This preview and more on Purdue and the Big Ten are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Purdue Facts & Figures
Last season: 16-18 (8-10 Big Ten)
Postseason: CBI quarterfinals
Coach: Matt Painter (176-95 at Purdue)
Big Ten projection: Seventh
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Purdue went a respectable 8–10 in a rugged Big Ten last season, but some horrible performances during non-conference play led to a 16–18 overall record. The Boilermakers missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. “When we were bad, we were really bad,” coach Matt Painter said.
The Boilermakers will again be a young team — they don’t have a scholarship junior on the roster, for instance — but look to be back among the better teams in the Big Ten. Center A.J. Hammons has the talent to be one of the conference’s best players, and the Johnson brothers — Terone and Ronnie — could be an explosive backcourt. Just as important: Painter believes ingredients have arrived to bolster Purdue’s defensive play and outside shooting, two areas the Boilermakers struggled in last season.
“Our talent is better,” Painter says. “Our depth is better.”
In an era in which true post players are hard to find, the 7-0, 256-pound Hammons will provide Purdue with quite a weapon. He’s got soft hands, a deft touch and tremendous strength underneath the basket both offensively and defensively. Now, he needs to develop some maturity after an inconsistent freshman season during which Painter often sent him to the bench because of a perceived lack of effort.
"The sky is the limit for him,” Painter says. “We need to get his production to meet his talent. When it does, we're going to be a pretty good basketball team."
Painter also has high hopes for redshirt freshman Jay Simpson, who missed most of last season with a lingering foot injury. Simpson also has battled asthma issues during his career.
Incoming freshman Basil Smotherman also will challenge for playing time. Senior Travis Carroll provides an experienced backup behind Hammons, and Donnie Hale will be counted on to help out with the rebounding off the bench. Errick Peck transferred to Purdue from Cornell for his final season of eligibility. He averaged 9.7 points for the Big Red last season.
Painter had few options to run the point last year other than freshman Ronnie Johnson. All that responsibility was sometimes overwhelming, but Painter believes it will pay off this season.
“As I said last year, the best thing that could happen to us would be for Ronnie Johnson to play 30 minutes a game,” Painter says, “and the worst thing that could happen to us would be for Ronnie Johnson to play 30 minutes a game.”
Johnson gets from one end of the court to the other with the ball as fast as any player in the country. He averaged 10.3 points and 4.1 assists in his first season but shot only 38.5 percent from the field and made a total of six 3-pointers.
“We’re going to have more depth (this season), more experience, more competition,” Painter says. “He’s not just going to get the basketball and that’s that. But if he makes strides, and he plays up to his ability, he can be one of the best point guards in the league.”
Older brother Terone Johnson led the Boilermakers in scoring last season with a 13.5-point average, including a 32-point performance against eventual national runner-up Michigan. But Painter thought Johnson sometimes let his emotions get the better of him.
“We have to get him to be a good leader for this team,” Painter says. “We not only need him to play like it, but he also has to act like it. He has to always be out there and lead by example.”
There are some intriguing backcourt possibilities beyond the two Johnsons, too. Incoming freshman Bryson Scott can play both on and off the ball and has an edge the Boilermakers sorely missed last season.
Fellow freshman Kendall Stephens is expected to shore up Purdue’s poor outside shooting. So is senior Sterling Carter, who transfers in for his final season from the University of Seattle. Don’t count out Rapheal Davis, who started 17 games as a freshman and was impressive on the defensive end.
The Boilermakers have five new faces, including three freshmen and two seniors who already graduated from their former schools. Some Purdue fans took it personally when Bryson Scott finished fourth in Indiana’s Mr. Basketball voting after a stellar career at Fort Wayne Northrop High School. He’s considered one of the best incoming combo guards in the nation and should contribute immediately. Kendall Stephens, the son of former Boilermaker standout Everette Stephens, will be counted on to stretch the defense. Basil Smotherman has shown he can play a variety of roles up front. Painter expects Errick Peck and Sterling Carter to add some needed maturity and toughness.
Factoid: 291. Purdue ranked 291st in the nation in free throw percentage, hitting only 65.3 percent. That is the lowest percentage by a Matt Painter-coached Purdue team.
The Boilermakers should return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence. Anything less would be a major disappointment. If the Johnson brothers and Hammons are as good as Painter expects, and the small but talented freshman class develops quickly, Purdue could be a surprise contender in the Big Ten.