After the departure of three senior starters to graduation and Jaden Ivey to the NBA, the Boilermakers were unranked entering last season and expected to enter a rebuilding year. Instead the team was even better than the previous edition. The Boilermakers beat Duke, Marquette, West Virginia, and Gonzaga in the non-conference and reached the #1 spot in the AP rankings for a 2nd straight year.
Purdue went on to win the Big Ten regular season by 3 games, going 15-5 along the way. They then won the Big Ten tournament title and earned a 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Zach Edey won the national player of the year. Despite all of these accomplishments for a team that was not expected to do much, the season left a bad taste in the mouth of Purdue fans and players due to the way it ended.
Brandon Newman: Newman started 23 of 28 games as a redshirt freshman before having his starting spot grabbed by Jaden Ivey. The following season his minutes fell to just 12.5 per game. Unlike the vast majority of college players these days, he didn’t transfer at this first sign of adversity but stuck with Purdue for another season. Newman was a fan favorite for sticking with it through this adversity. While his shooting percentages kept dropping every year and defense didn’t click for him until late last season, he was a decent role player who didn’t quite breakout to become a star. Newman has transferred to Western Kentucky to play under former Purdue assistant Steve Lutz and I wish him and Lutz nothing but the best of luck. I also congratulate Newman for getting his Purdue degree prior to transferring.
David Jenkins Jr.: Jenkins was a one year graduate transfer brought in to play point guard so that Purdue wouldn’t have to rely on a true freshman at that position last year. Braden Smith ended up having a great year and winning the starting job, but Jenkins was a useful backup and shot 35% from three last year.
PG Braden Smith, 6’0”, sophomore: Braden Smith was way ahead of schedule as a true freshman last year, although eventually his inexperience caught up to him as the season wound down. Smith is an excellent shooter, but has focused on distributing the basketball. The staff has been vocal about him needing to look for his own shot more often so we will see if he takes that to heart this season. In looking to create offense, Smith will often drive into the teeth of the opposing defense. The one negative about his play is that this will sometimes result in him getting stuck without a plan causing a turnover. Purdue wants him to keep the aggressiveness but try to limit the amount of turnovers.
SG Lance Jones, 6’1”, sophomore: Jones comes to Purdue from Southern Illinois where he was half of the offense (the other half being new Illini Marcus Domask). Due to the team’s lack of offensive weapons, Jones took a lot of shots and many of them weren’t all good ones. He’s seen his three point percentage drop like a rock the past two seasons after having an excellent 42.9% in 2021. During scrimmages and exhibitions, Jones has shown a good shooting motion when he has hit feet set. He doesn’t need to be a 40% three point shooter, but if he can return to the high 30s he should start most of the year. Jones is a big physical guard that should be Purdue’s best on-ball defender this season. He also has the ability and build to be able to drive to the basket and finish through contact. Jones will be the backup PG behind Smith in addition to the starting SG.
SF Fletcher Loyer, 6’4”, graduate transfer: Loyer is more of a SG than a SF, but in Matt Painter’s offense the roles are one in the same most of the time. Loyer is 1 of 4 freshman at Purdue in the last 30 years to average 11.0 points (joining Moore, Hummel, and Ivey). Near the end of last season, Loyer was dealing with a minor injury and saw his shooting percentage fall off. As the sniper on the roster, his shooting percentage from deep needs to increase from where it ended last season.
PF Trey Kaufman-Renn, 6’9”, redshirt sophomore: TKR has shown a variety of low post moves and excellent footwork on the low block. Like the other options at PF, TKR is an excellent rebounder. It’s less clear whether he fits on the court with Zach Edey as spacing around the paint could be a real issue. TKR will have to show improved entry passing and more shooting ability than he has to date for it to work. Nevertheless, Painter seems committed to at least trying out the combination of TKR and Edey to start the season.
C Zach Edey, 7’4”, senior: Edey is the reigning national player of the year. A walking double-double and an effective rim protector, Edey changes how the opposing teams prepare. They can either let Edey beat them or force the rest of the Purdue team to do so by double and triple teaming the All-American. Edey has been working on a three point shot and will take a small handful of them this year. His on ball defense looks slightly improved but he can still be beat off the dribble.
