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April 16, 2008

Expectations rise for young Boilermakers

After consecutive December losses to Wofford and Iowa State, things looked shaky at best for the young Purdue Boilermakers.

The losses dropped their record to 7-4, and they had just two games remaining before the Big Ten schedule. Third-year coach Matt Painter needed answers, and he needed them fast.

"At that time as a coach, you're obviously pretty pessimistic," Painter said. "You're trying to figure things out, trying to push the right buttons.

"Give our guys credit. They were able to find some consistency and play well. You know we had good players, good young players. Keaton Grant was able to improve. Chris Kramer is a very good defensive player. Some guys did a great job playing roles."

But the real key was the recruiting class Rivals.com had ranked as the sixth-best in the nation, especially point guard E'Twaun Moore and swingman Robbie Hummel. They began to emerge and eventually blossomed into All-Big Ten performers.

Moore led the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and was second in assists. He also shot 43.4 percent (66 of 152) from 3-point range. Hummel led the team in rebounding (6.1), 3-point percentage (44.7 percent) and floor burns en route to averaging 11.4 points.

The Boilermakers led the Big Ten in 3-point field-goal percentage and turnover margin. They came within a game of sharing the conference regular-season crown with Wisconsin, a team they swept. Purdue finished 25-9 after being bounced in the second round of the NCAA Tournament by Xavier, and Painter was named Big Ten Coach of the Year.

"The freshmen get a lot of attention, and rightfully so for how they played, but I was surprised how well we played on the road," said Painter, whose team went 6-3 in the Big Ten away from West Lafayette. "E'Twaun was unbelievable at the end of game at Illinois. Robbie was very, very good at Wisconsin.

"Just to go into some tough venues and come out with wins is the thing that surprised me the most."

A quick look at Purdue's highly productive recruiting class of 2007-08, a class that Rivals.com ranked sixth nationally:
F Nemanja Calasan*
Started 18 games, averaged 6.3 points, 3.3 rebounds
G/F Robbie Hummel*
Started 31 games, averaged 11.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists, shot 44.7 percent from 3-point range
F/C JaJuan Johnson*
Started 17 games, averaged 5.4 points, 3.1 rebounds
G/F Scott Martin#
Started eight games, averaged 8.5 points, 3.8 rebounds
G E'Twaun Moore*
Started 31 games, averaged 12.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, shot 43.4 percent from 3-point range.
*-- Calasan was the only non-freshman member of the class transferring in from junior college.
# -- Martin transferred after the season

Moore had a then-career-high 24 points in Champaign, including 20 in the second half, as the Boilermakers beat the Illini 83-75 to run their record to 17-5. A week later, Hummel had a then-career-high 21 points as Purdue stunned Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. The Boilermakers were in the midst of an 11-game winning streak that served notice to the league and the country that Painter and Co. had arrived as a national force.

The victory over the Badgers was the Boilermakers' first on the road against a top-10 team in nearly 10 years. They last had won in Madison on Feb. 7, 1996, when Hummel was 6.

Painter made great use of the motion offense. The Boilermakers spread the floor so Moore could penetrate and kick to Hummel or Grant - or shoot it himself. All three ranked among the top five in the Big Ten, each knocking down more than 42 percent of his attempts.

The Boilermakers also picked things up on the defensive end. Five players had more than 30 steals, led by Kramer's Big Ten-leading 67. He was named the league's defensive player of the year.

"We have a high basketball IQ, very good decision-makers, a good skill level, some guys who can really shoot it, and some team guys," Painter said.

They also have nearly all of them back. Freshman Scott Martin transferred (8.5 ppg), but his playing time had dwindled during the Big Ten season. All five starters return, and expectations already are high for the 2008-09 season. The Boilermakers were ranked eighth in Rivals.com's first preseason top 25 poll for next season.

"I think you have to manage expectations at all times," Painter said. "They can be positive or negative. We're going to get some positive feedback in the polls. We'll be in the top of the Big Ten. First, second or third, we'll be in there. But it's a whole new season. People will be coming at you.

"The thing that we have is some pretty humble guys. They're not satisfied with our year. They're not walking around campus, you know, thinking they had an unbelievable year and this is the way it's always going to be. You've got to turn it back on and our guys are disappointed in the Xavier game, disappointed in the Big Ten Tournament, disappointed in the fact we weren't able to win the Big Ten. Those are some important items right there to keep addressing and have that edge and come back and be better next year."

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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