So last year’s basketball season happened. It did not end particularly well for the Boilermakers and the disappointment of not winning the B1G regular season, B1G tournament, or being able to beat St. Peter’s will linger long within the dark, cold hearts of the collective Purdue Boilermakers fanbase. As someone who follows college basketball an unhealthy amount, I get that Purdue fans are upset - I am too. But the fanbase needs to take a deep breath, chill out, and stop acting like they are entitled to a Final Four whenever Purdue has a good team.
As I said all of last offseason, Purdue needed to improve two things from the 2020-21 season for them to be a title contender last year:
- More consistent three point shooting
- Better defense
The second never came close to happening. Anyone who thought that Purdue could navigate a NCAA tournament without stumbling on an poor offensive night with a non-existent defense was dreaming.
I have plenty of other thoughts on last season, how the majority of the Purdue fanbase has reacted, and the general state of the program moving forward. But to be honest, I’m having a hard time putting these thoughts into words without coming across as if I’m scolding Purdue fans. And while parts of the fanbase need to grow up and join the rest of us in the adult world, the OTE contingent of Purdue fans mostly isn’t that group. So rather than talk about last season, I’ll limit myself with talking about the upcoming season. There are still plenty of things to like on the roster, but I’ll also discuss the things that I’m concerned about when it comes to extending the 6th longest active streak in the country of made NCAA Division 1 tournaments. Here goes nothing.
PG Ethan Morton - Perhaps the most frustrating part of the offseason for me so far has been legion of Purdue fans insisting that we don’t have a point guard for next season. Ethan Morton is next year’s point guard. At 6’6” Morton isn’t going to easily be swarmed by opposing guards and will be able to pass out of press traps. A strong ball handler with plus passing skills, Morton is more than capable of bringing the ball up against pressure and initiating the offense. While I don’t see Morton as a high usage player in the offense, he’s more than capable of knocking down open shots as he showed this past season when he made three pointers at a 44% clip on just over 1 attempt per game. The reason I’m most excited about seeing Morton in the starting lineup however is his defense. At times last season Morton seemed to be the only guard on the team capable of playing defense. Defense is why Morton got minutes this past season. He could guard opponents that otherwise blew past or physically bullied Purdue’s other guards. Although he should be the PG for the offense, defensively he is likely to draw the assignment of guarding the other team’s best player from the 1-4 spots unless that player is lightening quick (in which case Newman likely draws the assignment) or is a big, plodding 6’8”+ PF (in which case he draws the other team’s best player from the 1-3 spots).
SG Brandon Newman - Newman had a rough season. Firmly behind Jaden Ivey on the SG depth chart and not being a spot shooter type that you wanted to surround Ivey and the centers with, he had trouble getting minutes particularly during the grind of the Big Ten season. Despite that Newman hung in there, continued to work hard at his game, and used his time on the bench to learn how to be a better defender. When he reappeared in the Big Ten tournament after nearly a month long absence he looked like the difference maker he was as a freshman before Ivey supplanted him in the lineup except this time he had much better defensive awareness and defensive positioning. Newman has already had a 29 point game for the Boilermakers and with four departing guards (especially Ivey) from last season’s rotation, he will once again have plenty of minutes to showcase his abilities.
SG/PG Brandon Jenkins - I don’t watch a ton of Pac 12 after dark basketball. They play too much of it on something called Pac 12 network. So what I know about Brandon Jenkins I’ve mostly gotten from his stat sheet. A 6th year graduate transfer from Utah (and before that UNLV and South Dakota State), Jenkins started 27 games for a bad Utes team last year. Jenkins is a volume shooter who made 39.6% of his threes, but just 36.2% of his two point attempts. Between his volume shooting and his low assist rate, I’m not quite sure how Jenkins fits in with the offensive game plan I envision Painter running this year. He could start, although if he does move Newman down to the SF position. At the very least he gives Painter an additional veteran guard to lean on if the true freshman aren’t ready.