PF Mason Gillis, 6’6”, redshirt senior: The lasting memory of Purdue’s season last year for me will be Mason Gillis standing wide open behind the three point line in the NCAA tournament and being afraid to shoot the basketball. You can’t ask for a better look and he didn’t have the confidence late in the game to let the ball fly. Gillis is a physical defender and has the speed to guard quicker PFs. He’s been a streaky shooter, but has been able to score in bunches at times. Despite his size he’s been an above average rebounder. Gillis is best suited out of the three PF options to play alongside Edey. He can also make FTs which makes him the likely closer out of the trio. Hopefully he’s been practicing with the Wilson basketballs and has the confidence to step up in the big moments this season.
PG/SF Ethan Morton, 6’7”, senior: Morton is one of the better post entry passers on the team which is an important role when the offense features Zach Edey. He’s also a decent on-ball defender when the opposing guard isn’t super athletic (Morton can’t matchup with guys like the now departed Jalen Hood-Schifino). His shooting percentage has to return to respectability this season though or he’s going to see his playing time crater as the season goes on. If Morton’s 3 point shot does return towards even the low to mid 30s, he could reclaim a starting spot. If it doesn’t, don’t be shocked if Heide or Colvin supplant him for first guard off the bench.
PF/C Caleb Furst, 6’10”, junior: Defensively Furst can play the 4 or 5, but on offense he is best suited as a 4 as he lack post moves to be able to generate shots on the low block. Furst is a lot more mobile and has the ability to score diving to the basket when Edey or TKR draws double teams. He also gets a lot of his points off offensive rebounds. Furst’s biggest attribute is his rebounding - he puts himself in good positions and attacks the boards. What Caleb needs to do to earn more playing time this year is knock down three pointers at a better clip than last year’s 26.8%. He hurts floor spacing too much if he isn’t a decent threat from the perimeter.
SF Camden Heide, 6’7”, redshirt freshman: Heide redshirted last year as there weren’t enough minutes to go around. He’s competing for playing time off the bench this year in the SF spot. Heide has much more athleticism than the starting guards and wings, but has to learn the defense and learn when to pick his spots on offense. Heide appears ahead of Colvin and Waddell at the moment and definitely has more offensive game than Morton. He could become the 6th man on the roster if all goes well. Heide was 5 of 8 from three during all the summer/fall scrimmages and exhibitions.
SG/SF Myles Colvin, 6’5”, freshman: We haven’t heard for sure that Colvin won’t redshirt this year, but I would be surprised despite the minutes crunch at his position. Alongside Heide, Colvin has another level of athleticism. For all the talk about Purdue needing for athletic players, Colvin has that. He’s been lost from time to time on defense during the preseason, but if he can come up to speed there and learn that he doesn’t need to take every shot opportunity, Colvin can add an interesting wrinkle to the offense when he’s on the court.
SF/PF Brian Waddell, 6’8”, redshirt sophomore: Last year Waddell was coming off a knee injury and looked physically unsure of himself. He got lost on defense and wasn’t a threat on offense. Waddell looked more confident in Europe this summer, but faces a roster crunch for playing time. 11 guys are not going to play (the rotation is more likely to be reduced to 9 by conference play) and Waddell has to fight Morton, Colvin, and Heide for backup minutes at the SG and SF positions. Morton has a higher floor due to his defense and entry passes and Colvin/Heide have higher ceilings due to their athleticism. That means Waddell is going to have to become a knock down shooter to earn playing time this year, which I haven’t seen evidence of in the summer tour, intrasquad scrimmages, or exhibitions.
C Will Berg, 7’2”, redshirt freshman: The next 7 footer in the assembly line, Berg has more of a mid-range jump shot than we’ve seen from most other Purdue centers when they arrive on campus. He appears ready to be a backup center that plays 8 to 12 minutes a game. Unfortunately for Berg, he’s behind Zach Edey, Trey Kaufman-Renn, and Caleb Furst for this season and he is only likely to see minutes in blowouts or as a result of foul trouble or injury. His time will come, but not this year.
