Thursday, November 12, 2015

Boilermaker Baksetball: The Blitz Preview

Just when you thought you couldn't take another Purdue football mention, we get Morgan Burke on BTN affirming Darrell Hazell's return in 2016 - but thankfully, graciously, the good lord above has given us this amazing gift of basketball to take all our minds off of the dumpster fire that is this football program.

It's time.

And without further adieu, we bring you the official Boilermaker Blitz 2015-2016 basketball preview.

What Returns:

  • Reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Raphael Davis
    • Unquestioned team leader and elite wing defender. Has a lot of scoring potential especially if he can carry over and improve on his late season 3-point shooting from 2014-2015
  • The best center tandem in college basketball
    • Let's be honest here - we all want AJ Hammons to be "in it to win it", but Isaac Haas is more than capable and willing to be the go-to center for this team. It's an incredible luxury to have two NBA caliber centers on one college roster
  • Shooting
    • Returning are Kendall Stephens and Dakota Mathias, both of which probably did not live up to their own lofty expectations last year in regards to shooting percentage. Eventually, you are what the numbers say you are, but in my opinion, Purdue has two elite shooters returning that just didn't hit as many shots as they're capable of last year. This water should find it's level this year which spells a huge boost to the Boiler offense. 
  • Vince Edwards
    • This guy quietly became one of the best players in the Big Ten last year, and is primed to truly break out on the national stage in his new wing role. He could already do most everything - dribble/pass/shoot/rebound/defend/think - but now he has improved his two most glaring deficiencies: athleticism and shot release. All I have to say is: watch out. 
What is Gained: 
  • A pro's pro
    • Not many other ways to describe freshman Caleb Swanigan other than just being a pro. His work ethic, as Matt Painter said earlier this week, is higher than that of any player he's had in this program which is an incredible statement when you consider guys like Carl Landry, Jajuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel, E'twaun Moore, and Chris Kramer. Swanigan will have his share of growing pains along the way, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that 5 star players really do mean something to a program looking to make that next jump. He just gets it, and seems determined to go to any and all lengths to take Purdue to heights not seen in over 30 years. 
  • J.O. 2.0? 
    • I don't know if I'm ready to go that far yet, but it looks like Coach Painter was so enamored with John Octeus that he went and found a damn near match of him for this year's team. Johnny Hill is long, athletic, able to score the basketball, and very very experienced. It will be interesting to see if he immediately takes the reigns as the #1 PG or if this turns in to a back and forth battle in non-conference. Painter lamented not recognizing Octeus's potential for last year's team sooner - hopefully Hill can bring that same type of impact to this year's squad. 
  • Another elite shooter
    • The jury is still out on how Matt Painter is going to sort out minutes between Davis, Stephens, Mathias, and now Ryan Cline at the shooting guard position, but in Cline he has another guy that can change the course of a game with his shooting. I'm excited to hear that Cline isn't redshirting because that, to me, is a sign that Painter thinks this team can be special and it's "all hands on deck". 
What is Lost: 
  • John Octeus
    • This guy only meant more to the Boilers as last season went on, and one could argue that had he been a bit more aggressive on offense he could have had an even bigger impact on some games. It's no secret that losing 2 point guards to transfer and 1 to decommitment has put a strain on Coach Painter about the point guard spot both now and in the near future. Octeus was the absolute perfect fit and the perfect usage of the 5th year transfer rule. 
  • Basil Smotherman
    • A role player with great energy, Smotherman seems to have all the potential in the world as a small forward if he can get his jump shot to be more consistent. It was seemingly his decision to redshirt this year which I think can benefit not only him but the Purdue program long term, but there's no denying the value in having a guy like Bas coming off the bench with athleticism and energy as he did on occasion last year. 
What Questions Remain: 
  • Rotations
    • How is Matt Painter going to manage minutes? How will he combat zone defenses that I am sure Purdue will see over and over again in response to their towering front line. How will he make it work with legitimately 7-8 guys that are starter caliber players right now? 
    • Will Coach Painter run two distinct units, in a fashion similar to how NBA teams operate, or will he rotate guys in 1 by 1 to work through lineups as games go on? 
  • Point Guard Play
    • I'm not sold on having to decide on just one guy to be the #1 option at point guard. I think with the makeup of this team there are a lot of options here. Remember when Keaton Grant played "point guard" for the Boilers before Lewis Jackson's arrival? I see no reason why, for certain periods of time, Dakota Mathias or Ryan Cline couldn't serve the same type role. Purdue doesn't need their point guard to score 15 a game - just get the ball up the floor, hit open jump shots, and facilitate the offense. 
  • AJ Hammons
    • Unfortunately this is still a thing. Nobody knows what's really going on with AJ this time, but the general consensus is that it's nothing serious. However, as I alluded to above, Isaac Hass is a more than capable center and a true NBA talent. If AJ doesn't get it together soon it's absolutely possible for him to again lost his starting nod just like he did last year. 
  • New Rules
    • The new rules on the outside seem to be stacked against the Boilermakers. No 5 second rule, arm bars allowed in the post, shorter shot clock forcing faster offensive sets, more "freedom of movement", and a wider charge zone. I thought Purdue adapted relatively well to the new rules last year, but has to take massive strides in the free throw shooting department this year to not just deal with the new rules, but use them to their advantage. Haas, Hammons, and Swanigan should average at least 15 free throws a game between them - at least. Hitting those at an above 65-70% clip will mean the difference in more than one game this year. 