SG/SF Fletcher Loyer - Loyer is a 6’5” 4 star, top 100 recruit who won the national high school three point shooting contest at the Final Four (see, we can make it guys!). His older brother Foster formerly played for the Spartans but transferred to Davidson as his 6’0” frame wasn’t quite capable of succeeding defensively or getting space to shoot in the Big Ten. Fletcher is a bigger, stronger version of his brother and if you are looking for a comp I’ll throw out Dakota Mathias as Painter will almost certainly be using him this season in the Ryne Smith/Dakota Mathias/Ryan Cline role. Loyer is the type of player Painter would love to redshirt, but somehow never does. The question for Loyer is can his defense be adequate enough for him to not be a liability on that end of the court? If it is, I think he starts by midseason.
PG Braden Smith - Smith is a 3 star recruit, but won Mr. Basketball in the state of Indiana. How does that happen in a state as rich in talent as Indiana? Well, he’s only 5’10” and 165 lbs. From clips I’ve seen of Smith, he’s got a great passing eye and can facilitate the offense. He’s also more athletic than you would expect for his size and is more than capable of filling it from three point range. The issue for Smith this season is that he’s coming off a foot injury which is limiting his availability for summer practices. This combined with the need for him to add strength to be able to bring the ball up against Big Ten teams that press like Iowa means that Smith could probably use a redshirt season. With only Morton and Jenkins available as other options at PG though (and Jenkins should be more of a SG type IMO), Smith may get pressed into service a year early. We’ll see. If you are looking for his ceiling, it’s PJ Thompson with just a tad bit more athleticism.
PF/SF? Mason Gillis - Gillis is the old man on the roster, bringing the most on-court experience in a Purdue jersey to this year’s club. A 41% three point shooter last season, Gillis was a low usage, high efficiency player. For a roster that needs play makers outside of Edey, can he step up and become one of the leading scorers? The other question for Gillis is what position he plays this season. Gillis has the build of a SF and has shot well enough for that role, but his ball handling and defensive quickness have me wondering whether he can handle the available minutes at that position or whether he will need to stick at the highly competitive PF spot.
PF/SF? Trey Kaufman-Renn - TKR is a former 4 star, top 50 recruit who redshirted last year due to the combination of his offseason foot injury (which prevented him from trying out for the U18 Team USA and getting up to speed with the playbook) and the amount of depth in the front court that Purdue had last season. I have similar concerns for TKR as Gillis when it comes to playing the SF role. Can his handle be good enough at the SF spot and can his defensive footwork be good enough to guard the quicker position? If the answer is no, a good comp for TKR might be Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis - someone who can bully opposing PFs in the post, but who isn’t tall enough to play center. I think TKR’s range is a little bit better than Jackson-Davis’s, but I wasn’t overly impressed by what we saw in limited scrimmage time last season when it comes to shooting. I’ll admit some of that could have been rust coming off an injury that sidelined him most of the summer.
SF Brian Waddell - Most fans were probably a little surprised that Painter offered Waddell a scholarship late in the 2021 recruiting cycle after the end of his senior year of HS ball. But Painter watched Waddell for a long time before finally offering and offered with the intention of redshirting him if Waddell accepted. Once he got on campus, Painter continually talked up how good Waddell was doing in practice. A late bloomer whose recruitment never took over due to a combination of COVID restrictions and his late growth spurt, at 6’7” Waddell offers good defensive length and his shooting has the potential to be a plus since he shot over 40% from 3 in high school. I’m not sure whether Waddell completely flew under the radar due to the lack of a final AAU season or whether he’s the type of player who you shouldn’t expect to become a contributor until he’s an upperclassman, but I lean towards the latter. His likelihood to contribute this season is further hindered by the fact that he is coming off an ACL tear (the second greatest of Purdue traditions) suffered shortly after the exhibition games last season. He should be a full go by the time fall practices begin and will have a chance to crack the back end of the playing rotation if Gillis or TKR can’t play the 3.
SF Camden Heide - Heide is the least well known of the incoming freshmen for me. A four star, top 150 recruit out of Minnesota, Heide actually hasn’t played a ton of basketball in the past year due to some foot issues. Before his most recent injury, I really liked his athleticism and ability to attack the rim, but I don’t know if the explosiveness I saw will still be there or whether it translates to the college level against bigger, faster, and stronger competition. I think Heide is the most likely of the incoming freshmen to redshirt due to his position and recent injury history. All of the freshmen could probably use the redshirt year, but Heide is the one whose potential role has the most other options that could step up and take it.
