2K Sports Classic: Pegging Away With Hammer & Rails

Ronnie Johnson is going to be a tough matchup for Ryan Arcidiacono when Villanova and Purdue face off in the 2K Sports Classic. - Michael Hickey

Villanova and Purdue meet on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in the 2K Sports Classic semifinals.

Very happy to announce our first opponent Q&A of the basketball season with Travis from the fantastic Purdue Boilermakers blog Hammer & Rails. Travis was kind enough to answer my questions about Purdue in anticipation of Thursday night's game at The Garden. You can check out my answers to Travis' questions at H&R here.

Gone are the days of E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel (though I confess I suspected Hummel might have somehow still found a way onto this year's team - he had Scottie Reynolds' longevity). Who are the new faces of Purdue basketball?

This is an extremely young team. D.J. Byrd and Dru Anthrop are the only seniors with Anthrop being a former walk-on that hasn’t played a ton of minutes. We’re not so much reloading as rebooting with a solid recruiting class from this year and next year that I have dubbed The Next Step. The Moore-Hummel-Johnson group won a Big Ten Tourney, a Big Ten regular season title, and reached Sweet 16’s, so the next step for the program is a Final Four and National Championship. That’s what I want to see from this group of eight in the next 4-5 years.

It will be more complete next year because Jay Simpson and A.J. Hammons bring the size tot his group. Next year Ronnie Johnson and Rapheal Davis will get Bryson Scott and Kendall Stevens as versatile guards s well as promising guard/forward in Basil Smotherman whom I have described as Kelsey Barlow with his give-a-shit always turned on. Barlow was one of those supremely gifted athletes that could make an impressive athletic play at any time, but unfortunately his head wasn’t always 100% on straight. It’s a major reason why we don’t have him as senior playing this year (he was kicked off the team in February and transferred to Illinois-Chicago.

Right now the face of the team is probably the Johnsons. Terone and Ronnie are brothers, while Anthony (no relation) has played pretty well in the first two games. Purdue is going to be more post-oriented this season out of necessity, so the sooner the post players come along the better Purdue will be. The Johnsons are really our only guards so they need to play at a high level.

What is the status of Terone Johnson heading into Thursday night's game? Is he fully recovered from the ankle injury that kept him out of the Bucknell game or will he still be limited?

He played 17 minutes on Sunday and had six points, so hopefully a few more days of rest will have him at 100%. We need him to be because he has the most experience of anyone in the backcourt and we need his scoring ability.

It's scary how similar these rosters are - what area do you see as Purdue's biggest advantage over 'Nova?

Probably our size in the paint. Donnie Hale, a redshirt freshman, was very good in the first half against Bucknell. Sandi Marcius played very well in the NCAA Tournament and made a big jump with our summer Italy trip. He had 11 points and five rebounds against Hofstra, which was a career high in scoring for him. Jacob Lawson, Travis Carroll, and A.J. Hammons will also play big minutes in the post with Simpson mentioned above. It is easily the biggest team Matt Painter has had.

Ryan Arcidiacono vs. Ronnie Johnson is likely going to be the matchup on everyone's radar. Tell us about your freshman PG and why we should be worried.

Well, RJ is used to playing against elite 2012 point guards. He played against Indiana’s Kevin Ferrell multiple times here in Indianapolis since their high schools are about three miles apart. RJ often held his own as well. I live in Indy and went to the game last winter when RJ faced off against Ferrell and it was special. There were about seven D1 players on the court that night and Ferrell and RJ were the best two. He won a state championship as a sophomore with big brother Terone on his team and the Indiana 4A tournament is one of the toughest state tournaments in the country to win. For example: last season he played against Gary Harris of Michigan State three time, winning once. Harris won their first round state tournament game (we play a blind draw based on geography, so they drew each other in round one) on a last second half court three-pointer. In addition to Harris and Ferrell he played against a bunch of other great HS players and top recruits like Kellen Dunham at Butler and D.J. Balentine of Evansville.

He has already played extremely well for a true freshman, but so has Arcidiacono. It should be a dandy.

What's up with D.J. Byrd so far this year? Seems like a slow start for him (not unlike JayVaughn Pinkston for Villanova).

I am not sure. I was at the Bucknell game and missed it, but apparently he got into it with Anthony Johnson. I think part of it is adjusting form being a solid role player to being the No. 1 guy and team leader. I have seen D.J. play since he was a freshman in high school and he has always had elder players on the court that he’s been able to play off of. For three years he had the Hummel/Moore/Johnson trio on the court drawing the attention of other teams so he could pick his spots. Now he is THE guy.

That said, he did have a very good look at a tying three in the closing seconds against Bucknell. To me it looked like the two guys colliding in front of him distracting him for just a second, causing him to hesitate just a little and miss what would have tied the game 68-68. Sometimes that’s how it goes.

What's your prediction for the game? Feel free to be a homer because I absolutely will be in mine.

I think we’re going to see a very close game where the team that gets over the freshman jitters first wins. I picked Purdue 72-70. I think the Boilers learned a lot in that Bucknell game and will show it (at least I hope so). Bucknell is an extremely talented and experienced team that no one is going to want to face in March.

Again, a big thanks to Travis and make sure to top by Hammer & Rails to chat with the Boiler fans!

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