The Prediction

At the risk of sounding overtly drunk on the kool aid, I will just say this - Purdue basketball 2015-2016 has the talent on paper to be the team that gets Purdue back to the final four. That does not mean it will happen. That does not mean that's what I'm predicting. I'm merely saying that from a personnel and talent perspective, it's all there. They say you need, on average, 3 NBA players to get to a final four and here's ours: AJ Hammons, Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards, Kendall Stephens. 

This team has quality depth not normally seen from programs not named Duke, Kentucky, or Michigan State and that is something that will prove invaluable as the Big Ten looks to again be an absolute meat grinder this year. 

The non-conference slate may not look all that imposing, but now that the completely meaningless preseason rankings are out, there are definitely some quality opponents coming up sooner rather than later. Officially, I will say that the Boilers lose 2 games before Big Ten play. 

The Big Ten this year is brutal, absolutely brutal. That said, in my opinion there is a clear cut top tier of 4 teams, 6-8 somewhere in the middle, and a few bottom feeders. That top tier is Maryland, Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan State (in no particular order). As for the middle, when the dust clears I really think you could see 8-9 Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament - it's that good this year. Officially, I will say that Purdue drops 3 games in league play. 

So that brings us to an overall record of 26-5 heading into the Big Ten Tournament, 11-2 in non-conference and 15-3 in league play which would put Purdue in the mix for a 3-5 seed in the NCAA tournament. After that, it's kind of a crap shoot depending on seedings, brackets, upsets, and matches so I won't make a prediction on how far the Boilers will go in March. 

But I will say this - I would spend an absurd amount of money to get to hang out in Houston wearing Old Gold and Black April 2-4 next spring. 

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Not Just Another Record

What a game that was.
I don't own this photo. 

The Saints had been running the ball with authority, mostly through former Heisman winner Mark Ingram, and I was worried Drew Brees wouldn't get his opportunity to make something happen. 

Then, in a moment reminiscent of the Colts-Jaguars game from earlier in the afternoon, a potential winning Saints kick clanked off the left upright. 

Overtime, and a chance to win the game while passing the 400 touchdown mark at the same time, had arrived. 

Naturally Drew, being the great player that he is, rose to the occasion. 

CJ Spiller was streaking down the sideline. Brees threw it up, his his target, and the Clemson product did the rest. 