1. Is there enough perimeter shooting?
Last season, Purdue shot just 32.2% from three as a team. While that was bad enough on its own, there was very little consistency from game to game. In their losses to Northwestern, Maryland, Indiana (2nd game), and FDU, Purdue shot 22.7%, 15.4%, 21.7%, and 19.2%. When the Boilermakers lost, they almost always struggled from three.
There is some good news. Last year’s top two shooters are back in Braden Smith and Mason Gillis. Fletcher Loyer’s 32.6% last year wasn’t good but in high school he was an elite shooter and he dealt with a nagging injury at the end of last season. Loyer should take a step forward this year. Look for both Smith and Loyer to make the common sophomore shooting improvement.
Other players have more worrisome stats. Lance Jones has seen his 3 point shooting percentage go from 30.6%->42.9%->33.9%->26.7% across his four years at Southern Illinois. Some of that is shot selection, but it’s still a reason for concern. Ethan Morton went from 44.1% in 2022 to 27.7% last year. Caleb Furst dropped from 42.3% to 26.8%. Brian Waddell went 0/8 and Trey Kaufman-Renn shot a pedestrian 25%. One of these guys is going to have to shoot better and the players that aren’t shooting well will need to limit their attempts.
If Loyer can improve to around 35% and Gillis can be more consistent from game to game, I think Purdue can get by as Lance Jones’ shot selection becomes better on a team that he isn’t expected to carry the offense. I’d feel a lot more confident though if Purdue had brought in a proven knock down shooter to go with Loyer, Smith, and Gillis though.
2. Will the team be able to cut down on turnovers?
Step 1 in beating Purdue last year was to throw bodies at Zach Edey and hope the refs didn’t call too many fouls. A lot of teams tried it. Some got whistled a ton for playing whack a mole; others avoided sending Edey to the foul line too often. Step 2 was hope Purdue missed outside shots. Step 3 was to force Purdue into turnovers.
Braden Smith had a really good freshman year campaign but he drives into traffic a lot and at 6’0” that gets him into trouble at times. You can live with some of those, but the bigger issue is giving up steals on bad passes.
Slow decisions and telegraphing passes was an issue that reared its head at times for the whole squad, particularly against long, athletic teams or against the press. The Boilermakers have gone out and scheduled multiple teams in the non-conference to reinforce this lesson early, including their exhibition scrimmage against Arkansas. They have to ensure they provide clean entry passes to the post. Against the press, the team needs to make quick decisions and be strong with the basketball. Lance Jones should help in late game scenarios as he gives Purdue a second above average ball handler and is more physical than the rest of the guards.
3. Can Purdue generate offense when opposing defenses limit Zach Edey and outside shots aren’t falling?
I don’t expect this question to get answered until January or February, but in my opinion it depends a lot on the development of redshirt freshman Cam Heide and true freshman Myles Colvin - which is asking a lot of freshman. Matt Painter has to find ways to get them minutes so that they can develop and learn where they need to be on defense. This is crucial because they have a level of athleticism not matched by anyone else on the team and more potential to take defenders off the dribble. There are a couple of other options that might solve this problem, but this solution has the highest ceiling. If it costs a couple of games in November, December, January, or February to accomplish, that’s a worthy sacrifice.
Purdue is also experimenting with playing TKR alongside Zach Edey, so that teams are forced to guard two post players in a high-low offense. I’m less optimistic that the spacing will work out for this particular duo, but Purdue has played two post players in an offense before and been successful (Caleb Swanigan + AJ Hammons, Caleb Swanigan + Isaac Haas) and none of those combinations required outstanding three point shooting from the post players. At the very least this duo will win the rebounding battle every game.
The third and final option involves one of Lance Jones or Fletcher Loyer showing the ability to attack the rim. I know Lance Jones was able to do so in the Missouri Valley, but the Missouri Valley (as much as I love it) is not the type of competition he will need to do it against now. Fletcher has worked hard to add core strength to be able to finish drives and mid range floaters through contact, but even if he’s strong enough this year (I think that’s another year away), I don’t know that his ball handling is tight enough at this point in his career.
