LAST SEASON – It seemed to be set up as the year when the Boilers could get back into the national discussion. Matt Painter had size galore, good experience overall and a strong start to the season. They did some things well…finished 12-6 in the league and runners up to MSU in the BTT. Yet, the first round NCAA loss to Arkansas Little Rock left an unfavorable final impression. It felt a little bit like a missed opportunity, and in large part that was due to a lack of guard play.

Purdue’s added some bodies to their mix and we’ll see if that makes the whole greater than the sum of the individual parts this season.

THIS SEASON – The Boilers return 5’10” junior PJ Thompson at the point. His numbers look fine on paper…44/41% shooting and a better than 3:1 A/TO ratio, plus decent, pesky defense. Yet, the numbers in this case don’t tell the whole story. The fact is that Thompson hasn’t been sufficiently dynamic for Purdue’s offense to really function at a championship level. He shoots well when he shoots it, but he doesn’t shoot much, and that lack of threat makes him less dynamic than he might otherwise be. 

So Purdue added a couple of new bodies at the point. One is incoming freshman Carsen Edwards out of Texas. He comes in with a reputation as a fine deep shooter and a decent decision maker, though he also has a tendency to play too fast on occasion. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a lot of time because he seems a better bet than Thompson to be that kind of dynamic force Purdue has lacked at that position. The Boilers also added Michigan grad transfer Spike Albrecht. There are major health questions surrounding Little Spike…the word last winter was that he’d “retired” due to his dual hip surgeries but then he decided he wanted to play again and Purdue took him in after a little bit of back and forth with Michigan surrounding transfering to a conference opponent. If he’s healthy, he can help an offense for sure. He shoots well and rarely makes mistakes with the ball. However, he is also one of the worst individual defenders I’ve seen in a major role in this conference, so I can’t see how Matt Painter will be able to live with a lot of that. If he’s healthy, I still don’t expect much more than spot duty from him, because he can’t check anyone and Purdue bases so much of what they do around that end of the floor.

On the wing, Purdue lost defender par excellence Raph Davis but return a couple of vets in junior Dakota Mathias and sophomore Ryan Cline. Mathias is mostly a deep shooter on offense (38%) but I like his grit on the other end. He won’t wow you with much but he can be a solid part of a winning group IMO. Cline also shot 38% from deep last season and as his defensive game expands, so should his role. Neither of these guys are knockout players but they’re the kind of guys Painter can win with.

Upfront, Purdue had two players with big NBA decisions and both elected to return. 6’7″ junior Vince Edwards was the more important of the two IMO. I really like his game. He was the second leading scorer at 11.3 ppg last year and he did it as a true inside/outside threat. He hit 40% of his threes but only took about 1/3 of his shots from outside the arc. I liked his ability to get to the rim off the dribble and battle around the bucket for garbage points just as much (he averaged 5.3 rpg as well). I think he’s the guy who can assume a leadership role on this team going forward, as he’s also a gritty and versatile defensive player.

Caleb Swanigan is the other guy who came back. The 6’9″ Swanigan did some things well as a freshman (8.3 rpg) but he didn’t shoot as well as I’d anticipated, due in large part to very poor shot selection (he attempted more than 2 triples per game…that was WAY too much for him) and because he wasn’t operating more regularly out of the post, I think his ability to create for teammates also suffered. With Swanigan, it’s simple…can he play with more of a team oriented attitude and focus on the things he does well as opposed to the things he believes he needs to show the NBA he can do (most of which he can’t, to be honest)?

Isaac Haas is ready to step into major minutes at the center spot now that AJ Hammons has moved on. Haas is an incredibly large person at 7’2″ and about 290lbs. Yet, he’s still very mobile and I like the offensive improvement he’s shown. The biggest question is if he’s ready to go from 15 mpg to about 28-30, if he’s conditioned well enough to do that. I think he’s headed for the NBA, so I expect the answers to be positive for him.

Off the bench, Purdue welcomes back the redshirted 6’6″ junior forward Basil Smotherman. He’s a nice player, with good playmaking skills and a high motor. 6’9″ Jaquil Taylor has been unable to earn a consistent role thus far in his career but may get a shot to do so this season.

BOTTOM LINE – This team could actually be better than last year’s group, but there are questions. Can someone solve the PG problem? Is Edwards ready to become the Alpha Dog? Will Swanigan focus on Purdue rather than the NBA? Is Haas ready for more minutes? These are all valid questions but I think most of them are going to get answered positively for the Boilers. They’re probably not a Big Ten title caliber team, but should be no worse than the next rung down.