He was already top five all time in touchdown passes before Sunday night. I'd say that's some pretty elite company to be in...and reaching 400 just cements Drew's legacy.

This is a special moment for football in general, but it's pretty awesome as a Purdue fan to say one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play is our own. 

We're pretty used to some fantastic quarterback play. The Boilermaker Cradle of QBs also includes Super Bowl MVPs Len Dawson and Bob Griese. The latter led the Dolphins to the only unbeaten season in modern pro football history. 

Brees now has the same postseason accolades as those other two, and even more recognition to go along with it. 

He's sure to be enshrined in Canton someday. 

And at his alma mater, Drew Brees is already a legend. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Season We've Dreamed Of

I've decided to forego the last two downs in favor of some basketball talk.

Don't worry. I'll try to see if Conner is up for a podcast on Friday, so we probably aren't done with MSU previews.

Let's get started with some real excitement.

Everyone knows about Matt Painter's Twitter ban. It's been a staple of his program since he's been in charge of the Boilermakers. And as players signed off before practice begins on Friday, they had a message for the fans:

That last line from Davis is an incredibly loud one. He's feeling the buzz that pretty much everyone else is. This may be the season we've waited a long time for.

There's leadership...I'm looking at Davis and Hammons, possibly Johnny Hill as well...talent, and depth that puts this group at pretty much 10 deep.

The players have said it time and again during workouts...they feel like nobody's roster spot is safe. If you don't come to practice and play hard every single night, you're going to lose your spot.

I can only imagine one starting five making sense, at least for the season's beginning. That would be transfer Johnny Hill starting at point, Davis locking down other guards at the two, Edwards being his versatile self at small forward, Caleb "Biggie" Swanigan at the four, and of course AJ Hammons at the five.

It's almost hard to believe how far Hammons has come. He was too slow as a freshman...he was the guy whose lack of effort made fans squirm. Then there's Raphael Davis, who has always had a reputation for working extremely hard.

He was always in the gym working to improve his game, even bringing other guys with him to grind. A guy like that deserves to play for a winner, and Matt Painter finally has that back.

The Purdue culture has returned...this is a team that expects to go as far as they want to. It's time to play hard.

To the players...we'll see you in April.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Purdue at Michigan State: Double Down!

For tonight's Double Down 1st/2nd combination, I'm going to put a bow on the Bowling Green loss and look ahead to the Big Ten conference season that begins with a daunting trip to East Lansing this Saturday. Here goes nothing...

1st Down: Confusion more than anger.

That's about how I describe my feelings after the Bowling Green game. Almost identical to how I felt after the Marshall game. On one hand, I absolutely loved what I saw out of David Blough. People can say all they want that Austin Appleby was equally as impressive in his first start last year and that's just not true.

In that game Purdue ran for 349 yards; 349!!! You think with a running game like that it opens up some throwing lanes?

Contrast that to Saturday, where the Boilermakers mustered a measly 77 yards on 38 attempts.

What am I trying to say? In Appleby's first start he brought energy no doubt, and the biggest plus for him is that Purdue actually won. But in David Blough's first start he was most of the offense. Yes they were short and intermediate throws but here's the key: he actually completed them! 74% of them to be exact. He was solid and steady, took what the defense gave him, and just flat spun the rock better than we've seen around here since Joey Elliot.

I have no idea if Darrell Hazell has found his QB for the next 4 years (assuming he starts winning football games and is around that long), but for this week at least it sure looked like it.

So why the confusion on my part? As much as I really want to get excited about what I saw from Blough and the Purdue passing game, I honestly just felt gross after watching that game. Putridly un-fundamental football between personal foul penalties falling from the sky like rain, rushing nobody and expecting the nation's leading passer to not pick us apart, 2 missed field goals inside 35 yards, and an offensive line that even when they don't get a penalty for being misaligned they turn around and hold like that's their actual job.

