It's finally here. Tomorrow morning (11 a.m. CT thanks to ESPN2) Northwestern takes on Purdue to start the Big Ten season. Since the Wildcats played no one besides St. John's (and lost), in the non-conference part of the schedule, Bill Carmody's squad is going to have to make a lot of headway during play in the nation's deepest conference to get into the NCAA Tournament. Still, it all starts with a single step. That's why we have brought in Purdue Pete, formerly of the Purdue Basketball Blog and now a commenter on Hammer & Rails to talk about the Boilermakers.
CCB - I'm surprised by Purdue's hot start, are you? What's been the most surprising thing thus far?
PP - To be honest, I am a little surprised. We had (and still have) a lot of you and unproven talent behind JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. Ryne Smith, D.J. Byrd, and John Hart had relatively minor roles last season. After struggling last season, it was imperative that they step up and help make up for the loss of Chris Kramer, Keaton Grant, and Robbie Hummel.
What's surprising to me is that all three of them have responded to the pressure by improving their production in nearly every statistical category. The team as a whole has been able to fill the gap left by Kramer, Grant and Hummel. I expected to see more of a drop on both sides of the court.
CCB - Purdue's defense is stifling even with the departure of Chris Kramer, how has Matt Painter kept this team hounding people?
PP - The players know their playing time is largely dependent on their ability to defend, so it's on the forefront of the entire team's mind. However, I am still surprised that the team has maintained their aggressiveness with the departure of Kramer and Grant. I feared Purdue's "D" was going to look softer this season. Thankfully, guys like Ryne Smith, D.J. Byd and Kelsey Barlow have improved a lot with the added experience.
CCB - JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore use 54.3 percent of this team's possessions when they're on the court together. Is there a third scorer?
PP - The issue of the third scorer is a little overblown by the media (in my opinion), and I have a feeling it will be the theme of the team.
The fact is, Johnson and Moore have a supporting cast that are instructed to get them the ball in scoring position FIRST, and look to score SECOND.
John Hart (who is out until the middle of January), Ryne Smith, Terone Johnson, and D.J. Byrd have all demonstrated that they are formidable offensive threats, However, I can't speculate if any of them will be the undisputed third scorer. They all have had hot nights, but never with any consistency. The team will likely score the second 50 percent of the points by committee.
CCB - Who will have a better career at Purdue, Kelsey Barlow or D.J. Byrd? Why?
PP - What a great question. D.J. Byrd and Kelsey Barlow are very different players. D.J. Byrd is physically gifted, but isn't anywhere nearly as athletic as Barlow. However, his motor and nose for the ball make him a great glue guy. He has a quality that Kramer and Hummel have - that they do a lot of the dirty work that isn't captured in the box score. He is becoming that great glue guy.
Barlow's length and athletic ability make him a perfect perimeter "D" specimen, but his talent and potential are only visible in flashes. His knack for making bonehead mistakes has earned him the nickname GDB; however he has also made some of the team's best highlight reel plays. Regardless, he still causes fits for opposing defenses.
But if I were to pick who will have a better career, I have to give D.J. Byrd the nod. Byrd plays the blue collar style basketball that thrives in Purdue's system. His drive and energy, along with his great shooting will undoubtedly help him have very successful career at Purdue.
CCB - Johnson's gotten in foul trouble against Northwestern before, who will pick up the slack if he does?
We are hoping that doesn't happen. We have a small arsenal of young big men that are capable of playing limited minutes, but definitely not ready to contribute heavily against Big Ten teams.
Sophomore PF/C Patrick Bade started the season as a starter but has seen his minutes diminish to mop-up time. Painter has been giving the nod to freshmen Sandi Marcius (red shirt) and Travis Carroll with a consistent (but minor) role this season. They might each play five minutes or less and they are expected to rebound and play defense. Marcius has a lot of size and mobility, but he is very fundamentally raw. Carroll, on the other hand, has more range and is a much better passer, but he's still a freshmen and lacks the strength to take on Big Ten sized centers. Painter distributes their minutes based on the situation.
Thankfully, Johnson has done a great job of staying out of foul trouble thus far. He averages only 1.38 fouls a game and is still second in the Big Ten in blocked shots... and I am knocking on wood...
Thank you to Purdue Pete for answering these questions. The insight into this new-look, yet still achieving similar results, Purdue team was very helpful. We'll see how it all plays out in West Lafayette on Friday morning.