Saturday, April 11, 2009

A look back while turning forward

Reflecting on this very successful Purdue Basketball season, I wonder about the true potential for this current team. When was the last time a Purdue Basketball team had this much talent on it? Was it the Glenn Robinson/Counzo Martin team? Was it the teams who won 4 straight Big Ten titles? It's hard to tell, but easy to speculate.

This season had a few ups and downs. One thing that the Purdue faithful learned was how truly valuable Robbie Hummell is to this team. Even with JuJuan Johnson's emergence as a budding star in the Big Ten, the team lacked a unifying presence on the court without Hummell. He might not always put up the scoring numbers, but it is more about how he contributes to all the statistical categories other than points. His contribution to a game that is not tracked with a statistical category makes it easy to not appreciate his understanding of the game, that is, until he is not present in the lineup. Without Robbie in the lineup, the Purdue team was still talented and could compete, but it is clear that we lost our competitive difference without Robbie. Many of the games we lost without Robbie were very close games, but we could not close out the game without his clutch performance.

JuJuan Johnson has emerged as a force in the middle. Early in the season I think we caught a few teams by surprise with his improvement and increased initiative on the floor. What is most exciting is that JuJuan can still improve so much more and become absolutely dominate with more time spent refining his game. He has the physical talent to excel that much.

We all know he needs to add another 20 to 30 pounds. If he stays all four years, he might actually get too that. I believe he added 10 or 15 between his freshman and sophomore years.

He is particularly comfortable facing the basket, but he needs to improve his 'back to the basket' tools that he has available. Also, while he has established an inside presence for Purdue, our particular team can tremendously benefit from the "inside/Outside" NBA game plan. I would like to see JuJuan's assists to increase next year from gaining the double team and kicking the extra pass out to an open three.

Next year I feel that this team might be able to play up to its expectations. Being a long-time Boilermaker fan, I am cautiously skeptical. I think for the most part, we will win the games that we are supposed too. I do think that we tend to drop one game during the season that we should have won, but ended up playing flat for that game. To his credit, Matt Painter has done an excellent job of making half-time adjustments this past season to mitigate that risk.

Against highly ranked opponents, we have a tendency to not come through in those situations. That primarily is what will have to change. For instance, all the hype around the Duke/Purdue game this past year leading up to, quite frankly, our worst loss. You could see how Duke was playing on another level that we were not. One can speculate as to what contributed, but simply put, I do not think we were ready to compete with the Duke's, North Carolina's, and UCONN's.

We ended this season with a 27-10 record. I would look for that to improve a couple of games, but until the schedule is released, it will be hard to tell.

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