I'm tired of losing to MAC teams. Yes Blough was a blast to watch, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching most of the Marshall game too. At some point as a coaching staff you have to produce in the win/loss column, and so far this year they get an emphatic "F" in that department.

2nd Down: Revised Expectations

So where do we go from here? Purdue's Big Ten slate is daunting at best and we have not shown we can beat anyone in division 1 to this point; paints a rosy picture huh?

Here's a list of a few things that if I see over the next 8 games will lead me to believe this program is still headed in the right direction, even if wins aren't a part of it:

1. Keep Blough upright and confident. People forget that Danny Etling threw for 485 yards against a similarly awful defense to Bowling Green in the 2013 Bucket Game. What happened? Purdue just kept letting him get rocked and eventually he just got gun shy and lost all his confidence. John Shoop has to continue using creative roll outs and extensive shotgun snaps to keep David Blough from taking unnecessary hits this year.

2. Stop with the middle school penalties already. I'm sick and tired of watching a Big Ten team that is supposedly so much more disciplined than Danny Hope's teams continually shoot themselves in the foot with bone headed penalties. Cutting down on the defensive and offensive holding, as well as the drive killing personal fouls calls will go a long way towards showing me this team "gets it".

3. Discover some more playmakers on Defense. I think Antione Miles has been very good so far this year, and perhaps he's one of the people I'm talking about here, but the Boilermakers need to come away from this season with a few more guys they can trust on defense, specifically rushing the passer and at the safety position.

4. Make a field goal. I'm not going to pile onto Paul Griggs; he's a good kicker that has showed up until now that he can make field goals at this level. But my goodness, those two he missed last Saturday were just painful to watch. I need to see him regain some of his confidence and begin making those "gimmes" again with regularity by the end of this year.

So there you have it, four things I'll be watching as this conference season unfolds and not one of them is wins. Call me crazy, but if we start to see these areas improve I think that will go a long way towards getting Darell Hazell one more year.

It all starts this Saturday at #2 Michigan State --- I'm not delusional enough to think this is where we're going to get off the schnide and start winning games, but we have played Sparty well the past few years so maybe we can keep it respectable. If not, at least basketball practice starts Friday right??

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Purdue vs. Bowling Green: 4th Down

4th Down: Slowing Down BGSU

Ja'Whaun Bentley said something after the Virginia Tech game that I'm completely sick of hearing.

"That wasn't our defense on the field today."


You just gave up 52 points. If anything, that kind of performance says two things to me:

Purdue needs more from its defensive leader. I don't
own this photo. 
1) That WAS your defense and you were exposed.

2) Talking and execution are two different things.

I've seen people point out in the last week how there clearly seemed to be a talent game between the Boilers and Hokies on both sides of the ball. That did seem clear.

If you're talking specifically about Bentley, we simply need to see more from the guy. Saturday didn't go well for him. Is that the Freshman All-American we knew last season?

Bowling Green's offense is, in fact, scary. Maryland is definitely better than us and gave up 48 points to the Eagles.

BGSU then played Memphis at home at scored 41 in a loss.

I think Purdue's defense is going to struggle a bit on Saturday. I like their chances to win more than a lot of people, just because I think Blough is an upgrade over Austin Appleby and will produce against a very suspect defense.

Look for my prediction tomorrow for more.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Purdue vs Bowling Green: 3rd Down

Which side of the ball needs to be better for Purdue to end Saturday with a win? You can make a case for both obviously, but I am going to go against the common theme for this week and say the defense.

With so much scrutiny on the Boilermaker offense of late, and specifically the quarterback position, it would certainly seem to be in Purdue's best interest not to try and simply outscore the Falcons.

On the season, Bowling Green is averaging 39.7 points and over 455 yards of total offense per game.

Likewise, Purdue is putting up 31.0 points and 419 yards of total offense per contest.

