I wrote a similar article for the Purdue SB Nation site using K-State and Tennessee as an example. You’ll excuse me if I plagiarize myself a little. Since both posts are on SB Nation, I’m OK with it.
My interest in college basketball starts to ramp up in January. I catch the vast majority of Purdue, Clemson, and Kansas State games because I write about those schools, but other than that, November and December basketball don’t do it for me. I’ve been burned too many times by hot starts that fizzle out into disappointment (looking at you Clemson) or slow starts that blossom into historic seasons (ahem, Purdue last year).
It hasn’t exactly been a smooth season for the Wildcats. The end of 2019 wasn’t great, and 2020 hasn’t changed their Mojo. If you’ve ever watched a 10,000 meter race. K-State is the guy that turns the final corner and cramps up in the home stretch. It brings up the age old question, “Would you rather lose by 2 points, or 20 points.” Personally, I’m in the 2 points category because at some point you’re going to catch a break and win. I will say, however, that another 2-3 point loss might change my mind.
Stop teasing me Bruce and win a dang basketball game.
K-State isn’t alone in struggling to replace talented senior/junior classes this year. In Bruce’s old stomping grounds of West Lafayette, Indiana, Matt Painter has juggled his starting lineup more than Texas football has juggled its coaching staff. Much like the Longhorns, sometimes there just isn’t an answer no matter how many lineups you try. In Knoxville, Rick Barnes looks like he’s back in Austin trying to figure out how to make it past the Sweet 16 with Kevin Durant. It looks painful.
Here’s a closer look at the alliance of suffering.
Record: 26-10 - Regular Season Big 10 Champs (16-4) - 3 Seed
Points Per Game: 76.7
Points Against Per Game: 67.2
Key Players Lost
Carsen Edwards - G - Jr. - 24.3 Pts, 2.9 Ast (1st Pts, 2nd Ast)
Ryan Cline - G - Sr. - 12 Pts, 3.3 Ast (2nd Pts, 1st Ast)
Grady Eifert - F - 5.5 Pts, 5.2 Reb (5th Pts, 3rd Reb)
Record: 9-6 (2-2 Big10)
Points Per Game: 68.2
Points Against Per Game: 59.1
Woof, things have not been good for the Boilermakers so far this season. They’ve been an abject disaster on the road and neutral courts. Only the friendly confines of Mackey Arena brings Purdue back to life. Their last attempt at playing basketball on the road ended in a 37-63 obliteration by a serviceable (at best) Illinois squad. 37 points is the fewest number of points scored by a Purdue team since the 40’s. I’ve watched some bad K-State offensive performances over the last few years, but in retrospect, the Cats looked like prime Golden State in comparison to the putrid Boilermakers.
Purdue has some talent on the roster, but it just hasn’t meshed on a consistent basis on the offensive end. A couple guys that Matt Painter was counting on to pick up the slack on offense have regressed with a heavier work load, the trademark Purdue intensity has been spotty (and generally non-existent on the road) and Painter still can’t decide what style of basketball best suits this team. Don’t get me wrong, I like a diverse attack, but at some point you need to decide what you’re best at, and try doing that.
Losing All-American Carsen Edwards to the NBA was obviously the biggest blow to the team, but Purdue fans underestimated how difficult losing Ryan Cline and Grady Eifer to 9-5 jobs was going to be for this team. Cline created space by simply standing on the court with his unlimited range, but he was also an underrated passer at 6’5 and was an expert at feeding the post. Eifert was a former walk-on that refused to let a ball go out of bounds without leaving a skid mark of skin on the floor in its wake. He was also a competent 3-point shooter that gave Purdue the stretch 4 that Painter craves. Purdue lacks a knockdown shooter and a hustle guy on this squad, subsequently the spacing is off, the energy level is down, and the offense can grind to a halt at any moment.
Things are rough in West LaLa at the moment, and the natives haven’t taken to the pitchforks and torches yet, but they’ve located them in the shed.
Record: 31-6 - Regular Season 2nd Place in SEC (15-3) - 2 Seed
Points Per Game: 82
Points Against Per Game: 69.7
Key Players Lost
Grant Williams - F - Jr. - 18.8 Pts, 7.5 Reb (2 time SEC POY, 1st Pts, 1st Reb,)
Admiral Schofield - G/F - Sr. - 16.5 Pts, 6.1 Reb (2nd Pts, 3rd Reb)
Jordan Bone - G - Jr. - 13.5 Pts, 5.8 Ast (3rd Pts, 1st Ast)
Kyle Alexander - C - Sr. - 7.4 Pts, 6.7 Reb, 1.7 Blk (2nd Reb, 1st Blk)
Record: 9-5 (1-1 SEC)
Points Per Game: 67.1
Points Against Per Game: 59.6
Tennessee fans were expecting a dropoff, but I don’t think they were expecting this sort of dropoff. They’re scoring 15 points less per game, and while their improved defense has helped cushion the blow, it’s been a struggle for the Vols. Throw in a season-ending injury to senior point guard LaMonte Murray, and things aren’t great in Knoxville right now.
The interesting thing about Tennessee is they have a talented roster. They brought in 5* guard Josiah-Jordan James this season, and while his 7.9 Pts and 6 Reb help, they don’t do much to ease the blow of losing Bone, Schofield (and now Murray) in the backcourt. It turns out even hyper-talented freshmen like James take a year to adjust to the college game. I’m sure he’ll improve as the season goes along, but it goes to show that bringing in a 5* guy doesn’t fix every problem.
The Vols offense has been about as painful to watch as Purdue’s. Now that Turner is out, much like Purdue, they don’t have a go-to guy to take over late in the clock and often settle for contested shots from whoever happens to have the ball last. Scoring comes in fits and starts and long dry stretches aren’t unusual and unlike last year’s team, turnovers are plentiful. Much like Kansas State, it’s been harder to overcome the loss of talented, experienced players than Vol fans thought at the start of the season.
Why Should I Care?
It’s possible you don’t.
The fact that Tennessee and Purdue are struggling doesn’t make K-State’s regression any more enjoyable. It does, however, show just how difficult replacing key contributors is on a year to year basis. It’s doubly hard when you’re trying to replace players like Carsen Edwards, Grant Williams, and Dean Wade/Barry Brown. No matter how much talent you bring in, it’s almost impossible to replace the experience of guys that have been through the grind of college basketball. You can replace a shooter, but it’s hard to replace a guy that has won (and lost) games with his jump shot.
Matt Painter is coming off an Elite 8, has been named Big 10 Coach of the Year 4 times, and has won the Big 10 2 out of the last 3 seasons, and Purdue looks like a bad JuCo team at times. Rick Barnes has coached in a Final 4, been named the Big 12 Coach of the year 4 times, the SEC Coach of the Year, and the National Coach of the Year and the Vols are scuffling right now.
What I’m trying to say (successfully I hope) is that winning basketball games is hard, and sometimes we might take it for granted. It’s seasons like this that make us truly appreciate the good years (this is total BS but I hope you’re buying it). Odds are, Bruce will get this thing turned around next year, and if he doesn’t, he’ll be coaching for his job the following year (I’m getting older, and 3 bad seasons in a row makes me feel my own mortality).
Seriously though, Bruce, win a dang basketball game.