Matt Painter enters this November with Purdue’s highest preseason expectations since the 2009-2010 season. pours one out for Hummel’s ACL. Purdue fans have been looking forward to the season since April and reports out of the FIBA U19 tournament and the Purdue camp have done nothing to tamp down the excitement. It’s been wave after wave of complementary reporting on Purdue this offseason. A solid coaching staff returns 90% of minutes from the team that finished 4th in the B1G last year and only a half game behind Iowa since Nebraska cancelled our game with them. All the pieces appear to be there to compete at the top of the B1G and stick around in the NCAA tournament for awhile. I’m not quite fully on the Final Four expectations bandwagon as I want to see a couple of improvements in actual games first, but the ceiling is really high for this team.
I. 2020-21 Season Recap
Following the rebuild year of 2019-2020 where Purdue finished at just 9-11 in B1G play, Purdue saw both of their would be seniors transfer out. As a result, the Boilermakers were left with 5 freshman (3 true, 2 redshirt), 1 sophomore, and 4 juniors on the roster. With COVID disrupting summer and fall practice, the youth movement was bound to get off to a rocky start.
And it did. Purdue fell to Clemson in the championship game of their pretty weak preseason tournament. Then the Boilermakers blew a 18 point halftime lead against Miami (FL) in the ACC challenge to fall to the Hurricanes.
A livid Matt Painter benched Trevion Williams in favor of Zach Edey for a few games. The junior class responded to Painter’s challenge, Jaden Ivey returned from a minor injury, and the Boilers served notice to the B1G that they were going to be a tough out by opening B1G play with a win against Ohio State.
Early conference losses @Iowa, @Rutgers, and @Illinois would show that the freshman were still experiencing some growing pains.
Then Purdue would get things on track around winning 11 of their final 14 conference games and seeing 4 different freshmen win B1G Freshman of the Week. A sweep against Indiana ran the series winning streak to 9. But one area of concern existed. Purdue was falling behind by quite a bit in a lot of first halves and having to put together strong second half comebacks pretty regularly. Although their ability to make these comebacks showed their talent level, the slow starts hinted at a lack of consistency and would eventually threaten Purdue with a loss if they weren’t able to dig their way out of an unnecessary hole.
Naturally, that’s exactly how the season ended in both the B1G tournament and the NCAAT. Purdue fell behind big in the first half of both games and staged dramatic comebacks to force overtime against Ohio State and North Texas. But having expended so much energy just getting back into the game, they would fall short in both overtimes ending their season on a down note.
II. The Players
There is a lot of talent on this Purdue roster. Early last season I thought that 2022-23 would be the high expectations year and that this year would be simply the prep run. But best laid plans of a random fan mean nothing and two players have developed much quicker than I thought they would have making this the year for high expectations as at least one of them is likely to head to the NBA following his sophomore season.
F Aaron Wheeler (3*, Wolfeboro, NH)
Wheeler was my favorite player for Purdue last year. While not the best guy on the team by any stretch and his shooting struggles were heavily discussed, Wheeler did a lot of the little things that Painter is always stressing. His rebounding, defense, and assist/turnover ratio were really solid and much improved from early on in his career at Purdue. For a role player, Wheeler got a lot of unjustified hate on the Purdue message boards and blogs because of his shooting. But he was a great teammate, stayed positive, and worked hard. I’ll be making a point of seeing St. Johns when they come into Cincinnati to play Xavier this year to cheer on Wheeler.
F Caleb Furst (4*, Fort Wayne, IN), F Trey Kaufman-Renn (4*, Sellersburg, IN)
The reason Wheeler transferred out however is because Painter brought in his two of his top 5 highest ranked recruits ever (E’twaun Moore and Caleb Swanigan being higher) and they both play his position. Both Furst and Kaufman-Renn (hereafter called TKR) won state titles in Indiana at the 2A and 3A levels respectively. Fellow incoming freshman Brian Waddell won a state title at the 4A level but he is expected to redshirt this year. Furst won Mr. Basketball in Indiana last year and both Furst and TKR were invited to the FIBA U19 USA camp. TKR suffered an injury early in summer and had to miss the camp, but Furst made the team and performed well in Latvia.
