The 2004-05 season will mark the end of the Gene Keady era at Purdue. Keady, who is entering his 25th season in Boilermaker country, asked for a contract extension following the 2003-04 season but didn't receive one. After flirting with the coaching job at the University of San Francisco, Keady convinced Purdue to implement a succession plan to turn the program over to former Boilermaker Matt Painter following the 2004-05 season.
Painter, who left Southern Illinois after just one season, will serve as the Boilermakers' associate head coach this year.
Replacing Keady, the second-winningest coach in Big Ten history, will be quite a chore. But first things first. The 68-year-old Keady wants to go out with a bang.
"I've got one year left so we want to win this year," Keady said. "We've set the bar so high here that nothing less than getting into the NCAA tournament and going a ways is a failure."
Making that kind of noise will be challenging for Keady and Co.
The Boilermakers must replace seven players, including their leading scorer, leading rebounder and leading assist man, from last year's disappointing 17-14 team that finished tied for seventh in the Big Ten with a 7-9 record.
FRONTCOURTConsidering that four players who were 6-foot-8 or taller have moved on, Purdue's front line will rely on quickness and versatility this season.
It is imperative for Matt Kiefer to start playing up to his potential. He needs to stop being timid and begin exerting himself in the post. Kiefer has to give this team an inside scoring threat and stay out of foul trouble.
One of the Boilermakers' keys to success this season will center around the play of wide-body Ije Nwankwo.
"If Ije steps his game up, we'll win," Keady said.
Nwankwo showed he has what it takes when he scored a career-high 17 points in a win over Indiana last year, but he has to become a better finisher around the basket.
Transfer Carl Landry, a first-team juco All-American last season, has a ton of potential and could emerge as one of the team's leading scorers. Gary Ware is another juco transfer expected to make an immediate impact, especially on the defensive end.
The coaches are expecting Matt Carroll to come off the bench and help in the rebounding department and not be so concerned about his shot.
BACKCOURTWith veterans Brandon McKnight and David Teague returning, Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's best backcourts.
However, replacing Kenneth Lowe, the two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, won't be easy.
Teague has the ability to be a defensive stopper as well as a threat on the perimeter. But he must improve his shot selection, become a better rebounder and be more aggressive with his dribble.
McKnight, who dished out 87 assists last season, second-best on the team, needs to be more selfish on the offensive end and improve his scoring average. Expect him to play more shooting guard this season instead of the point.
Juco transfer Bryant Dillon may see some time at the point and at 6-6 could play small forward, too.
Freshman Xavier Price's hard-nosed style of play makes him a perfect fit in Keady's system. He's expected to see significant playing time as a rookie, particularly with the way he gets after people defensively.
Andrew Ford, one of the team's two seniors, should help a great deal with leadership.
FINAL ANALYSISThe Boilermakers, who have missed the NCAA tournament in three of the last four seasons, would love to send Keady out on a winning note. But with such an inexperienced team that lacks a proven leader, it could be yet another disappointing winter in West Lafayette.
"We have a lot of question marks with our team," said Keady, whose Boilermakers are just 28-36 in the Big Ten over the last four seasons. "I think the media's expectations will be low, but we are excited because our key guys coming back are athletic and possess a great deal of talent."