Be mad at Robbie Hummel’s knees, or Satan who created the ACL. Mr. Hummel is mad at them, along with every living and probably a few dead Purdue fans, and the rest of the college basketball world. We were all robbed of what would have been a few fantastic basketball teams made up of, by all accounts, some really good guys. Don’t feel sorry for Robbie Hummel though. If someone has to suffer two torn ACLs, he might as well have good timing. Semi-miraculously, despite his horrible luck, he’ll still see the court for 3.5 years, and if the non-conference season is any indication, he is still a heck of a player.

Even with Hummel, Purdue isn’t quite a lock to be a top-tier Big Ten team like they were the past few years. The Baby Boilers grew up to be world beaters, and this team could too.

How they’ve done so far:

A list of Purdue’s wins and losses might tell us less than the scores of some of those games. They have two losses to ranked teams (Xavier and Alabama) and a discouraging loss to a mediocre at best Butler team. Then come the strange and concerning wins. They beat High Point by two, and Iona by one while giving up 90 points. High Point is terrible. Iona isn’t terrible (in fact they are pretty good), but 90 points allowed was the most by Purdue since 2006. They also have a disconcerting five point win over Western Carolina. They do have some good wins, most notably over Temple and Miami.

Who to watch:

Purdue’s success this season hinges on the ability of Kelsey Barlow to start making baskets. Robbie Hummel can still do a little bit of everything. Lewis Jackson is still lightening quick. Ryne Smith still misspells his own name and is afraid to shoot inside the three-point line. They are known quantities and give Purdue options on offense. If Barlow could become a fourth reliable scoring option, Purdue would jump right back to the upper tier of the Big Ten, but boy has he struggled this season. He is shooting 38.5% from the floor compared to 47% this season. A big part of that is his 22 attempted three-pointers this season compared to 18 total in his first two seasons. I’ll never fault a player for trying to expand their game, but I will fault a player for playing like their game is more expansive than reality would indicate. The Boilermakers will be better in the long run if Barlow plays to his current strengths.

What to watch:

For as long as I can remember, Purdue had a scoring threat under the basket and a stellar defense. This year, that isn’t quite the case. The defense is still good, currently 20th in the country, and that this doesn’t qualify as stellar is a testament to how good Purdue has been defensively. Since 2007 they have ranked #13, #16, #5, #3, and #12. The win over Iona showed there were definite chinks in the armor as did allowing Xavier to score 44 second half points to overcome a 19 point deficit to eventually win by three. Purdue’s field goal defense just isn’t what we are used to, especially their three-point defense that ranks 214th in the country.

Purdue was bound to suffer some from losing Jajuan Johnson, and everyone knew going into the season that there wasn’t much of a serviceable solution in the paint. Purdue’s solution has been to all but ignore their big men. Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius each account for about 10% of shots taken when they are on the floor. Jajuan Johnson took 30% of the shots when he was on the floor. Playing three of four on five on offense is not sustainable.

How they’ll do:

I’ve often praised Matt Painter and Purdue for playing gimmick free basketball. They don’t run strange zones or obscure offensive sets. This year they need a gimmick, or they’ll barely sneak into the NCAA tournament. West Lafayette is as tough a place as any to win, which will account for plenty of wins. If Purdue doesn’t improve, they won’t win many on the road. As of today, I’d pencil them in as a 10 seed.