Projected Depth Chart
Purdue Projected Starting Lineup
|PG||Eric Hunter||Ethan Morton|
|SG||Jaden Ivey||Isaiah Thompson|
|SF||Sasha Stefanovic||Brandon Newman|
|PF||Caleb Furst||Trey Kaufman-Renn/Mason Gillis|
|C||Trevion Williams||Zach Edey|
I only think one guy is guaranteed to be starting every game of the season (assuming he’s healthy) and that’s Jaden Ivey. Ivey is the reason that so many national writers are high on Purdue this year. His playmaking ability as a guard is something that makes him a potential to take over any game and a potential first round draft pick next year. He has the ball handling skills, size, and body control that he can attack the rim from anywhere and good enough shooting that he is always a threat to pull up from 3 point range. I’d like to see him make the next step with his long distance shooting and improve his passing ability but he has the potential to be Painter’s best guard he’s ever had. I say this as a huge E’twaun Moore fan. Ivey was named to the all tournament team at the FIBA U19 tournament for his play on team USA.
Eric Hunter is a good bet to start at PG as his defense is going to be valued by Painter. But Thompson is supposedly shooting the best in practice right now and Morton’s passing ability is probably the best on the team. The minutes distribution between the three is one of the two roster questions that are most up in the air at this point. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Ivey moved over to PG and started with the two SFs since Painter’s motion offense doesn’t differentiate between the 1-3 spots all that much. Either Sasha or Newman could start at the 3 spot and both will almost certainly be in the top 3 of minutes at the 2 and 3 spots. Neither of them are really getting enough mention as Ivey, Williams, and Edey are hogging the headlines. Sasha’s and Newman’s shooting is going to be very important part of this team.
The PF spot has a lot of competition and someone isn’t going to be happy with their minutes this season. Mason Gillis is the returning guy here but he will be serving a suspension to start the season. He offers some decent 3 point shooting ability, sneaky rebounding, and the ability to get some easy buckets on cuts to the basket or offensive rebounds. Furst is a big body and a really good rebounder. Think small ball 5 with the ability to stretch out to the 3 point line (and he will be the emergency 3rd string C if foul trouble or injuries occur to the Edey or Williams). From what I’ve seen his ball handling is probably worst in this group and his 3 point shooting is in between that of Gillis and TKR. TKR has better handles than Furst or Gillis and is more of a 3/4 type player but his 3 point shooting is being said to be the worst in this group right now although it’s close. TKR is probably best on the floor with Williams at center since Williams passing ability would enable him to receive passes cutting to the hoop. Defense may be the deciding factor on who actually gets minutes and could vary wildly from game to game depending on the type of opposing 4 Purdue is facing.
The center spot is arguably the best center group in the country. Neither Williams or Edey is the best center in the country (or even the B1G) - that’s Cockburn - but they are both arguably in the top 10 at the position and there is little drop off from the starter to the bench guy. 40 minutes of great center play is going to be tough for a lot of teams to deal with. Williams is the best passing center in the B1G and when not facing someone who has a significant size and weight advantage (ie: Cockburn or Dickinson) is a consistent double-double threat. Edey is a traditional back to the basket center and nearly unstoppable in the paint for most teams. He was the last guy cut from the team Canada Olympic team and starred on the team Canada U19 team where he was also named to the all tournament team. There was some talk about playing Williams alongside Edey this summer, but Williams defense/footspeed means that this will likely be highly situational. Personally I think Edey is the better player defensively and if you want to pound it inside for an easy basket but Williams fits on the court with Ivey better as his passing allows him to play out of the high post and opens up the options on offense.
