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There is a lot to like about watching the Purdue men's basketball team compete this season.
With players such as Terone Johnson and D.J. Byrd in much more significant roles, it's interesting to watch them develop. With five new players, period, it's interesting to see the young players grow. However, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of watching this team is how all of these parts are formulating a brand new style of play.
“It's a little bit different for us because we are trying to establish an inside presence,” Boilermaker coach Matt Painter said. “Last year we weren't.”
The Boilermakers (3-3) will host Xavier (5-1) today at Mackey Arena at 2:15 p.m. (BTN).
A year ago, Painter didn't have much experience in the post, as guys like (then) sophomores Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius, as well as freshman Jacob Lawson tried to figure this whole college basketball thing out. But those guys are a year older, and with the addition of freshman A.J. Hammons and Jay Simpson, as well as redshirt freshman Donnie Hale, Painter has more size down low than he knows what to do with.
“Last year we were really trying to drive the basketball and play off of those drives,” Painter said. “We're still trying to drive the basketball and get some penetrate and kicks (out), but we're also trying to get the ball inside.”
That presence inside is most beneficial, ironically, to the perimeter shooters. Whereas a year ago, shooters like Byrd and Ryne Smith got shots off of drives, this year Byrd among others are getting shots off of passes from the post.
“You're going to get some inside-out action that you weren't going to get last year,” Painter said. “We're just trying to get a balance (offensively) of things.”
Byrd had his best outing of the season in Wednesday's road win at Clemson, and darn near his career-best outing. The senior wing canned six three-point shots (one shy of his best) and totaled 22 points (20 in the first half).
“D.J. is always looking, as most shooters are, to get that rhythm three in transition,” Painter said. “I think that is always a good shot, because it gives it a good chance to go in, and also gives us a good chance to crash the glass because the defense isn't set.”
Painter does have an inordinate amount of post players vying for limited minutes, and pleasing them is not going to be easy or even possible. In the case of Marcius, after playing double-figure minutes in two of the first five games, he never got off of the bench against the Tigers.
“I just don't think at times that I can play six big guys,” Painter said. “I just felt with (Travis' experience, and A.J.'s ability to give us that low-post presence, I just stayed with those guys.”
Purdue freshman guard Rapheal Davis is undergoing a learning curve at the Division I level. After playing a total of 44 minutes through the Boilermakers' initial three games, he has seen his minutes steadily decrease.
The Fort Wayne native has played just 17 total minutes in the past three games, including just two against Clemson.
“Rapheal didn't get into a flow right away and he got two early fouls,” Painter explained. “Then (Clemson) went to the press (defense) and I felt comfortable more with those experienced guys.”
Painter isn't forgetting about Davis and said that he'll continue to work hard and be relied upon as the season progresses.
“We're going to need Rapheal, especially with his ability to score,” Painter said. “It was just one of those tough games and I had to make a tough decision. You just hope guys bounce back. From their standpoint, it gets a little frustrating.”