The Purdue Boilermakers have been ranked in the top seven of the AP Polls since the season began two months ago, and despite possessing a 14-0 record, including a 2-0 record in Big Ten play, they seem to be the top team no one is talking about. They are ranked #4 in the both the AP Poll and the ESPN/USA Today Poll this week, but it has gone seemingly unnoticed. Kansas has dominated the polls, receiving at least 52 out of the possible 65 votes each week of the season and five other teams have received at least one top vote to this point, but Purdue has yet to garner the attention it deserves. While the polls mean relatively little at this time, the Boilermakers should be up there in the talks of the Kansas-es, Texas-es, and Kentucky-s of the world.
Could it be the lack of "sexiness" in their game? Texas, Kansas and Kentucky all rank near the top of the NCAA's offensive ranks with each team netting at least 83 points per game on 50% or better shooting. Purdue is ranked a measly 47th in points per game (78.3) on just 46% shooting. Only one of the previous ten National Champions have averaged less points per game (2000 Champion Michigan State). This 2009-2010 Purdue team is definitely not known for their offensive prowess or grace on the court, but instead are known for their defensive intensity, toughness and physicality.
There are few teams, if any, that work as hard as Purdue on both ends of the court. Purdue takes pride in its stifling defense, with pressuring man-to-man and getting into the passing lanes. They feature Senior Guard, Chris Kramer, whose statistics won't "wow" you, but he doesn't let any offensive player feel comfortable on the court. He uses his 215-pound, muscular frame to body up opponents, not letting them get anywhere on the court without a fight. Kramer has been named to the Big Ten's All-Defensive Team during all three seasons to date, while taking home the conference's Defensive Player of the Year hardware in 2008. Other perimeter defenders like Keaton Grant and E'Twaun Moore can be aggressive in the half-court, knowing that a 6'10" Junior, JaJuan Johnson is patrolling the paint behind them. He was named to the First-team All-Big Ten selection as well as Big Ten All-Defensive Team last season. He has great length, blocking shots and altering many more which deters opponents from trying to score at the rim. He is currently averaging over one steal and two blocks per game, as well as cleaning the glass for seven rebounds per contest. Purdue's overwhelming defense is holding opponents to 39% shooting from the floor this season. How many other of the nation's teams thrive off of defense the way the Boilermakers do?
Purdue is a team that looks to run and capitalize with transition buckets after blocks, steals and stops on the defensive end. While their athletes aren't the same caliber as some other teams, they are all high basketball IQ players who can make the right plays; this is evidenced by Purdue's 15.1 assists per game and yet, just 11.6 turnovers. This is all without their starting Point Guard, Lewis Jackson, who is likely sitting out the 2009-10 season due to broken foot suffered in the pre-season. E'Twaun Moore, a Shooting Guard by nature, has taken over a majority of the Point Guard duties, but still has a way to go if he wants to lead this team to its full-potential. Freshman, Kesley Barlow has played well in the absence of Jackson, contributing as a strong defender and as a playmaker with the ball.
Offensively, Purdue is more dangerous than opponents may realize. They have three starters who average at least 15 points per game, Moore, Johnson and fellow-Junior classmate, Robbie Hummel. Hummel is a 6'8" Forward who can play inside or out. His arsenal features deep range on his 3-point shot as well as a solid mid-range game- capable of hitting a 15' jumper or taking the ball and scoring at the rim. He was an All-Big Ten selection the past two seasons, while also being awarded the Big Ten Tournament MVP last season. With Moore and Hummel playing mostly on the perimeter, the paint is left for Johnson. He still needs to continue developing his post moves, but he uses his length and quickness to score in the post, mostly with a variety of hook shots and turnarounds. Attempting to slow down any of these three has proven to be a difficult and daunting task, but then there are role players like Kramer and Grant who have both hit double-figure scoring on multiple occasions this season.
Compared to this year's Kansas and Texas teams and past National Champions, Purdue does not seem to have the depth at any position to make a deep run in the NCAAs. These teams have three or four Guards that can get off on a hot streak at any point, as well as three big men that can score in or around the paint and get opponents in foul trouble.
But what the Purdue Boilermakers lack in depth, they make up for in leadership. E'Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson are all members of the Junior class who have been playing together at a high-level for three years. Mix in Seniors Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant, and together, the five have shown great chemistry. They have worked with Freshmen Kesley Barlow, D.J. Byrd, Patrick Byrd and Sophomore Ryne Smith to understand the system of playing hard on both ends of the court.
Since 1990, the Big Ten only has one National Champion, Michigan State in 2000. The ACC has seven National Champs, while the SEC has five, Big East, three and the Pac-10 has had two. The Big Ten Conference, has hoisted the same number of Waterford Crystal trophies that the Big West Conference (UNLV) has won. But this could be the year for the Purdue Boilermakers and the Big Ten to get back on the map. If Purdue can continue to push themselves, this veteran squad could certainly make some noise during the remainder of the season, but also starting in March. They will be challenged by foes like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State throughout Big Ten play, and how the Boilermakers fare in those Big Ten games will affect their seeding in March. As of now, the Purdue Boilermakers are headed with a full head of steam as one of the four favorites to win a #1 seed in March.
Written by Corey Ruff - NBA-Draft.com President - 1--8--10