A Conversation With Our Writers
BuffKomodo: As I’ve stated many, many times, I have an affinity for Matt Painter and the job he’s done. He’s managed to create something that is unique the conference that doesn’t match what a lot of the teams will be doing. To put it short, nobody has an Edey like figure who will be priority number 1 and relentlessly shove the ball in there. It’s hard to stop. He’s done a great job adding a lot of role pieces and he returns, for good or for ill, his freshman guards who if they are able to take a step forward this season, could really spell trouble for anyone playing Purdue.
BoilerUp89: Okay. Purdue 29-6 last year, won both Big Ten titles and earned a 1 seed. What has to happen for them to have a successful regular season and more importantly for the sanity of Purdue fans (myself included), what has to be different for them to have more success this March?
MaximumSam: Purdue having a successful regular season is almost guaranteed, absent injury. Zach Edey remains a geometry problem that mathphobic teams struggle to solve night in and night out. Matt Painter remains a great coach, they return nearly everyone of consequence. While it’s possible they don’t win the B1G because of the grind, a campaign that results in a #1 or #2 seed is likely.
The tourney is a different story. Do they have a guard who can control the game? Loyer and Smith were both very solid freshmen last season and promise to be even more efficient this year. But while efficiency is great, can they carry the team when teams are hanging all over Edey? Who is that guy who will drop 30 when Edey is in foul trouble? These are the kinds of things I’ll be looking for throughout the year to see if Purdue will be a serious contender for the national championship.
BuffKomodo: What has to happen for a successful regular season? Well, nothing really. Purdue seems poised to be in the top 3 in the B1G regardless of if the guards have improved much. So if anything, staving off the injury bug will likely lead them to a good regular season. As far as the post season goes, Purdue HAS to have a massive leap out of Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. There’s simply nothing else that would help as much as that. It’s almost uncanny, but I recall watching the Illinois/Purdue game at the end of the season. Illinois was down double digits, and then threw on a press with like 5 to play. Those Purdue ballhandlers turned the thing over so much I thought Illinois might come back and win. There be the issue. If the guards come to play, show improvement, and are consistent, Purdue will be able to make it deep into the tournament. But if those guards are able to be attacked like they were last season, I’d look for another early exit for Purdue.
BoilerUp89: A lot of Purdue fans will tell you they are tired of losing the same way. Turnovers, struggles against the press, and bad shooting nights. To which I say, it should be comforting knowing that Purdue isn’t going to be outrebounded by double digits. That they have a rim protector and force opponents into taking a ton of mid range twos (the worst shot selection possible). That they live at the free throw line while opponents struggle to ever get there. With so much going right, does Purdue need to overhaul the whole system to get over the hump or is a more a matter of tweaking a few things here and there?
BuffKomodo: Structurally, I don’t know what Purdue CAN do to change. Not to speak too much of what I don’t know, but I don’t believe Purdue is able to drop a bag to get a 4/5 star, 6’5” point guard who is able to come in and be a one or two and done. Ivey felt like an exception to what Purdue normally gets. Generally Purdue builds its winning off long term guys, like Carson Edwards, Isaac Haas, Robbie Hummel, etc. More of a manufactured level of success if you will. This does mean that sometimes parts don’t like up quite right and you get stuck saying, “awe man, if only he’d stuck around one more year and played with so and so” or “if he’d just matured one year earlier” in conversations.
Back to the question, it’s really obvious to me that the answer is tweak things by bringing in big, athletic, good shooting guards and play making point guards to couple with your giant trees, but again I don’t know that Painter ISN’T already trying to do that. So in my opinion, other than bringing in different kinds of guards, there’s not a lot Painter should change. Any other change Purdue could make would essentially involve canning their 400 win coach that holds a .683 winning percentage that I just researched. It feels bonkers to say, but it’s the only real avenue for change that would probably work. But hell, that sort of thinking worked out for Georgia in football by firing Mark Richt, so hell, maybe you’ll find your Kirby Smart someday.
Purdue’s regular season goes like which of the following?
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Another sweep of the Big Ten regular season and tournament
One of the Big Ten regular season and Big Ten tournament titles
None of the regular season hardware
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Round 1 or 2 exit
THIS IS THE YEAR!
I’m an Indiana fan and I wish to claim that Purdue won’t make the NCAA tournament