The seventh-ranked Purdue Boilermakers know what they have in veterans such as JaJuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel, and E'Twaun Moore. What they need to discover is how much support that talented trio can expect from the younger members of this year's team.
Exhibition games exist primarily for purposes of evaluating unknown talent, and Matt Painter appears to have gotten quite an eyeful in wins over California (Pa.) and Kentucky Wesleyan.
Painter was inserting freshmen Kelsey Barlow, Patrick Bade, and D.J. Byrd into the California game less than five minutes in. Barlow and Bade both managed six points, while Byrd recorded 11 in his first collegiate action. Unfortunately, Byrd's 17 minutes also featured five fouls and five turnovers.
Byrd told the Lafayette Journal and Courier, "I have a lot of work to do defensively. I'm guarding some bigger guys. I'm used to being a lot more physical in practice. It showed with the five fouls."
With fellow freshman Sandi Marcius nursing a broken foot which is likely to keep him out until mid-December, the 6'5" Byrd may be forced into action at the power forward position.
As an additional result of Marcius's absence, Bade should see extensive minutes. Against Wesleyan, he knocked in 12 points.
The 6'5" Barlow impressed his veteran teammates with his effort in both games, and has forced Painter's hand concerning a redshirt decision. His versatility and long frame may make him a useful hand at small forward, a factor that will help him escape the logjam in a crowded backcourt.
Sophomore Ryne Smith may have shoved his way into that back court picture with a 10-point, five-rebound performance against Kentucky Wesleyan, one in which he also surprised with a rugged defensive performance.
Both exhibition games raised troubling concerns. California out rebounded Purdue 43-41, a statistic which can hopefully be rectified in time for conference play.
Marcius's eventual return should help, but Bade still needs to grow up quickly and the injury gods need to be kind to Hummel and Johnson. Contributions from the likes of Byrd and Barlow wouldn't hurt, either.
Against Wesleyan, Purdue missed 11 of their first 12 shots and committed 19 turnovers on the game. Granted, Wesleyan is a program with eight Division II championships to its credit, which testifies to strong coaching and tradition.
Still, struggling in this manner against a Division II team merely because they dare to get physical with their man-to-man defense may not bode well when it's time to face the Alabamas, Wake Forests, and West Virginias on this season's schedule, to say nothing of Purdue's Big Ten foes.
It's well-known that Purdue is entering this season with quality depth. Fans need to hope that these two games against overmatched opposition are true harbingers of just how "quality" that depth really is.
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