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Ranking every starter left in Sweet 16

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With the Sweet 16 starting, I decided that it was officially time to rank the players left in the NCAA tournament field.

The criteria was simple: If the starters for every team in the tournament got thrown into a pot and 16 of us were asked to draft teams to win four games and cut down the nets in Minneapolis, this would be my big board.

1. Zion Williamson, Duke: He’s the best and most unstoppable player in college basketball. Who else would I put at No. 1?

2. De’Andre Hunter, Virginia: He may not be the best prospect in the tournament, but for my money he is the second-best player in all of college basketball right now. He’s the best defender in the sport and a 44.6% three-point shooter that doubles as UVA’s leading scorer.

3. R.J. Barrett, Duke: Barrett is currently averaging 22.8 points, 7.7 boards and 4.1 assists for Duke. The only other player to put up 22-7-4 for a high-major team since 1992 was Anfernee Hardaway, and that was when Memphis was in the Great Midwest Conference. Barrett did this in the ACC.

4. Grant Williams, Tennessee: Williams has made a habit of absolutely taking games over in crunch time. He did it in Tennessee’s win over Kentucky in the SEC tournament. He did it in the final minutes and in overtime against Iowa. He did it against Vanderbilt in another overtime win. And that’s just off the top of my head. He may be the guy you want with the ball in all of the Sweet 16.

5. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: Culver is one of the most improved players in college basketball this season, embracing the role of the go-to offensive weapon for a Red Raider team that is one of the most dangerous left in this tournament. He’ll be a top ten pick in June.

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6. Cassius Winston, Michigan State: No one in college basketball carries a bigger load offensively than Winston does for Michigan State. Look at the Michigan State, roster and think about this: They won a share of the Big Ten regular season title, they beat Michigan three times and they won the Big Ten tournament title. He’s unbelievable.

7. Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga: Clarke is the best player on Gonzaga, and I hope people are starting to realize it. He’s been their best defender since day one, but after a 36 point explosion in the second round, he’s averaging 17.0 points and shooting 69.9 percent from the floor. His PER would set a collegiate record if Zion Williamson didn’t exist.

8. P.J. Washington, Kentucky: When he’s healthy and playing well, he can be one of the five best players in college basketball. We don’t know if he’s healthy, and he’s had more games this season where he wasn’t playing well than when he was.

9. Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga: Gonzaga’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, Rui is a monster than can take games over. If he was as good defensively as Clarke is, he’d be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

10. Ty Jerome, Virginia: As weird as this sounds given the way that Virginia has flamed out of the tournament over the years, I trust Jerome to make big shots in big moments more than just about any other lead guard left.

11. Coby White, North Carolina
12. Cam Johnson, North Carolina: While Johnson has been North Carolina’s most consistent and, arguably, their best player throughout the season, White is the guy that is the most dangerous player on the roster playing the position that is the least replaceable for the Heels.

13. Carsen Edwards, Purdue: Edwards can be unbelievable when he gets into a rhythm. Just ask Villanova, who caught 42 points from him on Sunday. But prior to that outburst, he had spent the last six weeks being a high-volume, low-efficiency gunner.

14. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech
15. Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech: I’d personally make the argument that Alexander-Walker is the better player of the two, but I think that Robinson is probably more valuable because his presence allows Alexander-Walker to play off the ball, where he has been more effective.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

16. Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State: I know he doesn’t actually start, but he’s far and away the best and most talented player on Florida State’s roster. He leads them in scoring at 13.4 points and averages 5.4 boards and 1.5 blocks while shooting 38% from three as a 6-foot-11 center. He’s a monster.

17. Zavier Simpson, Michigan: If we’re talking about winners, we’re talking about Zavier Simpson, who will take away anyone’s best perimeter scorer while finishing the game with a line of, say, nine points, nine boards, nine assists and a pair of running sky-hooks across the lane. He’s a different dude.

18. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: Pritchard has been terrific over the course of the last month, and he’s developed the reputation in basketball circles of being a winner. He also leads Oregon is scoring and assists.

19. Tremont Waters, LSU: It’s hard not to love what Waters has been this season, sharing the offensive load with a roster that has plenty of talent on it. He’s a ball-screen maestro that is the biggest reason that the Tigers have been so good in close games.

20. Jared Harper, Auburn: The best point guard that you haven’t seen play this season. He is the engine that makes Auburn’s high-powered transition game operate, and he’s not afraid to dunk on you.

