Matt Painter’s Boilers had a great regular season. They won the Big Ten regular season title with ease, going 14-4 in league play. Caleb Swanigan was the overwhelming choice for conference POY. They got past the disappointment of a loss to Michigan in the BTT quarter final by winning two NCAA Tournament games and getting to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2010.
Then the roof caved in. Kansas ripped the Boilers apart, beating them by 32 points and leaving a sour taste in what had been the best season Purdue fans had experienced in at least 7 years. It didn’t erase all the good things Purdue achieved but it was a sign that, even in a year where they won the league easily, Purdue still wasn’t yet ready to make a deep March run and get to the promised land of a Final Four.
Caleb Swanigan – The biggest loss, figuratively and literally, possible for Purdue. “Biggie’s” departure wasn’t any kind of shock, as it had been largely anticipated from the moment he pulled out of last year’s draft, but his decision went right up until the deadline, so some began to hope that maybe the conference POY had decided on one more season. In reality, it made little sense for Swanigan to return unless he’d just fallen in love with the notion of trying to bring a Final Four to West Lafayette. He did just about everything possible as a sophomore to improve himself. He got into tremendous physical condition. He improved both his shooting (45% from deep) and his shot selection. He was at least somewhat improved defensively. He wouldn’t be able to change his physical tools with another year in college and topping his productivity from last year would be tough and difficult to do in any meaningful way. Swanigan was a dominant force last season, averaging 18.5ppg and 12.5 rpg. He’s a significant loss, no question about it.
Spike Albrecht – Albrecht was a grad transfer point guard from Michigan who really didn’t contribute at the level he or Purdue had hoped. It was surprising to begin with that he elected to play another year, given that he’d had two hip surgeries and the situation was dire enough that for awhile it was indicated that he had “retired” from the sport. A deadeye shooter in Ann Arbor, he only shot 23% from outside the arc last season, which indicated to me that he really wasn’t the same guy physically.
Basil Smotherman – Smotherman was a reserve wing who was dismissed from the team last January, so they’ve known about his absence going forward for awhile. He was only averaging about 12 mpg prior to the dismissal, so not a major loss.
Isaac Haas – The 7’2″ senior giant had a strong season last year, averaging 12.6 ppg and 5 rpg. He’s become a nearly unguardable post weapon when he can get to his spots. However, Purdue will need a lot more from him this year. He averaged only 19.5 mpg and the Boilers had that luxury because they could play Swanigan at the 5 frequently. This year, I think they need Haas to at least be a 25 mpg guy. If he can do that effectively, that’ll provide a big boost for this team. It really comes down to conditioning and foul trouble with the big man.
Vince Edwards – Edwards electing to come back to school was another positive for Painter’s group. The 6’8″ senior will be mostly a stretch 4 this season, IMO, and he should be very effective in that role for Purdue. Edwards also averaged 12.6 ppg and he’s developed into a consistent shooter who also has some dribble drive ability as well. He’s a guy who can provide help in a lot of different areas for this team and he probably emerges as their #1 offensive weapon.
Carsen Edwards – The 6 foot sophomore guard didn’t prove to be the answer at the point (62 assists versus 64 TOs) but he was a dynamic offensive weapon on the perimeter. He averaged 10.3ppg and should fare even better if he can improve his shot selection and consistency (only 39/34% as a freshman). Figure on his starting on the wing and being a big part of the Boiler attack.
Dakota Mathias – The 6’4″ senior has developed into a fine two way player on the wing. He was arguably the best perimeter defender in the conference last season and he’s become a lethal deep shooter, hitting 45% of his deep balls last season. He also led Purdue in assists with 133 and had a 2.5/1 A/TO ratio. Mathias hasn’t been a guy who takes enough shots to be the main man but his value at both ends of the floor is unquestioned for this team.
PJ Thompson – Thompson is a 5’10” senior point guard who never seems to inspire a lot of praise but when you look at his numbers, they’re very impressive. The guy had a 4:1 assist to TO ratio and shot 45/40% from the floor. He’s also at least respectable on the defensive end, and he’s seen as a calming force and leader for this team. He’s part of an extremely experienced starting lineup for this team and should be solid once again as a senior.
Ryan Cline – The 6’5 junior lived up to his billing as a big time shooter, hitting 41% of his 3s, which is the primary way he helps this team offensively. He also developed into a pretty solid defender, giving the Boilers some length on the perimeter. Expect him to continue to be a solid reserve next season.
Jacquil Taylor – Taylor is a 6’10” junior who has been unable to remain healthy during his time in West Lafayette but if he can stay on the court, his time to earn real rotation minutes may have finally arrived. They think he has some perimeter ability to go with his size, and if he’s right physically, he could factor in at the 5 spot for Painter’s team.
Matt Haarms – A 7’3″ redshirt freshman and native of Holland, it remains to be seen how quickly Haarms can earn his way onto the court. He played at the same prep school as Tum Tum Nairn. They say he’s got decent lateral quickness and some ball skills, but strength and the ability to function at this level are in question for now. If he could even prove capable of earning 10 mpg, that would be a big bonus.
Aaron Wheeler – A 6’8″ freshman from Connecticut, Wheeler has solid athletic ability and they think he has enough ball skills to be a stretch 4 at the Big Ten level. He may be able to find a rotation spot as a freshman.
Eden Ewing – A 6’9″ JUCO transfer, Ewing has a rep as an athletic guy with a good motor. He was rated one of the top JUCO guys coming out last year, so expectations are that he’ll be able to earn a rotation spot for this team immediately. The word is that he has enough ball skills to perhaps play the wing but I’d be betting on his getting more time at the 4.
Sasha Stefanovic – Stefanovic is a 6’5″ shooting guard from Indiana who comes in with a rep as a serious perimeter weapon. It’s possible that he could earn some minutes on the wing if the Boilers feel a need to expand the playing group.
Nojel Eastern – Eastern is a multi dimensional 6’6″ freshman from Evanston, IL. A Michigan State recruit, Eastern turned down the Spartans and other high major programs to play at Purdue in part because the Boilers seemed willing to give him a legitimate shot at playing the point. He is a capable passer and playmaker and his size gives him potential to be a disruptive defender in time. The big question mark on him is his shooting, but despite that, it seems very likely that he’ll at least pick up the minutes Albrecht played as a reserve point guard last year. His potential to develop into a solid all around player is definitely present, and I expect him to be in their playing group.
If Swanigan had returned, I would have been tempted to make Purdue a co-favorite to win the league and to be a serious threat for a Final Four berth. That’s how much he would have meant. Without him, I don’t believe the Boilers can quite get to that level, but this still should be a very good team. They’ll likely start four seniors and a sophomore, so experience will be a big positive for this team, as will it’s perimeter shooting. To me, the big issues will be if Haas can increase his minutes and whether guys like Taylor, Eastern and Ewing can combine with Cline to give Painter a solid and reliable bench rotation. Purdue won’t be able to bludgeon people in the paint the way they did last season, but this should still be a very good team and certainly one which will be worthy of an NCAA bid come March.