III. Expectations in 2021-22
Purdue should compete with Michigan and Illinois for the top of the B1G. Returning 90% of their minutes from last years 4 seed, Purdue should gel rather early. Edey and Williams will provide excellent post play for a team that loves to play thru their center. Ivey has the ability score at all levels. Sasha and Newman provide outside shooting. The 4s and 5s are excellent rebounders.
If they get improved 3 point shooting from other options than Sasha and Newman and better defensive rotations then visions of the Final Four should be dancing in Purdue fans’ heads. The shooting is a question that won’t be answered until we get to regular season games. A third consistent option needs to step up. Thompson, Hunter, and Ivey have all shown flashes in the past but haven’t been able to be relied on. Defensively I’m not too worried about things since Painter (and returning assistant Paul Lusk) are both really good defensive coaches and they got a regular offseason to work with the team unlike last year.
Kenpom rankings in ()
Painter has gone out and put together a very challenging schedule to prepare this team for high expectations in the B1G and NCAA tournament. Purdue opens with Bellarmine (175), Indiana State (187), and Wright State (108) - all in the 101-200 range of KenPom. Wright State is one of the favorites in the Horizon. These games should allow Painter to figure out his rotations and sort out the pecking order for playing time.
Then the fun begins. Purdue plays North Carolina (40) to open up the Hall of Fame Tipoff tournament at Mohegan Sun. In the second round of this four team tournament, they will play either Tennessee (13) or Villanova (9). All four of these teams are ranked in the top 20 of the AP preseason poll. Purdue follows up this challenging tournament with a Thanksgiving weekend home game against Omaha (320) before hosting another preseason AP #20 Florida State (24) in the ACC challenge.
Purdue will also play two more power conference opponents at neutral sites. North Carolina State (56) in Brooklyn and Butler (55) in the final edition of the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis. Both are potential bubble teams this season although I think they end up on the outside looking in.
Over the holiday season, Purdue will host Incarnate Word (352) - coached by Purdue alum Carson Cunningham with assistant and also Purdue alum Ryne Smith - and Nicholls (227) in what are buy games that shouldn’t mean anything. I don’t love the Incarnate Word, Omaha, or Nicholls games but only three true buy games is good and five games against power conference teams is great.
Double Plays: Illinois (5), Indiana (31), Iowa (23), Michigan (2), Northwestern (48), Rutgers (67), Wisconsin (44)
Single Plays (home): Maryland (18), Nebraska (81), Ohio State (8)
Single Plays (away): Michigan State (22), Minnesota (120), Penn State (70)
Pretty friendly all things considered. Getting single plays against the tier of teams that could challenge Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois is nice. Avoiding the trip to Nebraska is also nice as I think their offense + high attendance from the fans will lead to some upsets there. Every Purdue fan will hold their breath during the entirety of the Minnesota game.
Out of the writers that have made a prediction, every one of them has Purdue at least tied for 1st place in the B1G and getting some big time non-conference wins.
I think they will drop one of the non-conference challenges, split with Illinois and Michigan - one of these losses at home, lose to MSU on the road, and drop another road game in conference - hopefully not Indiana but if I had to pick a team, that would be my guess right now. 26-5 would put them firmly in the 1 or 2 seed conversation and give Purdue a good path to deep tournament run. Hopefully a final four awaits for long suffering Purdue fans, but I won’t predict that until I’ve seen the improvements in 3 point shooting and defense. Ivey and the centers are enough to rack up wins in the regular season. Once you get down to the final 16 teams they will need some assistance to go further. The talent is there for it to come together, but we will have to see whether Purdue can do so.
Multiple national writers think Purdue is the best in the conference and has a legit shot at a Final Four or even cutting down the nets in New Orleans. We’ll see how Painter manages these expectations and minutes for a very deep team. I’m not ready to call this Painter’s best team yet, but it’s certainly the deepest.