21. Luke Maye, North Carolina: Maye has not had a great season adjusting to a bit of a different role this year, but he’s still averaging 14.9 points, 10.6 boards and 2.3 assists.

22. Terance Mann, Florida State: So underrated. He’s the heart and soul of this Florida State team, an elite perimeter defender that can get out in transition. He is also shooting 41.1% from three this year.

23. Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan: Iggy is Michigan’s leading scorer and one of their best three-point shooters, but mostly he is just an ultra-competitive combo-forward that loves attacking the rim and thrives off opponents and opposing crowds talking junk to him.

24. Cam Reddish, Duke: Reddish is a plus defender on the wing and a streaky scorer that can make threes and, in theory, will be better once he is on a team where he is more of a focal point.

25. Kyle Guy, Virginia: He might just be the best shooter left in the tournament. When he gets it going, he can make six or seven in a game, and he’s a better defender than most realize.

26. Admiral Schofield, Tennessee: A versatile defender that averages 16.4 points and shoots 41.5% from three, Schofield is the guy that lets Tennessee switch between big lineups and small lineups.

27. Charles Matthews, Michigan: Quite possibly the best perimeter defender in college basketball, he has regressed a bit on the offensive end of the floor this season.

28. Tyler Herro, Kentucky: If Washington is out, Herro is going to have to be the guy that steps up against a Houston team that will double team Reid Travis out of the game. He’s more than just a shooter, but he can also be prone to off-nights.

29. Kerry Blackshear, Virginia Tech: Blackshear is one of the most underrated big men in all of college basketball. He averages 14.9 points, 7.3 boards, 2.3 assists and shoots 34.4% from three. He’s the guy that does all the screening in Buzz Williams’ ball-screen heavy offense.

30. Corey Davis, Houston: Davis is a big-time shot-maker and the leading scorer for a Houston team that can really, really play. When he gets hot, he can hit six or seven threes in one night.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

31. Skylar Mays, LSU: Mays has been so underrated this season. He’s LSU’s third-leading scorer, but he’s taken over in multiple big games this season and has had a knack for making big shots all season long.

32. Jon Teske, Michigan: Teske is an elite defensive center than has developed a really nice rapport with Simpson in ball-screen actions.

33. Bryce Brown, Auburn: Brown may not be the ‘best’ shooter left in the tournament, but I think that he’s the most dangerous. When he gets hot, he can reel off 20 points and five or six straight threes in one half.

34. Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: Perkins’ role offensively is massive, and he really can be one of the best ball-screen point guards in the country. But Perkins also has some games where he forgets how to play, and it’s cost Gonzaga in March in recent years.

35. Naz Reid, LSU: Reid is a 6-foot-10 monster that crushes teams on the glass and bangs home threes, but he’s inconsistent and has tried to play defense on roughly 27 possessions this season.

36. Kenny Wooten, Oregon: The second-coming of Jordan Bell. I told you in October that Oregon will be better with Wooten at the five, and that’s come to fruition after Bol Bol’s injury.

37. Chuma Okeke, Auburn: Okeke is a 6-foot-8, 230 pound combo-forward that averages 11.8 points, 6.7 boards, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 38% from three. He’s a perfect fit in modern basketball, and one of the reasons that Auburn’s style of play works.

38. Mamadi Diakite, Virginia: Diakite is an absolute monster on the defensive end that has seen his effectiveness offensively start to tick up during this tournament. It’s gotta be the hair.

39. Zach Norvell, Gonzaga: Norvell is a streaky shooter, but when he’s hot, he might be the most dangerous shooter in all of college hoops. He is the ultimate heat check.

40. Matt Mooney, Texas Tech: Mooney is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he’s slowly developed into a real threat on the offensive end. He’s Tech’s second most creative player after Culver, and his improvement late in the year took the pressure of their star.

41. Matt McQuaid, Michigan Starte: McQuaid has actually developed into a really good role player for the Spartans. He’s become their best perimeter defender, he’s their secondary ball-handler and he’s shooting 43.3% from three.

42. Jordan Bone, Tennessee: He’s a bit frustrating. When he’s good, he can win a game all by himself. When he’s not playing well, he’ll pass the ball to the other team four times in one half. Just ask Iowa.

43. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky: Johnson carried Kentucky early on in the season, but as teams started to figure out what he can do offensively, it got more difficult for him. He’s still dangerous, and like Herro, he will need to be if Kentucky is going to advance.

44. Ryan Cline, Purdue: Cline has had an underrated season. He is Purdue’s second-leading scorer and is shooting 40.6% from three on better than seven threes per game.

45. Tariq Owens, Texas Tech: Owens is everything that you want out of a five in modern basketball. He’s an elite rim-protector and lob-catcher than can move his feet a bit on the perimeter and makes a jumper now and again. His value doesn’t lie in his numbers.

46. Armoni Brooks, Houston: Brooks is the second-leading scorer for the Cougars, the guy that Kelvin Sampson loves to run off screens and get open for threes.

47. Louis King, Oregon: King is a former five-star recruit that missed six games at the start of the season through injury, but he’s starting to show just what made him such a valued recruit. He’s averaging 12.9 points this season and shooting 37.1% from three.

48. Jordan Poole, Michigan: Poole can shoot Michigan into any game. He can also shoot them out of any game, and he is a total liability defensively.

49. Kenny Goins, Michigan State: Goins averaging 8.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.3 apg and 1.4 bpg. I don’t understand how he’s as good as he is, but he’s really, really good.

50. Kavell Bigby-Williams, LSU: Bigby-Williams is a massive, massive human being that does well protecting the rim and overpowers people on the offensive glass.

51. Kenny Williams, North Carolina: He is UNC’s best perimeter defender and a guy that plays a 3-and-D role even if he’s not really shooting the ball all that well right now.

52. Reid Travis, Kentucky: Travis is such a good rebounder and he can be a really effective scorer in the post, but he learned pretty quickly that like in the Pac-12 is different than life in the SEC.

53. Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: Moretti is just a lights-out shooter, shooting 45.4% from three on the season and finishing the year as Tech’s second-leading scorer.

54. Nojel Eastern, Purdue: Eastern is not much on the offensive end of the floor, but he is an absolute lockdown defender.

55. Tre Jones, Duke: He’s quite possibly the best on-ball defender in college basketball right now, and that matters. He’s also a total and complete liability on the offensive end that teams just do not guard.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

56. Ashton Hagans, Kentucky: He is a monster defender at the point of attack that can get lost off the ball defensively and has had his ups and downs offensively throughout the year.

57. Lamonte Turner, Tennessee: Turner has bounced between the bench and the starting lineup for the Vols, but the thing I love about him is that the kid has the stones to take and make big shots. He’s not always great, but even when he’s struggling, you want him on the floor in big moments.

58. Galen Robinson, Houston: Robinson is Houston’s starting point guard and is one of those guys that leaves coaches saying “he played a great floor game.”

59. Anfernee McLemore, Auburn: McLemore is a really important piece for the Tigers, as he is one of their best rim-protectors, but he can also space the floor and thrives as a rim-runner in ball-screens. He’ll catch at least one lob against North Carolina.

60. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga: Kispert is just a solid role player. He can defend, he has some athleticism, he makes threes, he can attack a closeout. I think he has a shot to be WCC Player of the Year in a season or two.

61. Trent Forrest, Florida State: He can’t shoot at all, but he is Florida State’s third-leading scorer, one of their best passers and quite possibly their best perimeter defender. I believe we call those ‘glue guys’.

62. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State: This could also be Nick Ward, who hasn’t been starting after coming back from his hand injury. Ward is the better low-post scorer and rim-runner. Tillman is a better rebounder and defender.

63. Paul White, Oregon: The fifth-year senior is really thriving while playing in the small-ball four role for the Ducks.

64. M.J. Walker, Florida: I want Walker to be better than he has been in his Florida State career, but at this point he’s mostly just an athletic defender that can pop up for a 15 point game now and then.

65. Aaron Henry, Michigan State: Henry has a really, really bright future at Michigan State, but right now he’s a raw freshman that plays really hard and makes soe mistakes.

66. Ahmed Hill, Virginia Tech: A super-athletic, streaky shot-maker that can seemingly go a month without making a shot before ripping off four or five threes in a game.

67. Norense Odiase, Texas Tech: The big fella doesn’t play a ton of minutes, as Tech tends to prefer small-ball late in games, but he’s a bully on the glass, especially on the offensive end.

