INDIANAPOLIS – Breaking news: I asked an intriguing question.
That nugget of information, in and of itself, may surprise many. However, what I pondered in the News-Sentinel newsroom recently, while annoying columnist Reggie Hayes, was something to consider.
I have spent this winter closely watching both the men’s basketball programs at Purdue and Butler, which led me to ask Hayes (garnering me all of a shrug): Butler is so much better than Purdue. How did that happen?
Upon researching the topic, two things became clear. First of all, Butler is not only better this year, but has been since the turn of the century.
Both programs have participated eight times in the NCAA Tournament since 2000, and the Bulldogs’ two trips to the Sweet 16 match the same achievement by the Boilermakers. However, Butler’s consecutive years of advancing to the national championship game (2010 and 2011) trumps any program within this state – including the one in Bloomington.
How has Butler become Indiana’s most accomplished basketball program?
Well, the Hoosiers hired Kelvin Sampson, and that took a few years to clean up that mess.
But as for the Boilermakers, Butler has surpassed them due to better recruiting.
In the spring of 2011, the Purdue administration awarded Boilermaker coach Matt Painter an increase in annual salary to $2.3 million. At the time, his incentive package had the potential to place him among the top 10 most-compensated coaches in the country.
I'm not going to argue the merits of that increase. But I will say this: Butler seems to be getting far more for its money than Purdue when it comes to on and off-the-court success.
In studying the Purdue roster, there are countless examples of how not just Butler, but other Midwestern programs, have made more shrewd decisions and won more recruiting battles with Purdue, which is why the Boilermakers spent Sunday surviving an overtime win (65-62) against a team (Iowa) that hit just 31.1 percent of its shots.
Four years ago, Painter signed 6-foot-9 center Sandi Marcius, who played just four minutes against the Hawkeyes and didn’t score. Compare that with Butler, who, out of the same class, signed 6-foot-11 Andrew Smith (nearly 12 points and more than five rebounds per game in 25 minutes of action), who has evolved into one of the more skilled post players in the country.
If it were a matter of losing a single recruiting battle or missing on one evaluation, that wouldn’t result in much of an impact. That happens to every program, including Butler. But the same storyline has continued annually in West Lafayette.
In that same recruiting class, Purdue signed front court players Patrick Bade and Jeff Robinson. Bade now plays in Ross-Ade Stadium instead of Mackey Arena, while Robinson starts for Xavier (which has beaten Purdue each of the past two seasons).
Three years ago, Deshaun Thomas graduated from Bishop Luers High School and has since developed into a first-team All-American. At Ohio State.
That same year, Purdue signed forwards Donnie Hale (3.9 points and 3.2 rebounds per game) and Travis Carroll (2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds), while Butler signed Khyle Marshall (10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds).
Carroll is a tremendously hard-working player, but he doesn’t have Marshall’s game at either end of the court.
The Butler coaching staff found Marshall in Davie, Fla., and now has a versatile athlete that can defend four positions and is a human highlight reel.
That’s what Purdue should be getting for $2.3 million.
Two years ago, Purdue signed forward Jacob Lawson (3.1 points and as many rebounds), who didn’t play in Sunday’s game.
Out of that same recruiting class, Michigan State came into this state and got Brandon Dawson (10.5 points and 6.6 rebounds), while Michigan got Mitch McGary (5.6 rebounds per game). Butler meanwhile, signed Roosevelt Jones, who averages 29 minutes per game and can defend – and play – all five positions on the floor.
This past year, the Boilermakers signed Fort Wayne’s Rapheal Davis, who is off to a very solid start to his career. Davis is getting better each game, and off the court he is as fine a representative as Purdue could dream up.
But Boiler Nation has to ask itself: Would Purdue be better if it could have landed Indiana Mr. Basketball Gary Harris (starring at Michigan State), Glenn Robinson III (son of a Purdue legend and starring at Michigan), or Butler sharp-shooter Kellen Dunham (11 points per game and 37.5 percent from long range)?
Purdue fans are watching as this young group takes its lumps this season and fights for what may be a postseason berth in the NIT or CBI. But it didn’t have to be this way. And if Purdue has any future championship aspirations on the court, it needs to start evaluating better and winning battles off of it.