C Zach Edey - Edey is the current giant on Purdue’s campus and helps ensure Purdue’s 11th straight season with a 7 footer on the roster. I expect the offense to have a heavy diet of feeding him the ball. If Edey wants to turn the corner and become an All-American type player he needs to improve on a few things: passing out of double teams, being strong with the basketball, and help defense at the rim. Those shouldn’t be impossible tasks for Edey but combined with the increase in minutes he will see this season, there are some question marks on whether he can successfully handle the increase in responsibilities.
PF/C Caleb Furst - Furst played almost exclusively PF last season outside of emergency foul trouble minutes and shot well from behind the arc and in the paint as another high efficiency, low usage player. If incoming freshman Willem Berg isn’t ready to play this season, Furst will be the backup center in addition to his minutes at PF. But his minutes at center would likely be a completely different offense than Edey’s with Furst setting more high ball screens, playing on the perimeter, and opening up the lane for others to drive or make off ball cuts to the hoop.
C William Berg - Berg continues the long line of 7 footers to play for Purdue and comes to West Lafayette from Sweden. Although he was unranked as a recruit (Edey was similar so don’t get your hopes up that Painter misevaluated, B1G fans), Berg also held an offer from Illinois and at 7’2” it’s easy to see how he will fit into Painter’s tendency to abuse post mismatches. Out of the recent centers to come through Purdue, Berg looks most similar to Haarms in that he isn’t a strictly back to the basket player but will spend time out on the perimeter. I think he looks like a better shooter while being worse defensively than Haarms. Berg may or may not redshirt, but I don’t think it has anything to do with his readiness. If one of the Gillis/TKR pair can play significant minutes at the 3 spot, then Furst doesn’t have to get pushed to center for all three members of that PF competition to get minutes (and they all need to get minutes this season). That scenario would leave minutes open for Berg to play right away with Furst filling in emergency center minutes in games where Berg is overmatched or Edey has foul trouble. Either way, I think next year’s rosters sets up better with Berg’s abilities than this year’s as this year lacks the slashing type guard.
Purdue lost Jaden Ivey to the draft and doesn’t have another player on the roster that can directly replace his play making ability. The offense is going to take a step back. Perhaps even a significant step back.
What I think you will see is a return to Purdue’s 2015 and 2016 offenses where the post option was fed first, second, and third and surrounded by shooters. That means a lot of post touches for Edey. And some for Furst and possibly some for Kaufman-Renn or Berg. And lots of running shooters off of screens. Consistency issues will likely plague the offense to some extent as the shooters get used to their new roles on the team as volume shooters and Edey goes through ups and downs of foul trouble when he has to play more than 20 minutes a game.
Defensive though is where I’m truly excited for next year. Will all due respect to Isaiah Thompson, Sasha Stefanovic, Jaden Ivey, and Trevion Williams they were not good defenders. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they all played for Purdue as their offensive contributions were great, but they had a variety of issues that when put together on the same roster meant some a poor team defense.
Morton was the best defender on last season’s team and should see his playing time as least double. Newman showed much improved defensive understanding when he got another chance late in the season. Edey has the wingspan and just enough footspeed to become a great defender and while he hasn’t put it together against Big Ten competition, he’s shown glimpses of that potential in non-conference play. Furst, Kaufman-Renn, and Gillis aren’t the quickest defensively but all are strong, physical players that should be capable of providing good defensive pressure and won’t be easily backed down or bullied.
Last season Purdue was 346th in the country at causing defensive turnovers. This roster has a lot more minutes from players capable of pressuring the ball and using their height and long wingspans to interrupt passing lanes and alter shots. The starting lineup could very easily be 6’6”, 6’5”, 6’5”, 6’10, 7’4” with the next two guys in the rotation being 6’6” and 6’8”.
In order to have a successful season and make the tournament Purdue is going to have to grind out games with defense and rebounding. The ceiling won’t be nearly as high as it was this past season and anyone arguing otherwise is just wrong. But last season never really reached it’s ceiling. Despite the team taking a big step back offensively, they could accomplish more than last year due to a down Big Ten. Personally I’m just hoping for another tournament appearance and the development of a cast that can support the athletic slashers coming in the following year since the other senior is incoming transfer Jenkins.