68. Kyle Alexander, Tennessee: Alexander is a good defensive center that seems to find himself in foul trouble every time Tennessee plays a big game. It’s hard to rank someone too high when they can’t consistently stay on the court.

69. Garrison Brooks, North Carolina: Brooks gets the majority of the minutes at the five for UNC this season, and he’s been fine doing it. He can score around the rim and he’s a pretty effective rebounder.

70. Ty Outlaw, Virginia Tech: The best shooter on the best shooting team left in the tournament.

71. Marlon Taylor, LSU: LSU’s stopper. He’s a highlight reel athlete that doesn’t do much else.

72. Malik Dunbar, Auburn: Dunbar has been starting for Auburn, but their best lineups tend to feature Samir Doughty.

73. Matt Haarms, Purdue: Haarms has been in and out of the starting lineup for Purdue, but when he’s in there he has been effective as a rim-running, rim-protecting five.

74. Breaon Brady, Houston
75. Fabian White, Houston: The Cougars as a four-man frontcourt rotation, and all four of their big uglies are fine. These two start.

76. Javin DeLaurier, Duke: DeLaurier is a good rebounder and a fine shot-blocker, but he is not all that much more than those two things.

77. Kihei Clark, Virginia: I understand why he plays so much (it moves Jerome off the ball) and the kid is a tough defender that has won everywhere he’s been, but he’s also 5-foot-nothin’ and shoots just 32.9% from three.

78. Grady Eifert, Purdue: Eifert is one of the most efficient players in all of college basketball because he doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he’s banging home open threes. He does his job well.

79. Francis Okoro, Oregon: He starts but Oregon is at their best when Ehab Amin and Will Richardson are on the floor.

80. Raiquan Gray, Florida State: Gray is Mr. Irrelevant, but the reason for that is that he is not the usual starter. That would be Phil Cofer, who was battling an injury before his father passed away. Cofer would be somewhere in the 40s on my list.

Evolution of Matt Painter: Most malleable coach in college basketball

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The second installment of our memorable moments series features Purdue.

The Boilermakers played two of the best games of last year’s tournament, and they exemplified just how malleable Matt Painter’s coaching is, and just how much that matters heading into next season.

RELATED: Looking back at Virginia’s title run

This is recency bias at it’s very finest, I can fully admit that, but I find it very hard to believe that you can find an example of a more heart-wrenching roller coaster ride of emotions than what Purdue fans experienced in Louisville during the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in 2019.

Let’s start with that Sweet 16 game against Tennessee. Purdue blew a 17-point second half lead before Ryan Cline made four straight threes in the final six minutes to put the Boilermakers in a position where a controversial foul sent Carsen Edwards to the free throw line. He made two of three to force overtime, where Purdue pulled away. After putting the Volunteers to bed, Matt Painter’s boys advanced to the Elite Eight to face Virginia, owners of the nation’s best defense, where Edwards went nuts, scoring 24 of his 42 points – and hitting six of his ten threes – in the final 13 minutes before a missed box out and this heads up play from Virginia’s Kihei Clark forced overtime and, eventually, cost the Boilermakers a trip to their first Final Four in 39 years:

My fingernails and voice were gone by the time Tony Bennett and Virginia officially advanced to the Final Four, and all I had on the line was a couple of bets.

(For the record, I took Tennessee in the Sweet 16 and Purdue in the Elite Eight. I lost both bets.)

But beyond my degeneracy, both of these games had something else in common – a Purdue player going absolutely bonkers to close out the game.

Against Tennessee, Cline scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half, hitting four straight threes in a five minute stretch to get the game to the extra period. Cline didn’t even end up as Purdue’s leading scorer on that night. Edwards, who had 29 points and fired up 14 threes, was. Those 29 points came in between back-to-back 42 point outbursts by the 33rd pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. In total, Edwards found a way to get up 61 threes in four NCAA tournament games. Cline was able to get off 34 threes in four games, and those two stats serve as a pretty fair summation of what Purdue basketball was during the 2018-19 season.

Purdue attempted 977 threes last year. Since 2010, only four high major teams have shot more threes in a single season than Purdue did last year – Villanova in each of the last two seasons, Auburn in 2018-19 and Michigan in 2017-18; the latter played in an NCAA record 41 games that season and averaged 2.5 fewer threes attempted per game than Purdue did this past season. The Boilermakers set a record for the most threes attempted in a Big Ten season with 501.

