After a 90-63 win over SIU-Edwardsville in Mackey Arena Tuesday night, the Purdue Boilermakers basketball team is 11-0 heading into Big Ten play. While perhaps the season's biggest non-conference game (a New Year's Day date with undefeated West Virginia) still looms, Matt Painter's team has passed every test so far in the 2009-10 campaign.
Of course, while the record is perfect, the Boilermakers (and each individual player) still have room for improvement. And that's where our midseason grades come in.
Without further ado...
JaJuan Johnson, Junior, A-
Johnson is picking up where he left off after earning All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore. The 6-foot-10 post player has improved his scoring average and field goal percentage from a year ago, while continuing to patrol the paint and spearhead the Boilers' defensive attack. Free throw percentage is adequate at 71.7 percent, but JJ could do more on the glass (Johnson's rebounding average is down slightly at 6.6).
Robbie Hummel, Junior, B+
Whether fair or not, Hummel's grade is lower than it could be simply due to the great expectations that rest on the forward's shoulders (when healthy, that is). Hummel is averaging a "quiet" 14.7 ppg, along with a team-high 6.8 rpg, and still has the ability to take over games by himself (see Sweet 16, Connecticut, 2009).
His three-point stroke has struggled mightily (he averaged 38.1 percent from behind the arc while injured last year and is at 28.6 percent so far this season), but his accuracy from the charity stripe has risen markedly (93.3 percent).
E'Twaun Moore, Junior, A-
The third (and often relatively overlooked) member of Purdue's stellar junior class is merely leading the No. 4 team in the country in scoring at 16.0 ppg. Moore's field goal percentage is up slightly and three-point percentage down slightly (of course, as a team, Purdue's percentage behind the arc is lagging behind last year's pace).
The good news for Boilermakers fans is that Moore shows an amazing propensity for willing the ball into the hole from anywhere on the floor when his team needs a key basket (during the Purdue-Tennessee Paradise Jam final, the Vols had absolutely no answer for the Boilers' star shooting guard).
Chris Kramer, Senior, A
The heart and soul of Purdue's gritty, blue-collar team is doing everything in his power to will the Boilers to their first Final Four since 1980. Kramer seems more focused and intense on the defensive end of the floor than ever (a strong statement for the 2007-08 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year), and so far this season, he simply won't let the Boilermakers lose. Kramer is averaging a ridiculous (for a guard) 56.8 percent from the field, despite his universal reputation for not being an offensive threat.
His team-high 20 steals have changed momentum in more than one game this year, most notably Purdue's comeback win in Tuscaloosa earlier this month.
Lewis Jackson, Sophomore, Incomplete
Jackson will miss most (if not all) of the season with a foot injury after leading the Boilermakers in assists as a true freshman. If LewJack can get healthy, a fresh point guard could come in handy down the stretch for a Purdue team with legitimate national title aspirations, but at some point, Painter will have to make the difficult decision whether it's worth burning a year of Jackson's eligibility for what could only be a handful of games.
Keaton Grant, Senior, C+
After filling the sixth-man role for most of last year's Big Ten Tournament championship squad, Grant was pressed into starting duty once again with the injury to Jackson. His perimeter shooting is crucial for the Boilers, especially with most opposing defenses keying on Johnson or Hummel.
Grant will receive plenty of wide-open looks, but he needs to knock them down more consistently. KG was a disappointing 4-of-28 from long distance going into last night's game against SIU-Edwardsville, but showed signs of life by knocking down three triples in six attempts outside the arc in the win over the Cougars.
Kelsey Barlow, Freshman, B-
While Barlow has a great deal of growing up to do before he reaches the upper echelon of Big Ten point guards, that day could actually come before most Purdue fans expected. The freshman has opened a lot of eyes during the past two months by jumping from "redshirt candidate" to "first guard off the bench". With none of the starters averaging more than 28 minutes, the Boilers are determined to develop bench depth at any cost, and Barlow has stepped in adequately when given the chance (although the young playmaker needs to cut down on the turnovers).
Ryne Smith, Sophomore, B
After a limited role in his freshman season, Smith has seen his playing time skyrocket this year. The Toledo native has always been a dead-eye outside shooter, but had a long way to go on the defensive end to crack Painter's rotation. Give Smith credit for making the strides necessary to see the floor, as he's now a valuable reserve capable of changing games on offense and defense. Smith is knocking down over 37 percent of his three-point attempts and has shown a propensity for taking charges from out-of-control opponents.
Sandi Marcius, Freshman, Incomplete
The Boilers were expecting the 6-foot-9 Marcius to make an immediate impact on the block, but a broken foot has sidelined the Croatia native so far this season. With the grind of conference play coming up, Purdue could use Marcius sooner rather than later; however, only time will tell how much (if at all) the rookie can contribute this season.
Patrick Bade, Freshman, C+
Bade finds himself in a familiar role, backing up JaJuan Johnson in the post just as he did when the two were teammates at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis. Bade is averaging three points and three rebounds a game, but is showing steady signs of improvement (as evidenced by a career-high 10 points and eight rebounds last night against SIUE). The freshman has a surprisingly smooth outside jump shot and will undoubtedly help Purdue space the floor over the next few seasons.
DJ Byrd, Freshman, C+
Byrd is getting great experience playing in a crowded backcourt behind some of the best upperclassmen guards in Purdue's storied history, and he seems to be soaking up every minute of playing time he earns. Byrd has knocked down nine triples in 25 attempts (36 percent) and has some potential on the defensive end of the floor, but his overall field goal percentage (31.8 percent) needs to improve.
Mark Wohlford, Senior, B
Of Purdue's current 10-man rotation, Wohlford is seeing the fewest minutes at 9.6 a game, but the former walk-on has made an undeniable impact with the energy he provides off the bench. Wohlford is nicely filling the role that Bobby "Buckets" Riddell played last year as "undersized crowd favorite who hustles like crazy and hits an enormous shot when literally no one expects it." For the tenth man, that's all Painter can ask. (Of course, the 54.5 percent three-point shooting is a nice bonus.)
Everyone Else, Underclassmen, Incomplete
John Hart, Dru Anthrop, Bubba Day, Stevie Loveless, and Kyle Coleman each get to play less than 5 minutes in blowouts that have been decided long before they see the floor. Hard to come up with much of a grade for that.
Matt Painter, Coach, A
Painter earns an A simply for leading the Boilermakers to one of the best starts in school history. The Purdue coach seems determined to develop depth at any cost (as evidenced by the crunch-time minutes where he's been willing to leave Johnson, Hummel, Moore, and company on the bench in lieu of raw freshmen), and has been fortunate to keep his undefeated record intact in the meantime.
With the injuries to Jackson and Marcius, the experience that Smith, Barlow, Byrd, Bade, and Wohlford have gained could be invaluable in March. The Boilers play defense the way their coach teaches it, and that's been good enough to beat every team on the schedule so far.