- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards, Dakota Mathias, Carsen Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Ryan Cline
Key Losses: Caleb Swanigan, Spike Albrecht
Key Newcomers: Nojel Eastern, Matt Haarms, Eden Ewing
Postseason Projection: 4 - 7 seed
Purdue won their first outright Big Ten title last season since 1996 (they shared the title in 2010 with Sparty and Ohio State) adding to the solid resume Matt Painter has constructed during his 12-year tenure in West Lafayette. The lion’s share of last year’s success can be attributed to departed power forward Caleb Swanigan, who took home a myriad of accolades during his sophomore season including Big Ten Player of the Year, 1st-Team All-American, and the Pete Newell Award (award given to the best post player in the country). While Swanigan’s decision to enter the Draft wasn’t a total shocker, it still doesn’t make the process of replacing his production any easier.
Boiler fans still have much reason for optimism this season, as Purdue returns four seniors to their rotation complemented by a rising sophomore star and a strong crop of freshmen. Purdue’s offense focused on getting their excellent frontcourt touches last season via post-up situations. From there, the Boilers’ twin towers, Swanigan and medical giant Isaac Haas, could assert their dominance by finishing at the rim or kicking out to their deadeye teammates. Haas was once again an offensive juggernaut last season, finishing 79.7% of his shots at the rim, grabbing offensive boards at a top-ten conference rate, and drawing fouls at the 9th best rate in the country. The BFG (Haas) has never played more than 20 minutes per game in a season (which is astounding), but he should easily eclipse that number this year provided his stamina allows it. Freshman Matt Haarms, yet another 7’2” center that Painter brought into the program in December, should see ample time off the pine. Haarms is skinny, but he put on 20 pounds since joining the Boilermakers and had the opportunity to practice against Haas and Swanigan on a regular basis. The lefty newcomer has intriguing stretch-five potential with his smooth three-point stroke. Jacquil Taylor, an injury-ridden junior, could also fill a frontcourt role off the bench.
While Purdue’s post presence stole the limelight last season, the Boiler wings and backcourt quietly put together some of the most efficient numbers in the country. Vince Edwards (a personal favorite player of mine) is one of the most versatile forwards in the country. Per Purdue’s website, Edwards is the only current player in the nation with 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists, and 100 made three-pointers. Yes, that is the definition of versatility. At 6’8” with plus athleticism and excellent shooting numbers (.518/.423/.830), Edwards could establish himself as a legitimate NBA prospect this season. Expect a line hovering around 15ppg / 6rpg / 4apg this year. Dakota Mathias, Edwards’s running mate on the wing, took a giant leap last year leading the Boilers in assists, three-pointers made (72), and three-point percentage (45.3%) while earning Big Ten All-Defense honors. The 6’4” guard plays a key role in spacing the floor for Purdue’s post-men and playmakers, and is poised to break the school’s all-time three-point record this season (he needs 89 to overtake E’Twaun Moore).
Painter will start a duo of 6’0” guards in sophomore Carsen Edwards and senior P.J. Thompson. Thompson has ranked 2nd in the Big Ten in offensive rating each of the past two seasons thanks to his excellent shooting ability (40.2% from three) and low turnover rate (12.2%). He’s not a playmaker like his cohort Edwards, but Thompson’s shooting ability and leadership will be vital to Purdue’s success this season. Edwards has the most potential for a breakout season. His dynamic playmaking ability, both in transition and in the half-court, gives him a ceiling of the team’s leading scorer and All-Conference performer. Ryan Cline will assume his familiar role as off-the-bench shooter. Cline, like four other Boilermakers last season, made over 40% of his threes last season.
Aside from Haarms, two other newcomers look to make a big splash this season. Nojel Eastern, an ESPN Top 100 prospect, is a 6’6” combo playmaker with point guard chops. On film, this kid looks simply amazing, but those highlight tapes should always be taken with a bit of salt. Eastern has potential to eat some of Thompson’s minutes this season, and should definitely be a key member in the rotation as the season progresses. Eden Ewing, Daniel Ewing’s nephew, is a power forward JUCO import from Richmond, Texas. Ewing is regarded by many to be a top five JUCO player, and should provide key minutes as an athletic rebounder.
Many think Purdue is in line for a major drop-off this year from their 27-8 (14-4) performance last season. I am not one of those people. Swanigan is gone, but Painter still has a super-talented roster at his disposal. Haas and the Brothers Edwards (not actual brothers) are all All-Conference caliber players, and the new blood is full of potential. The Boilers should once again be one of the best shooting teams in the country (they ranked 7th in 3P% last year), and a force on defense as well. A top four Big Ten finish coupled with a top seven seed-line come March should be the expectation.