Edwards and Cline were the two guys that led the way. They took 646 threes combined last year, which is two-thirds of their team total. Edwards led the Big Ten in three-pointers attempted during league play. Cline finished second. Combined, they shot more threes – 327 in total – than Minnesota’s entire team.

And that’s fascinating to me.

Because just four years ago, the Boilermakers finished 12th in the Big Ten in three pointers attempted with just 332 as a team. That season, the first in a four-year stretch where Purdue has been arguably the best program in the Big Ten, 24.8 percent of Purdue’s offense came via post-ups.

For the record, that number is insane.

Oral Roberts finished second nationally in that stat in 2016, finishing with just over 18 percent of their offense coming via post-ups. Since the 2007-08 season – which is as far back as I’m willing to trust Synergy’s data – only three teams have finished the season running more than 21 percent of their through the post: Purdue in 2015-16, Purdue in 2016-17 and Stanford in 2007-08, the final year that the Lopez twins were in Palo Alto.

But there’s more.

This past season, just 7.4 percent of Purdue’s offense came via post-ups. In 2011-12, Robbie Hummel’s final season with the program, that number was just 2.9 percent.

In the span of seven years, Matt Painter went from running a program that played Hummel, a 6-foot-8 small forward, at the five to one that paired Caleb Swanigan with Isaac Haas to one that rode Edwards going full YOLO to within a Mamadi Diakite buzzer-beater of the Final Four.

That is not normal.

And it should tell you all you need to know about the man running things in West Lafayette.


(Getty Images)

Robbie Hummel remembers it like it was yesterday.

It’s early December in 2011, just nine games into his senior season, and Purdue is fresh off of blowing a 19-point second half lead in a loss in Cincinnati to No. 11 Xavier. He’s with the rest of his team in the film room, watching as Painter is going over everything that went wrong on that Saturday in the Cintas Center. When you blow a 19-point lead in less than 11 minutes, a lot went wrong.

Hummel’s not looking forward to it. He scored 17 points, but it took him 21 shots to get there. He didn’t play great, but there is one shot in particular that he’s dreading. He knows it’s going to be in the edit that Painter shows. With more than 20 seconds left on the shot clock, he waves off not one but two different Purdue guards. He squares up Xavier’s Travis Taylor. He goes between his legs, he crosses over, he puts the ball back between his legs, takes one dribble to get into a rhythm and lets loose with a 24-foot three that hits nothing but air.

It’s not even close.

When it shows up on the screen, he knows what’s coming.

“Robbie,” Painter says, without a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “that’s the worst f***ing shot in the history of basketball.”

And Painter is right.

The announcers on the broadcast point out how bad the shot is. His teammates at the time know it’s an awful shot. Watching the clip now, Hummel says it’s “just a horrific possession and shot,” laughing with the benefit of hindsight.

I’m telling you that story because it’s funny. Anyone that knows Painter has a story like that, he’s just that kind of a guy. Maybe one day I’ll share the one I heard about the time Pat Knight hosted him on a recruiting visit at Indiana, but first I’ll need to iron out what’s fact, what’s legend and what is forever off the record. Again, that’s the kind of guy he is.

But it also serves to drive home a point, one that I kept hearing from people is what makes Painter so damn good as a coach: His ability to identify what, specifically, his players can do great, how to put them in a position to take advantage of those skills and – this is the important part – convincing them that they need to fully understand their own scouting report and play within their own abilities.

“Everybody looks at ‘talent,'” Painter told me last month, “but talent is overrated if someone is not going to play within the limits of what they can and cannot do. The more guys embrace that, the more productive they can be.”

And, in turn, the better the team can be.

The story I told you?

It’s the perfect example of this.

As a senior, Hummel was an All-American. As a junior, before suffering a pair of torn ACLs within the span of nine months, he averaged 15.7 points for a team that was one of the five best in America. As a senior two years later, he averaged 16.4 points before becoming a second round pick. He was a damn good college player, one of the best to ever set foot in Mackey Arena.

And that shot?

The worst f***ing shot in the history of basketball?

It looks an awful lot like these, doesn’t it?

Ask guys that have played for Painter about him, and they’ll tell you that he is very much a believer in the idea of confidence. He doesn’t want his players to be thinking when they are on the floor. If they have a chance to make a play or take a shot, he wants them to let it fly without being concerned that they’ll get yanked if they miss. But that comes with the caveat that his guys understand that what is a good shot for them differs from what is a good shot for him.

