Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Translation: If the Purdue Boilermakers thought they could win a national championship or even a Big Ten title this way, they were sorely mistaken.
The Boilers got a rude awakening in the last week and a half, dropping from their unbeaten perch with three straight defeats at the hands of conference foes Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Northwestern.
So I guess expecting to win all your games while getting zero frontcourt contribution isn't the best plan after all?
The Boilers' "big" problem—lack of post production—is more glaring than ever, and Coach Matt Painter needs to figure out a way to turn things around in a hurry.
Simply put, Purdue's perimeter players E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel are carrying the team and none of the other Boilermakers are pulling their weight.
Painter went so far as to tell the Indianapolis Star he'd like to start "E'Twaun Moore, E'Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, Robbie Hummel, and Robbie Hummel. No one else deserves to start..."
The most notable culprit in the Boilermakers' losing streak has been the disappearance of junior center JaJuan Johnson. Johnson, an All-Big Ten performer in his sophomore season, absolutely must produce night-in and night-out for Purdue to reach its potential in 2009-10.
Johnson, who averages 13.2 ppg, only made a total of eight field goals in 19 attempts during the losses to the Badgers, Buckeyes, and Wildcats. Against Northwestern, JJ picked up a pair of early fouls and only logged 18 minutes of playing time before fouling out.
For Purdue to get back on the winning track, Johnson has to A. get more touches, B. make more shots (he's converted almost 53 percent of his field goals this year, so Painter has to hope the last few games have been an anomaly), and C. stay on the floor. When Johnson gets in foul trouble, the Boilermakers' lack of frontcourt depth shows in a hurry.
Although Hummel is actually listed as a forward, he rarely plays with his back to the basket, so Purdue's real options on the block behind Johnson are freshman Patrick Bade and...well...nobody.
Bade has been adequate for a first-year player, contributing 2.4 ppg in almost nine minutes per contest, but that's a gigantic drop-off from Purdue's All-Conference starting post player.
The Boilermakers were expecting to have the services of 6'9" newcomer Sandi Marcius, but a foot injury has sidelined him for the entire season to date, and the latest reports out of West Lafayette have Marcius redshirting to save a year of eligibility.
Of course, while Purdue's glut of guards around Johnson and Bade may not be able to provide the size inside that the Boilers would love to have, they are capable of solving another Purdue problem: rebounding the basketball.
The Boilers haven't helped themselves at all on the glass in Big Ten play, as opponents have out-rebounded Painter's squad in the last four league contests. While any casual fan knows size has something to do with rebounding (after all, you "can't coach height," right?), hustle has a lot more to do with it.
And unfortunately for the Old Gold and Black, hustle seems to have gone out the window the past couple of weeks...along with frontcourt scoring...balance...defensive intensity...basketball IQ...and any serious Big Ten title dreams.
If Purdue's going to turn things around in time to produce some late-season magic, the answer has to start on the glass and on the block...
...and that puts the pressure for a special season directly on Johnson and Bade inside.
Talk about "big" shoes to fill.