Cuonzo was very confident that the team would better next year, especially on defense. He mentioned that all of the guards in particular like to play defense and take pride in their defense. Willie, although he was good at getting steals, he was not a strong link in terms of team defense. The other guards will definitely be a step up on defense. We will have better defense both on and off the ball next year. This was one of the times Cuonzo got the most excited when he talked about his expectations for excellent defense next year. As most of you know, Cuonzo is responsible for the defense. The guys will get after it! At that point, I was wishing Cuonzo could be working with the team this summer, but we will have to wait until the fall. Remember that this is only Cuonzo's second year in charge of the defense. He expects to continue the improvement we saw last year. In past years we did not have the talented and experienced depth to sit a guy who was not playing good defense. That will not be a problem next year.
Cuonzo also spoke of telling the big men to really bang any guy who came into the lane. If you do it every time, they are not likely to call it. If they call the foul, we have plenty of depth up front. All that talk has to get you a little excited next year!
Last year, the team stood around and watched Willie too much. Willie did not have many big games on the road (with the exception of Michigan). We will be a more balanced team next year.
I talked about how the team was tired late in a few games last year (at Illinois, Texas in the NCAA). I said I did not like the fact that we had a tired team on the floor, but who do you sit in that situation? Cuonzo's answer was Willie. I wonder if David Teague or Melvin could have knocked down a few late jumpers or shut down the other team's guards one or two times to get us over the hump? Hindsight is 20/20, but it makes me believe we will miss Willie less than some people think.
We talked about Kilgore as well. I mentioned that I thought Buckley should have played more. Cuonzo said that minutes for Melvin would have come at the expense of Darmetrius. The coaches did not want to give up on a senior with talent, but obviously Melvin's minutes late in the season (especially in the tourney) showed the direction the coaches had to go. We discussed Dar's shot selection and basketball IQ. You can imagine what was said, but I will not repeat the details. The coaches saw some of the issues with Dar in JUCO, but thought they could bring him along with some coaching. Towards the end of the season, Dar's confidence was shot. The missed lay-up versus MSU when we were starting to make a game of it in the 2nd half of the Big Ten Tourney game was particularly frustrating for us all.
Player by Player
* The first guy we talked about was Kenny Lowe. Cuonzo raved about his leadership and work ethic. As Cuonzo said "I'll go to war with Kenny any day". Cuonzo feels that Kenny will be a 16 - 18 point guy next year. When you think that Kenny had about 12 a game last year despite being hurt part of the year, it is not that much of a stretch. Kenny is the unquestioned leader for the Boilers and he will take care of business on the court. Cuonzo felt that we could have had a share of the Big Ten title last year if Kenny was not injured.
* The next guy we discussed was Chris Booker. Cuonzo feels that Booker will be a real force next year if he is developing his game this summer. Chris had a limited set of moves last year. Once he was scouted by other Big Ten teams, they new what to do to limit those moves. If Booker is working hard on developing a few more post moves, look out, he will be a force. He also has a better understanding of how good of shape he needs to be in to be effective the whole year.
* Another guy Cuonzo is excited about is Matt Carroll. He gets after it and will provide some real help on the boards next year. He worked very hard during his red-shirt year. Cuonzo likes his work ethic, his attitude and his aggressiveness on the court.
* Brandon McKnight is another player with promise. The expectation is that Brandon will produce more offense next year. Although Gene likes his point guard distribute, Brandon should take it to rim more next year. We also discussed his excellent midrange jumper.
* Even though much of the excitement on these boards (and from me as well) is about David Teaugue and Melvin Buckley. They were not the first players to come up as taking up the scoring slack. Cuonzo recognizes that those guys can "stroke it", but did not seem to be counting on them to be the big scorers (more Kenny Lowe and Booker). My sense is that what these guys can contribute in scoring will primarily be gravy. I personally expect more than that.
* We had a discussion about newcomer Ije (I will not try to spell the last name). Keep in mind that Cuonzo has not seen him play with the team as Cuonzo cannot watch the summer workouts. I believe Cuonzo has spoken with Ije and let him know what is expected of him. Ije has been playing in the summer pickup games playing ball like he is trying to prove himself in a true pick up game versus in the role he will have for Purdue next year (my interpretation based on posts I have read). Rebounding will get him on the floor next year. Cuonzo let Ije know that he should take 300 3 point shots a day if you want to be a 3 point shooter, otherwise he should expect to play on the blocks. I pointed out to Cuonzo that he is a great role model for working on developing his game.
* Ivan Kartelo showed signs at times last year. Ivan was coming off a lot of injuries and a year off. He has a real chance to step it up next year and make a difference. At a minimum, he should provide physical defense on the post.
* Buscher has a lot of potential but his time is running out. He is our most athletic big man, but needs to take advantage of that athleticism. Brett needs to be confident in his ability.
* We briefly discussed Matt Keifer. Cuonzo recognizes his talent. Matt needs to be confident in his ability and not think too much. He will be a very good player for Purdue.
* We did not talk about Adam Lidell or his recruitment. I thought about it after we talked Thursday night. I could have brought it up Friday, but it was better for a long conversation and we did get much of chance to talk on Friday. We did talk about Vaden's recruitment which I will share in my recruiting post.
* One thing that Cuonzo said he liked to see was the players developing a swagger and confidence on the floor. He saw this developing last year. We talked about how important confidence was in being able to perform on the court. Lets hope our players feel that confidence next year and take advantage of it. I hope they are not listening to a constant string of negativity about how they are not top-notch players (not that anyone would say our recruiting sucks and none of our players are top recruits).
* We both agreed that the Big Ten will be very talented next year and there are a number of talented young players in the league. Coach Martin was confident that we had the talent to play with any of them and challenge for a Big Ten title. I said it was not a big deal to win the Big Ten if we can make a run in the tourney. You could see the desire in his eyes to win the Big Ten as well. Cuonzo feels that we have the team who can challenge for the Big Ten title and there is no reason we can't make a strong run in the tourney to the final four or farther. Bring it on Boilers! We have very good basketball team and we should be excited about next year! Lets try to make a distinction between the real issues with future recruiting, succession etc. and the very talented (and confident) basketball team currently at Purdue.