Edwards was the best in the country at what he did last season. He’ll spend a decade playing in the NBA specifically because of his ability to score, to make tough, deep, contested shots. “He’s got the juice,” Painter said. Likewise, Cline was one of the Big Ten’s very best shooters, and when he gets into the kind of rhythm that he was in against Tennessee, Painter is going to let him go. He has the ability to make those shots.

Hummel, as good as he was, is not a guy you want going 1-on-1 35 feet from the rim and settling for a contested, pull-up three. That’s not his game, but it is a good way to blow a 19-point lead on the road.

Which brings me back to the top.

Those post-ups.

In 2015-16, Purdue laid claim to the biggest and strongest frontline you’re ever going to see. They started 6-foot-9, 250 pound Caleb Swanigan at the four alongside either A.J. Hammons – who stood 7-foot, 250 pounds – or Isaac Haas – who checked in at 7-foot-2, 282 pounds. The following season, after Hammons graduated, Swanigan and Haas started together.

In 2017-18, Purdue ran out a lineup that looked different but played the same. Instead of using lineups predominantly featuring a pair of posts playing together, the Boilermakers put four perimeter players around Haas. That season, “only” 16 percent of their offense came via post-ups, which was sixth nationally.

“We had some really good big guys,” Greg Gary, who ran Purdue’s offense for the last four seasons, said. “That was our advantage. Our guards would get mad because we threw it in so much.”

The advantage for the Boilermakers lay in the fact that they forced the decision into making a decision. There were few, if any, players in the college ranks that were capable of slowing down any of those three Purdue bigs 1-on-1 in the post. If they got the ball where they wanted it, they were going to score. They were probably going to draw a foul. They would get your frontline into all kinds of foul trouble. You had to double, but doing so meant leaving someone that was a very good three-point shooter, because every perimeter player on the Purdue roster in recent seasons was a good three-point shooter.

Over the course of the last four seasons, even with a roster that featured the best post-up play in the country in three of those four seasons, Purdue has shot 36.7 percent, 40.2 percent, 42 percent and 37.4 percent from three. At worst, they were in the 80th percentile nationally from beyond the arc.

There is no better example of this than in 2017-18. That was the best offensive team Painter has ever had. They were the second most efficient offense in the country that season, trailing only national champion Villanova, who set a KenPom era record for efficiency that season. Your choice was either allowing Haas – who shot 61.7 percent from the floor, drew seven fouls per 40 minutes and made better than 75 percent of his free throws – to go 1-on-1, or you double-teamed him by leaving one of Carsen Edwards (40.6% 3PT), Vincent Edwards (39.8% 3PT), Dakota Mathias (46.6% 3PT), Ryan Cline (39.6% 3PT) or P.J. Thompson (44.1% 3PT).

So you tell me.

How do you stop that?

Everything changed this past season.

Matt Haarms took over as the starting center. He may be 7-foot-3, but he is not the post presence of his predecessors. Trevion Williams is going to be good, but he was a 280 pound freshman that just wasn’t ready. What that meant was that the Purdue coaching staff had to figure out something different.


(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Purdue has one of the biggest playbooks in college basketball.

Painter estimates that they have roughly 50 plays, but each one of those plays can be initiated from multiple different looks and they all have counters to the counters that are countering a counter.

“We would get a stapled booklet with all the plays every year during preseason,” Cline said, adding that often times offseason pick-up games would double as playbook study halls, because “if you don’t know the plays, you don’t play.

“There’s so many different play calls, five word sentences where one word changes [the play].”

Edwards used to joke with Gary that the play book “was my toughest class at Purdue.”

As a result, so much of Purdue’s success on the offensive end of the floor comes down to execution and deception. They don’t win off of raw talent. They win because the players excel at doing what the coaching staff asks them to do, and the coaching staff excels at figuring out exactly where they have an edge.

From 2015-2017, the answer was pounding the ball into the paint as much as humanly possible. When every post touch turns into David vs. Goliath, and you have Goliath, you give him the rock.

In 2017-18, it was forcing defenses to choose between guarding Mr. Incredible with one guy or playing 4-on-3 against four of the best shooters you’ll find in the college ranks.