So even if the offense doesn't immediately explode for 40+ points (which I don't expect it to) if the Boilermaker defense can force a couple more punts or a key turnover here and there it would go a long way towards keeping some pressure off of an offense breaking in another new signal caller.

Which is exactly what needs to happen for David Blough to not fall into the same trap as his predecessors. In 2013 and 2014, Purdue's defense was so bad that Etling and Appleby were forced to try and shoulder entirely too much of the burden of making this team competitive.

Right now is the time for John Shoop to show that he's learned his lesson and not ask Blough to know every single complex play. Run the simple stuff. Let an improved defense and better skill position players do the heavy lifting.

But I digress (this was supposed to be a post about the defense after all). Looking at mainly the Marshall and ISU games, this is an improved defense on several fronts:

     - The linebacking corp has been strong as anticipated
     - The rush ends, Miles and now Robinson, have been better than at least I anticipated
     - The front 7 as a whole has been vastly different -- making over half as many tackles for loss
     through 3 games this year as they did all of 2014 (32 in 3 games compared to 61 in 12)

What really needs to improve is the corner back play -- Anthony Brown has made some really nice impact plays, but still gets lost in coverage far too often.

As for Frankie Williams, I'm not sure what exactly has happened but he's been beaten repeatedly so far this year. He needs to figure out how to get back to all-conference form for that duo to slow down not just Bowling Green but the Big Ten teams remaining on Purdue's schedule.

All in all, both sides of the ball are important. The offense (QB) torpedoed the Marshall game, and both side were brutally awful against Virginia Tech. I just think that with a redshirt freshman quarterback going against a team that puts up points like crazy, a few extra defensive stops can go a long way in making the offense feel like they don't have to put up 50 to win.

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Purdue vs. Bowling Green: 2nd Down

A new era (again)

And there you have it folks, word came down today that redshirt freshman David Blough will get his first career start this upcoming Saturday against Bowling Green.

Let me make this very clear: I have no idea if Blough is or will be an upgrade from Austin Appleby. But he can't be a whole lot worse right? RIGHT?

There are a couple things that have already been discussed here, but are worth bringing back up now that this situation is upon us:

  1. Blough is a more gifted runner and overall athlete - so the theory here is that all those inexplicable zone read keepers Appleby ran the first three games might actually have a chance now
  2. Blough is still at this point probably better throwing from outside the pocket than in, which is probably going to come in handy as our offensive line hasn't been quite as good as advertised to-date 
The question now is, will those things parlay into success on the field on Saturdays? 

I would expect to see at very least some type of shot in the arm similar to what happened last year at Illinois in Austin Appleby's first start. Whether that will be enough to salvage a .500 record in non-conference I'm not sure at this point, but I do expect a little bit different energy and tone from the offense on Saturday. 

As excited as I am to see what this kid really has, I am tempering myself a bit in that deep down I fear the problem hasn't been with the player behind center, but rather the guy orchestrating the offense. We will find out sooner rather than later I would think. 

How long can you cycle through what are perceived to be talented guys until you're status is re-examined? This topic could be a post all unto itself, but I'll wrap the thought up with this: there are a lot of college programs that have offensive success with guys much much less physically talented than Danny Etling, Austin Appleby, and David Blough --- that's just a fact. 

It's time for Purdue to start putting their quarterbacks in positions to succeed, and I truly hope that it starts this weekend. 

You have a veteran line, an upgraded receiving corp, and two very talented running backs. Keep it simple, get Blough moving around outside the pocket where he's comfortable, and just let him play. Even a mistake here and there can be acceptable if it's outweighed by positives. 

Again, I fear that just isn't how John Shoop rolls, but if he doesn't get it figured out soon he's going to be looking for another new gig. 

This Saturday I am eager to watch a talented young quarterback get his crack at big time college football. Last Saturday aside, this team truthfully did look light years better in the first two games than all of last year. Hopefully now the quarterback play will follow suit and make that jump as well; Darell Hazell sure needs it. 

Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.