Iím not quite sure how to explain how I feel after watching todayís Purdue game with Cincinnati. On the one hand, Iím glad to see David Teague back in action even though he suffered through the worst shooting day of his career, Iím glad to see Matt Kiefer playing with such confidence on the offensive end even though I wish heíd shoot his free throws with the same confidence he shoots 3-pointers and Iím glad to see Brandon McKnight finally starting to emerge as a true leader for this team. On the down side, I wonder why this is the worst free throw shooting Purdue team Iíve ever seen, I wonder why Ije Nwankwo decided to forsake his teammates when they needed him the most, I wonder why Purdue canít seem to play defense without fouling and I wonder why Purdue canít seem to guard the 3-point line with any consistency.
In the end, there a couple of statistics that just jump off the page to explain why Purdue lost this game. Cincinnati shot 22 of 29 from the FT line while Purdue shot 15 of 28. Thatís a seven point advantage for Cincinnati. From beyond the arc, Cincinnati was 9 of 22 while Purdue shot an abysmal 4 of 17. Thatís a 15 point edge for Cincinnati. Since the final score was 79-59, these two stats pretty much sum up the reasons why Purdue lost this game. A couple of other things jump out also. Carl Landry played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble and Matt Kiefer played only 26 minutes for basically the same reason. When these two guys are not on the floor, Purdue really struggles offensively because they have essentially no inside offensive firepower at all. Until they figure out a way to play without fouling, Purdue is going to be in a world of trouble, especially since Nwankwo jumped ship.
Brandon McKnight Ė I thought Brandon played a spectacular first half. I think he had 14 points at the half and if it hadnít have been for Brandon; the game would have been over at half time. In the 2nd half, he forced a few shots and it looked to me like he got tired. Still, with Purdue's lack of depth, he's going to have to get used to playing 30 to 35 minutes a game because without him in the line-up, Purdue really struggles.
Matt Kiefer Ė Matt showed again tonight that he has made dramatic improvement in his game over the summer. Heís a lot stronger than he was a year ago and he's shooting the ball with much more confidence. I'm not sure why he can't seem to make a free throw (he was 2 of 6 tonight), but I think he's playing much better than he was last year overall. I think he can do a better job on the boards and he needs to stay out of foul trouble, but heís clearly much improved over last year.
David Teague Ė You have to feel for David. I'm sure he was hoping that his return from injury would be a triumphant one, but he was flat awful tonight. I think he made his first shot (a lay-up off a nice feed from Kiefer), but then missed his last 13 (including 0 for 8 from beyond the arc) and I think it just shows that it's not easy to come back from an injury to your shooting hand. David did have 8 rebounds to help inside, but it's clear that he has a way to go before heís going to be much help to this team.
Bryant Dillon Ė Bryant started at the point and while I like his floor game, he really struggles to make shots. I think he missed two wide-open 12-foot jumpers tonight and UC turned both of those misses into breakaway slam-dunks at the other end. Still, he's going to play a lot this year and hopefully he'll start making some shots.
Carl Landry Ė Carl was in early foul trouble and struggled throughout the game. He made a couple of nice offensive moves in the 2nd half and he was really the only inside player Purdue has that could match the quick-jumping athletes Cincinnati has. He also had a miserable night (3 of 8) from the free throw line, but he's been pretty good up to now, so letís hope tonight was just a bad game for him.
Matt Carroll Ė With Ije gone, it looks like Matt will become one of the first players off the bench for Purdue. On thing about Matt is that he really, really works hard when heís in there. Heís not the most skilled player, but he hustles and works and I donít think you can ask for anything more from a player. For example, tonight he had 6 rebounds in only 19 minutes including 3 on the offensive glass. Those 6 rebounds were 4 more than Landry had in the same number of minutes and 3 more than Kiefer had in 26 minutes.
Gary Ware Ė I thought Gary gave Purdue some good minutes tonight. He is very limited offensively (he shot one of the worst looking free throws Iíve ever seen in the 2nd half), but he is a decent rebounder and defender and one can only hope that his offensive production improves.
Xavier Price Ė I thought Xavier played a little tentatively tonight. He missed all 5 shots he took (a few of them were blocked) and he looked exactly like you might think a freshman might look when faced with his first taste of a team with a lot of good athletes. He did have a nice assist on a feed to Carroll in the 2nd half and I think heís going to get better as the season progresses, but itís unrealistic to expect him to be good every single game.
In summary, I don't think there's any question that the better team won today. Cincinnati goes about 8 deep and every one of those 8 players is quick and athletic and can shoot the ball. They're not the biggest, strongest team around, but they get after you defensively and they're all great leapers. I thought Purdue did a good job in the first 10 minutes or so of each half, but foul trouble forced Keady to substitute early and often and Cincinnati's superior depth eventually took its toll. Still, I'm not ready to give up on this team. They clearly have some problems with depth and they are going to struggle until they learn to make their free throws and stay out of foul trouble, but the nucleus is there for this team to at least be competitive and I wouldn't be surprised if they are a much better team in January than they are now. Of course, that assumes nobody else is lost to injury, defection or academics and the way things have gone the last few years, that assumption is a huge, huge assumption.
On a side note...
I also had the pleasure of watching Illinois absolutely destroy Gonzaga in the first game. Trust me, if Weber didn't call off the dogs early in the 2nd half, Illinois could easily have scored over 100 points and won by 30 or more. If Illinois plays like this the rest of the year, they will walk away with the Big 10 title and be a top contender for the Final 4. They are deep, they are quick, they have a bunch of guys that can shoot it and they defend extremely well. I was super impressed with Dee Brown and Deron Williams, they both played much smarter than they did a year ago and I give Weber a lot of credit for getting them to be more team oriented. Illinois is the real deal.