent inside the arc, and that has to improve. If they can't develop their deep shots to the level that keeps opponents from sagging off them and going under screens, then they need to break them down and distribute the ball to players who can space the floor.
With Byrd gone, the spacing responsibilities fall to sophomore Rapheal Davis and freshman Kendall Stephens, a four-star wing from suburban Chicago. Davis is an athlete who flashed excellent foul-drawing skills during his first season. He was hesitant behind the arc, but he's got the length to get good looks on the perimeter. His free throw percentage wasn't encouraging, however, and his face-up game must improve if Davis is going to complement the Johnsons.
As for Stephens, he has a reputation as a full-service 2-guard, with a 6-foot-9 wingspan that should make him a classic Painter perimeter defender. He doesn't necessarily need the ball in his hands and can instead function off others' penetration thanks to a consistent stroke and good range. Stephens' ability to make an immediate impact is paramount in Purdue's hopes of getting back on the right side of .500.
Once the perimeter shuffling settles down, it could crystallize around an improved season from 7-foot, 280-pound sophomore center A.J. Hammons. Hammons was Purdue's top percentage rebounder as a freshman and posted an outstanding 8.7 percent block rate. If he can continue to hone his athleticism and curb his foul rate, he should anchor a rejuvenated Purdue defense.
At the other end, Hammons is raw. He has decent touch, but converted fewer than half his shots, all of which came inside the arc. His base skill set is solid, and he should become an elite post player during his second season, which should help to open things up for Purdue's perimeter contingent.
If Hammons does run into foul and/or stamina issues, Painter will need Jay Simpson to develop into a fallback option. Simpson went down with foot problems after appearing in 10 games as a freshman, and he should eventually be granted a medical redshirt. Before his injury, Simpson was putting up block and rebound rates even better than Hammons', though he's much more raw on offense. Simpson will need to fill the shoes of burly Sandi Marcius, who transferred to DePaul.
Incoming transfer Errick Peck, a wing, should also get regular minutes. Another transfer, Sterling Carter (Seattle U.), will help back up the Johnson backcourt. Big man reserve Travis Carroll has fallen out of favor a bit, but is back for his senior season. Power forward Donnie Hale would have been in the mix, but decided to transfer during preseason.
The trend arrow seems to be pointing slightly downward for Painter, who hasn't been able to land a class to rival the big three of 2007. Hammons and Ronnie Johnson are the best bets among the returnees to develop into that kind of talent, and freshman Stephens has excellent upside. A return to the NCAA tournament is a definite possibility if Painter can coax the kind of defensive effort we grew accustomed to in the Hummel era.
Painter will be able to hand out four to six scholarships for his 2014 recruiting class, but his only commitment to date is three-star shooter Dakota Mathias. He'll help, but Painter needs a resurgent season built upon internal development to keep those recruits answering his calls, texts and knocks on the door.
Projected 2013-14 conference finish: 10th