Come Sunday, I am sure the Ryan Evans injury storyline will still be the topic du jour around the Wisconsin basketball community. With or without him, the Badgers have three regular season games left and a shot at history, should Indiana stumble.
Focus is the name of the game. Not having Evans for a prolonged stretch would be mighty unfortunate, but most people would anticipate Wisconsin (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) holding down the fort on Senior Day in Madison against a down-and-out Purdue team. But then winless Penn State goes and cuts down Michigan and you start to question everything.
Purdue (13-15, 6-9) lost five of six games before shellacking Northwestern by 31 points last Sunday, but rolls into town having dropped a tough one Wednesday, 58-48, to the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
Travis Miller is the founder of SB Nation's superb Purdue community over at Hammer & Rails. We're delighted that he let us badger him about a Boilermaker team that is experiencing a post-Robbie Hummel reboot this season. I returned the favor over at H&R.
Bucky's 5th Quarter: Purdue isn't generating any turnovers this year, which is a bit odd from a Matt Painter-coached team that I associate with tough, physical perimeter defense. What gives?
Hammer & Rails: That is the major problem. Everyone has been getting on this team’s effort of late because they are not playing that traditional tough, perimeter defense. It started in the first Indiana game and really has been pretty bad since then except for the second Northwestern game. When this team is playing tough and guarding the perimeter it can be very good, but we have seen nothing of the sort of late. I am not sure what it is, but this team needs an attitude adjustment and seems very leaderless when it comes to effort.
B5Q: The Boilermakers beat Illinois to begin the Big Ten season, and were even 4-3 in conference at one point, but really have just beaten the league's cellar-dwellers during this rebuilding season. Did this Purdue team ever "peak" in your opinion?
H&R: I don’t think so. They had some close losses in non-conference play to Bucknell, Villanova, and Xavier that we thought were merely the growing pains of a young team. Unfortunately, the defensive effort, as mentioned, has slacked off and the steam cannot shoot a lick. Purdue is at its best when Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd, the two guys that need to be leaders, are playing well and getting involved defensively. Against Northwestern last week they combined for 35 points, played well defensively, and Purdue won by 29. Against Iowa Terone twisted an ankle, went scoreless, Byrd did not score in the first half, and Purdue lost.
If there was a peak it was probably against a West Virginia team that is not that good. At least that is the last time Purdue looked like it had everything together. Since then, I feel like Purdue’s upperclassmen have severely regressed while the freshmen can only do so much.
B5Q: I can only guess at how badly Purdue fans were spoiled by the "Baby Boilers" recruiting class of 2007 (Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and Scott Martin). This year Purdue has four freshman playing heavy minutes -- A.J. Hammons, Ronnie Johnson, Raphael Davis, and the surging Donnie Hale. Can you already envision what type of impact this 2012 class will have during their career? What's the ceiling/prognosis for the team in three years if you had to guess?
H&R: We were very spoiled, and I think we’re just now seeing how exceptional they were by coming in and immediately competing for a Big Ten title. They had a better upper-class supporting casts with Marcus Green, Chris Kramer, and Keaton Grant. This year, we basically had Byrd, Johnson, and a few role players. The two players that could have made a difference, Kelsey Barlow and John Hart, are no longer with the program and Patrick Bade left the program years ago for football. That’s three of the four recruited players that should be seniors this year. Hart would be a needed shooter and Barlow’s defensive intensity are both sorely missed.
I do think there is some promise, however. Bryson Scott, coming in next year, reminds me a lot of Chris Kramer with his attitude and I got a chance to speak with him last week. Basil Smotherman is another promising player that reminds me of Barlow. Kendall Stephens is the son of Former Purdue great Everette Stephens and is supposed to be a lights out shooter. I think they will mesh well with the current freshmen and you could see a pretty quick turnaround.
I would love to see Purdue finally break the way too long Final Four drought that should have happened long before now. I still think Purdue wins a national Title if Hummel never gets hurt, and don’t ask me about the 2000 West Regional Final.