This past season, the coaching staff figured out that there were three things they could build an offense around:

1. Edwards’ speed. He is not only one of the fastest players on any basketball court he steps foot on, he’s an absolute nightmare to chase around screens because he’s small, he’s compact, he can maneuver around screens better than anyone chasing him and he’s capable of rising up and drilling a catch-and-shoot three at top speed, especially when running to his left.

2. Haarms’ mobility. He can really move for a man his size. He can also handle the ball, he thrives in dribble-handoff actions and he has an innate understanding of when he can slip a screen and get a free run at the rim.

3. Cline’s awkward release. He has something of a slingshot motion that he fires from behind his head with a natural fade. That makes it very difficult to contest, especially when he is sprinting around screens to his right. He also proved himself an excellent passer and decision-maker, capable of hitting a big man rolling to the rim.

The result was an offense that, quite literally, turned into Edwards and Cline running circles around the court.

“We just had so much more movement because of not having a low post guy down there,” Gary said. “When you throw it to a guy in the post it gets stagnant. You try to get the big guy as much space as possible. We weren’t going to overpower anybody, so we had to have movement to occupy both sides of the floor.”

Imagine trying to guard this.

Imagine chasing Carsen Edwards off of a triple-screen. Imagine being a center 22 feet from the rim knowing that if you don’t help, Ryan Cline might bang a three in your face, but if you do help, Matt Haarms will slip the screen and find himself all alone in the paint without anyone within 10 feet of him.

And now imagine doing all of that knowing that one word is all it takes to change what action Purdue will be looking for, or that they can run the same thing out of three different looks.

Here’s the perfect example. Purdue ran the same action – a dribble-handoff in the middle of the floor that acts as a double-pindown for a shooter – 10 times in the Tennessee game. Look at how many different options they have, and how many ways they can get into it:

Perhaps the most frustrating part, at least if you are a member of that Purdue coaching staff, is that you’re going back to the drawing board next year.

Edwards is gone. Cline is gone. Gary is gone, too. That’s a huge chunk of their offense, the two guys they built the way they played around, not to mention the guy that was in charge of building it. What’s left is … well, it’s different.

But it’s also familiar.

Of Purdue’s five best players next season, there’s a reasonable argument to make that four of them will be bigs – Haarms, Williams, Aaron Wheeler and Evan Boudreaux – and the fifth will be a guard – Nojel Eastern – that has shot 3-for-13 from three in two years.

Bringing in Jahaad Proctor from High Point, a grad transfer lead guard, will help, and sophomore guards Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter did have their moments last season. Frankly, Painter seems to like what he has in his program, and their new offensive coordinator – Micah Shrewsberry – has already spent time on Purdue’s staff, in between spending time with Brad Stevens at Butler and in Boston.

They’re in good hands.

“There’s a really big sophomore jump with talented guys,” he said, “and we had four freshmen come off the bench that will now be sophomores. I think all four of them will have good years, and Nojel and Matt will be able to expand what they’re doing.

“I think the one think we have to make sure is that we don’t try to make anyone Carsen or Caleb. Allow guys to be the best version of themselves and play through that.”

It’s Painter’s job to figure out what, exactly, “the best version of themselves” is.

Duke lands D.J. Steward, third commitment in the Class of 2020

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Duke landed their third commitment in the Class of 2020 on Wednesday, as Chicago shooting guard D.J. Steward pledged to play his college ball for Coach K.

A high-volume scorer and potent shot-maker, the 6-foot-2 Steward visited Duke over the weekend before committing.

“Me and my family were amazed on our official visit, we loved the principals of Duke, and how united Duke is as a basketball program,” Steward told Rivals.com. “At Duke I will be able to get the best of both worlds; education wise and on the court playing on the biggest stage possible night in and night out.

“I will get to chase my goals and be one step closer to achieving my dream of playing in the NBA. Also I will be able to develop as a person off the court and as a ball player while playing under the most winningest coach in history, Coach K.”

Steward joins five-star forward Jalen Johnson and five-star point guard Jeremy Roach in Duke’s 2020 recruiting class. Johnson is the quintessential small-ball four that we have seen arrive in Durham in recent classes, while Roach appears to be the heir apparent to Tre Jones at the point guard spot. Steward should fit in nicely playing off the ball for the Blue Devils, who can always use some excess shot-making.

Duke is far from done here, as they are in the mix for the likes of Walker Kessler, Ziaire Williams and Henry Coleman.

