Purdue staggered to its second straight losing season under Matt Painter in 2013-14, and it's an unfamiliar sensation in West Lafayette, Ind.
After all, the last time the Boilermakers finished under .500 in successive seasons was the '04-'05 and '05-'06 campaigns, Gene Keady's final year as Purdue coach and Painter's first. Those were the first back-to-back losing seasons at Purdue since the early 1950s.
While Purdue's recruiting classes have been well-regarded—Rivals ranked the 2012 class 20th in the nation and last season's 24th—results have not justified the optimism. The centerpieces of 2012's crop, center A.J. Hammons and point guard Ronnie Johnson, have both offered only flashes of potential.
Now, Hammons is pondering a jump to the NBA and Johnson is transferring. Johnson blamed a poor fit in Painter's system and "a lot of subbing" when he explained his decision to Kyle Neddenriep of the Indianapolis Star. Considering Johnson started 59 games and played 30 minutes a night, the explanation seems shaky at best.
Painter has seen five other players transfer out that would have been part of his last two teams. Between the underachieving and the attrition, Purdue could be left with only four experienced scholarship players next season.
After the season-ending loss to Northwestern, which dropped the Boilers into last place in the Big Ten, Painter took full responsibility for the current state of the program. As reported by the Big Ten Network, Painter said:
We have to recruit a more unselfish player, we have to recruit a tougher player. We have some of those guys in our program, some guys who don't. And that's my fault. This isn't a school district, I recruited these guys.
Painter also once recruited a class containing Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, who formed the nucleus of five straight NCAA tournament teams. If the 2014 class—ranked 28th by Rivals—can't help turn results around, Painter's ties to his alma mater could become tenuous at best.