B5Q: Though he's come off the bench lately, Hammons has been the standout of the young bunch, and should be able to anchor Purdue at center for several years. He leads the Big Ten in blocked shots (56), averaging 2.5 per-game in conference. Tell us where he's at in his offensive development, but also describe what kind of a shot blocker Hammons is (jump shots, contests at the rim ... destroys everything?)
H&R: Hammons is good ... when he is dialed in. his biggest problem is that his give-a-shit is not always turned on. He has all the physical tools he needs to dominate this league, but you can tell that laziness is a factor at times. Hopefully another summer under Coach Painter will change that.
B5Q: The Boilers have proven to be terribly inefficient on offense because they cannot seem to shoot straight. Their effective field goal percentage is 45.4, which is in the bottom 20% nationally. If you look at Big Ten play only, the numbers get much worse: Purdue's 0.958 points-per-possession on offense and 1.047 allowed on defense both rank ninth in the league. Go ahead and vent. Who/where are the shooters???
H&R: We have shooters?
Seriously, Byrd is a feast or famine guy. Against Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge he lit it up the Tigers for 20 points and hit six first-half threes. The next game against Xavier he was 0-for-9, all from three, and didn’t score a point. Aside from him, no one can consistently knock down jumpers, thus Purdue’s problem. Terone Johnson has been okay of late, but he is still streaky. Travis Carroll might be the best shooter, but doesn’t shoot much. He could develop into more of a weapon next year in that regard.
B5Q: How much of the struggles this season can be attributed to breaking in a new point guard? Is Ronnie Johnson just not the answer there or are Boiler fans giving him time to grow? Has he benefited from having his brother Terone (the team's leading scorer at 12.7 ppg) as his backcourt mate, chemistry-wise?
H&R: Johnson has shown a ton of promise, but still plays like a freshman at times. He is prone to turnovers and poor shot selection, but he is still good off the dribble and can score in bunches. If his jump shot ever develops he will be a very good point guard in this league. He is starting to get it. I don’t know how much of that comes from playing with Terone, but Ronnie might be the better player than his brother.
Ronnie played his entire high school career about 2 miles from where Kevin Ferrell played and they were constantly compared to each other. Ferrell is the better shooter, but Ronnie is good enough to challenge him in a lot of areas.
B5Q: Has Purdue's free throw shooting cost them any games this year? I forgot to mention Purdue is terrible (63%) at that too. As a Badger fan, I can really empathize this year (Wisconsin shoots 62.4%).
H&R: It has cost us at least a few wins, but there are so many losses now that I have lost count. I know against Villanova, Bucknell, and Xavier it was an issue. Even against Iowa this week it was an issue because we cannot knock down the big free throws needed to sustain a run.
B5Q: We've touched on what Purdue struggles with, so take a moment to highlight what the Boilers do well. On paper, offensive rebounding looks like a strength.
H&R: I do like that. Donnie Hale, who redshirted last year, has been very effective on the offensive glass and at getting garbage buckets. The same is true with Hammons. Unfortunately, we often give up a lot of key offensive rebounds as well.
Ronnie Johnson has also grown the most over the course of the season. He is a reason for hope in an otherwise dismal season.
B5Q: It's going to be Senior Day in Madison on Sunday, so I expect a good effort from Wisconsin. What's the key matchup from a Boilermaker perspective that could potentially scare the steamed carrots out of the Badgers?
H&R: Will Purdue play with any fight? Really, that is the biggest key. If Purdue comes out and plays with heart I know it can compete. It hasn’t played with a lot of heart since the first Death By Indiana at the end of January. If Purdue comes out lackadaisical with no fight on defense and refuses to guard the perimeter it could get very ugly.
Our thanks go out to Travis for joining us for this Q&A. If you're looking for him on Twitter, head to @HammerAndRails of course.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Jared Berggren, Sr.||C||Sandi Marcius, Jr.|
|Mike Bruesewitz, Sr.||F||D.J. Byrd, Sr.|
|Sam Dekker, Fr.||F / G||Terone Johnson, Jr.|
|Ben Brust, Jr.||G||Raphael Davis, Fr.|
|Traevon Jackson, So.||G||Ronnie Johnson, Fr.|
KenPom win probability: 93% (65-50 W) 61 possessions
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