B1G Basketball Preview: Purdue
The Boilermakers start the year off as the AP No. 23 ranked team in the country. After a heartbreaking overtime loss to Cincinnati last year in the round of 64, head coach Matt Painter and his team will be looking for a bounce back year. With a record of 21-13 last season, 12-6 in Big Ten play, there is room for improvement.
With a fifth place finish in the Big Ten, the Boilermaker’s season was significantly better than expected. Two seasons ago, Purdue saw themselves at the bottom of the conference with a losing record and only five conference wins. As an experienced team, Purdue will look to begin the year strong behind Painter as he begins his 11th season in West Lafayette.
Key Returning Players:
Purdue will bring back six players who started at least ten games last season. Two of their biggest contributors last year, Raphael Davis and A.J. Hammons, will look to have dominant senior years and lead this Boilermaker team to another NCAA tournament.
Sophomore forward Vince Edwards and junior guard Kendall Stephens are likely to start and be key players during the season. Edwards started all but four games last year and was very versatile on the court. He was third on the team in rebounds with 4.8 per game and also third on the team in three pointers made, knocking down 29. Stephens is the Boilermakers’ best outside weapon as he shoots the three without hesitation. He shot 38 percent from behind the arc while making just over two three pointers per game.
Incoming freshman Caleb Swanigan will be a dominant post presence from the minute he puts on his gold and black uniform. At 6’8” and 275 pounds, he is a little bit undersized at the center position, but his strength will help him defend and score over bigger opponents. Swanigan originally committed to play for fellow Big Ten school Michigan State, but after rethinking his decision, he decided to play for Painter’s Boilermakers. As the No. 9 player in his recruiting class, according to ESPN, Swanigan will be a force to reckon with this season
Redshirt senior Johnny Hill will be playing at Purdue for his last season of eligibility after transferring from the University of Texas-Arlington. Hill, a point guard, will be one of a few Boilermakers who must fill the void of last year’s point guard, Jon Octeus.
Luckily for the Boilermakers, they will be losing only one key player from last year in Jon Octeus. In his one year with Purdue, after transferring from Colorado State, Octeus started all 34 games at the point guard spot, while averaging 9.3 points per game to go along with 4.9 rebounds per game. Octeus also played a role defensively as he led the Boilermakers in steals with 35. Purdue’s only other noticeable loss is Bryson Scott, who will be transferring to Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Scott was a backup guard who appeared in 25 games, averaging a modest 10.7 minutes per game.
Offensively, Purdue had its ups and downs throughout last season. They ranked sixth in the Big Ten in points per game (70.0) and in field goal percentage (.453). Purdue struggled as a team shooting three pointers, as they finished tenth in the Big Ten at a .335 percent clip. In order to win close games, the Boilermakers must cut down on their turnovers. Their 13.1 turnovers per game last season put them atop the Big Ten.
Defensively, Purdue is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Raphael Davis won the 2014-15 Big Ten defensive player of the year award as a lockdown perimeter defender. With Hammons anchoring the paint, the Boilermakers will likely lead the conference in blocks, as they did last year.
The Boilermakers season starts off somewhat slow as their strength of schedule is weak throughout the early games. It helps that 10 of their 13 games will be played in Indiana, but this is a team that should start off the season strong.
The first test will likely come in the fifth game against Florida in the Hall of Fame Tip Off Classic. Two contests later, Purdue will be traveling to Pittsburgh to play the Panthers in the highly acclaimed ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The last two non-conference games will be tough for Purdue as they play Butler and Vanderbilt three days apart. Both of those teams start off the year in the AP top 25 (No. 24 and No. 18 respectively) and will be looking to make a run in the NCAA tournament come March.
I definitely don’t see Purdue losing more than two to three non-conference games simply because their toughest games will be played at Mackey Arena.
Like any other team in the Big Ten, Purdue will have a very tough schedule game in and game out. They open up against last year’s NCAA tournament runner-up team, Wisconsin, in Madison.
There are three consecutive games in February that will be a decisive factor as to whether or not Purdue goes far in the Big Ten Conference. They have to play at Maryland, then come back home to see Michigan State and Michigan. All three of these opponents are looking to compete for a conference championship, especially Maryland, who will start off the year as the AP No. 3 team in the country.
The last four games for the Boilermakers will determine whether or not they will be a top seed in the Big Ten tournament. Purdue will have to play Indiana and Nebraska on the road and host Maryland and Wisconsin. Winning three out of four of these games will put Purdue on the right track moving forward towards the tournament.
Coach’s Hot Seat:
Coming into his 11th season, Matt Painter shouldn’t be worried about losing his job. Barring a horrendous season, which most likely won’t be the case, Painter’s job will be safe.
It will be interesting early on to see how he rotates his players in and out of games and if his starting lineup will stay the same throughout the year. With a roster as deep as Painter’s, it will be tough to get everyone the court time they desire.
Purdue looks like it will be on track to making the NCAA tournament for a second straight season. The defensive intensity that they bring for all 40 minutes of the game will be the main key to their success along with taking care of the basketball.
Although this team is not as skilled as they were in years past, such as in 2011 when they were a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, they will find ways to win games based of off their high energy level and an abundance of mature players.
In one of the top, if not the best basketball conference in the nation, Purdue will be one of the better teams. I believe that Purdue will finish fifth or sixth in the Big Ten and finish with a record of 21-10, 11-7 in Big Ten play. This will certainly be enough to earn the Boilermaker’s a spot in the NCAA tournament field of 68.
Blake Hargrove is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.