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MICHAEL OSIPOFF: Renewed Boilers should return to roots, NCAA tourney

Jared Bartling Jay Simpson

Jared Bartling, Jay Simpson

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Updated: December 9, 2013 11:03AM



This team should return Purdue to its more accustomed levels, after last season’s downturn.

The Boilermakers have question marks and unknowns, of course. But they also have the pieces to be significantly improved after going 16-18, missing the NCAA Tournament after six straight trips and ending with a loss at Mackey Arena in the not-that-familiar CBI.

There have been recurring themes in the preseason.

The Boilermakers should be deeper, with probably nine viable starters and fierce competition in practice. They should be versatile, able to play different ways with different types of lineups. They should be better defensively, again able to pressure the ball, one of their traditional principles. They should be a better shooting team, as well as one able to drive to the basket.

Overall, there’s a revitalized vibe emanating from the program, after last season’s struggles.

The five newcomers (not including redshirt freshman Jay Simpson), with three freshmen and two graduate transfers, have helped generate a renewed energy.

Kendall Stephens instantly became the team’s best shooter. Bryson Scott has brought a competitive edge and toughness. Basil Smotherman has added an element of athleticism. Errick Peck (Cornell) and Sterling Carter (Seattle) have provided a sense of maturity that often was lacking last season; more tangibly, Peck can contribute in various ways with an all-around game, and Carter should give the Boilermakers shooting and another on-ball defender.

And the returning players seem hungry.

Terone Johnson wants to end his college career on a high note. Ronnie Johnson should benefit from the growing pains he endured as a freshman point guard. Rapheal Davis already was emerging as a leader as a freshman last season.

All that’s preventing A.J. Hammons from being one of the country’s premier big men is A.J. Hammons. If Simpson’s production can match his potential, the Boilermakers will have a special player. Travis Carroll will have a role in certain matchups.

The Boilermakers have to be better with their shot selection and decision-making, taking care of the ball, and get back to defense as a staple. They’re going to be a work in progress.

But with a seemingly favorable schedule, they could be in position to exceed 20 wins in the regular season. The Big Ten again seems formidable, with Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State projected at the top, and Wisconsin never finishing lower than fourth with Bo Ryan.

Still, after a one-season absence, Purdue should return to the NCAA Tournament, where it has won its last 14 opening games.



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