Purdue's Kramer looks to annoy Duke
It happens almost every game with Chris Kramer.
Annoyance rides a steady crescendo until it peaks with a wail of frustration, both for opposing fans and for the player freighted with the task of trying to score while Purdue's defensive specialist bumps and pokes and jostles and generally makes a nuisance of himself.
And then, of course, Kramer has won the battle.
Kramer, the two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the Boilermakers' all-time steals leader, has been called the nation's best defender by more than a few people -- mostly coaches and analysts.
Opponents, however, often employ more colorful terms to describe him, most of which are best articulated on ESPN.com like this: %$@#%!
"They hate when he guards them," Purdue guard E'Twaun Moore said. "He gets all up into them, breathing down their necks. They're like, 'Man, get off of me!'"
Michigan's Manny Harris even chatted with Moore about Kramer, trying to figure out what makes the 6-foot-3, 214-pounder tick. "He's like, 'Man, he's a pest! Man, I hate when he guards me!'" Moore said.
Up next for Kramer and the Boilermakers is a Sweet 16 showdown with top-seeded Duke on Friday. The Blue Devils, who embarrassed Purdue at home 76-60 a season ago, feature three high-scoring players -- guard Jon Scheyer, forward Kyle Singler and guard Nolan Smith -- who average more than 17 points per game, so Kramer will have plenty of pestering options.
The stocky, muscular Kramer looks like a football player, which makes sense because he was a quarterback and safety for Huntington North High School (Ind.), and he was good enough to raise the eyebrows of a few college football coaches.
But Kramer jilted football for hoops.
"My football coach came to me and said he had people who wanted to recruit me," Kramer said. "I told him, 'Sorry Coach, basketball is my true love.'"
Purdue coach Matt Painter was thrilled to get a player with a football mentality.
"Anytime you can get a football player playing basketball for you, when the ball is loose or you have to close on a guy and get that angle, those guys always get the basketball," he said. "He's that way. When the ball is loose, he gets it. Football players stay on edge, they're hungry, they play through the whistle. That mentality in football of just continuing to make the next play and playing through the whistle is what he has."
Kramer made an immediate impact as a freshman -- ranking second in the Big Ten in steals per game and earning a spot on the conference All-Defensive Team -- and he's never stopped being annoying.
And by annoying, we mean being effective. Defense, after all, isn't just physical. When a scorer is obsessing about Kramer or, even better, trying to jaw with him or whining to the referees, he's probably going to struggle to find his rhythm.
So being annoying is a defensive asset.
"I think it does help a little bit," Kramer said. "When you can get little shots on people when they come off screens and be physical with them -- a lot of people shy away from physicality. That's one thing I use to my advantage on the post and on the perimeter. A lot of guys get worried about that. You bump them off screens and you body them up. A lot of guys don't like that."
Nope. They most certainly do not.
There was a defensive lull this season, however, and not surprisingly it coincided with the Boilermakers' only losing streak. Wisconsin's Jason Bohannon, Ohio State's Evan Turner and Northwestern's Drew Crawford lit Kramer up for 20, 32 and 15 points, respectively.
Painter even took a shot at Kramer, telling reporters at the time: "He hasn't been our defensive stopper the past couple weeks."
Further, when Purdue lost Robbie Hummel to a knee injury on Feb. 24, Kramer's role expanded in multiple ways. For one, he often ended up guarding bigger players, not just the opponent's leading scorer, because of the Boilermakers' lack of size.
And he was also needed to contribute more on the offensive end.
Kramer averaged only 6.3 points per game in the regular season, but he scored 10 points in the win over Siena in the first round of the South Regional and he had a team-high 17 in the thrilling overtime win over Texas A&M.
In fact, it was Kramer who demanded the ball at the end, shocking the Aggies when he drove through the lane for the game-winning layup.
"I wasn't expecting him to get the ball," Texas A&M guard Dash Harris said afterward. "I expected them to give it to a player who could drive or hit the jumper."
Still, Kramer's best skill is being a pest.
Now it's Duke's turn to get annoyed.
Ted Miller covers college sports for ESPN.com.