New York senator the latest to propose bill to abolish amateurism

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A second state now has legislation in the works that would make it legal for college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness.

Kevin Parker, a New York state senator from Brooklyn, has proposed a bill similar to California’s Fair Pay To Play act, not only giving college athletes the ability to sell their NIL rights but also requiring athletic departments to give a 15 percent share of their annual revenue to the student-athletes. California’s bill, which will go into effect in 2023 if it is signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, would make removing a student-athlete from their scholarship for accepting endorsement money illegal.

“It’s about equity,” Parker told ESPN. “These young people are adding their skill, talent and labor to these universities.

“You don’t need the shortcuts and the end-arounds because now we’re providing some real support for these student-athletes.”

New York joins the growing list of organizations that are pushing back against the NCAA’s rules on amateurism. South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado and Washington have had legislators discuss whether or not to make similar changes to the law, while Congressmen from North Carolina and Connecticut have made pushes at the federal level. Democratic Presidential candidate Anrew Yang has blasted the NCAA over their amateurism rules, while just last week, NBA agents made public the fact that they will be refusing to register for the NCAA’s proposed certification process.

Rick Pitino, Louisville settle lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The University of Louisville and former head coach Rick Pitino have reached a joint agreement to drop their lawsuits against each other.

The two sides “have mutually agreed to dismiss their legal claims against each other, designate his departure as a resignation and move forward,” according to a joint statement that was released by the University and Pitino. Pitino will not be paid any money as a result of this settlement, but he departure will now be classified as a resignation, effective Oct. 3rd, 2017.

Pitino had sued Louisville for somewhere around $40 million.

“For 17 years, Coach Pitino ran a program that combined excellence on the court with a commitment to the program’s student-athletes, their academic achievement, and their futures in and out of basketball,” the state said. “Nevertheless, there were NCAA infractions during his term which led to serious consequences for the university. Although these infractions may not have occurred at Pitino’s direction or with his knowledge, the problems leading to NCAA infractions happened under his leadership. We thank Coach Pitino for his years of service to the University of Louisville basketball program and wish him well.”

“Today I move on to a new chapter in my life,” a statement from Pitino reads. “Against my lawyer’s advice, I’m dropping my lawsuit with ULAA. I am very proud of the many accomplishments my teams achieved at Louisville. I’m so thankful and honored to coach such dedicated athletes. I’m also disappointed in how it ended. But as head coach I am held responsible for the actions of all team members. I still have so much passion for the game and so many goals I want to achieve. From this day forward I start my climb.”

Kentucky lands commitments from two more elite prospects

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John Calipari is getting his work done early in the 2020 recruiting class, as he added two more commitments over the weekend.

On Thursday, it was Lance Ware, a 6-foot-10 post player from Camden, New Jersey, that announced his commitment. Ware is a top 50 recruit that held offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Miami. The bigger news, however, came on Saturday afternoon, when Terrance Clarke announced that he will be enrolling at Kentucky whenever he ends his high school tenure. Clarke is currently a member of the Class of 2021, but the plan is for him to reclassify and graduate high school this year.

Clarke is a consensus top three player in 2021 – and he may be the No. 1 player in that class, depending on who you ask – and should immediately vault into the top five of the 2020 recruiting class. An athletic, versatile wing that stands 6-foot-6, Clarke is a potential lottery pick given his physical tools and the way that he projects as multi-positional defender with the ability to create off of the dribble. Ware, like Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery before him, projects as the kind of player that will spend 2-3 years in Lexington.

Clarke and Ware join top ten prospect B.J. Boston and another top 50 recruit, Cam’Ron Fletcher, in Kentucky’s 2020 class. That’s three wings in the class with Johnny Juzang, Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen and Keion Brooks currently on campus. Throw Montgomery into the mix, and that’s eight players that fit somewhere into a lineup as a wing or a face-up big man, and it seems rather unlikely that all five of the guys currently at Kentucky will leave the school this offseason. Put another way, this looks like the end of Kentucky’s pursuit of the likes of Jalen Green and Josh Christopher.

Calipari is still recruiting Cade Cunningham despite the fact that many expect Cunningham to end up at Oklahoma State, where Mike Boynton hired his brother Cannen, but Cade has skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings as he has transitioned to playing the point. Kentucky is still in the mix for a handful of other forwards, including Scottie Barnes, Isaiah Todd and Greg Brown.