Opponent: Samford University (Birmingham, Al)
Date / Time: Friday, November 14th - 7 PM Eastern
Location: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, In.
TV: BTN Plus
After a second season of no NCAA Tournament for the Boilermakers, the pressure to win and win now is growing in West Lafayette for Matt Painter and company. That could be problematic as the team has a ton of holes to fill but the reality is they should ultimately be better for it in the long run. The only problem is Painter doesn't have that much time to right the ship and he needs an immediate improvement or his job security could become a major issue throughout the season. Luckily for Purdue all of their ongoing questions will likely be answered as the season rolls on and the Boilers will finally get back to trying once again to turn things back around.
The season opener last season was considerably closer than anticipated, so look for Purdue to try for a better result this time out. With the team coming off as less selfish and more unified this season, the Boilermakers should be in good position as they take on the Samford Bulldogs from Alabama this evening.
Getting to know Samford
The Boilermakers typically round out their schedule with quite a few not-so-good teams and Samford is more of the same. The program just moved on from Bennie Seltzer after last season with the former coaching winning 24 games in two seasons. Part of the reason for his termination likely stemmed from having 14 players transfer out of the program during his tenure. Seltzer might be a slightly familiar name in the Big Ten as he was an assistant coach under Tom Crean for several seasons. Replacing him will be former Samford assistant coach Scott Padgett. Padgett's name might ring a bell as he was a key player on several very good Kentucky programs in the '90s and played in the NBA from 1999 to 2007 for several different teams.
Padgett will have his hands full as the program will be breaking in plenty of fresh faces and is coming off of a 13-20 season. Samford hasn't had a winning season since 2006 and hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2000. The confidence level for Samford isn't high among the local media, either, with the media picking Samford to finish ninth out of the ten teams in the Southern Conference. Padgett mentioned that the program will intend to play at a breakneck speed for 40 minutes, forcing a lot of guys to have their minutes limited to 20-25 to keep their roster fresh. They also intend to be a press heavy team on defense in the vein of Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith.
For what it's worth, Samford is currently ranked 333rd (out of 351 teams) in the initial Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings. Statistically last year the Bulldogs were below average on offense and one of the worst teams defensively.
What To Watch For
If recent years are a sign of what Purdue will do early this season, expect plenty of different looks and plenty of variation with the rotations. There's a lot of youth on the roster but there's also enough depth and guys capable of starting that Painter needs to get a set rotation that works put in place before the teams trip to Hawaii later in the month.
So what does that mean? Position battles, naturally. It'll be interesting to see if transfer Jon Octeus can solidify himself as the starting point guard like expected or if freshman P.J. Thompson can make some noise. Likewise, can either guy play good enough to keep Bryson Scott at the two and not force the combo guard to run the point, a position that he's struggled with. Past that who will round out the 3-4 spots in the line up? Will Rapheal Davis's leadership warrant a starting spot? Can Kendall Stephens be the teams starter at wing and be a perimeter threat or will he be utilized as a sixth man three point specialist? Will Purdue run Basil Smotherman as the starting four like fellow BTP manager Thomas thinks or will they run a smaller lineup like they did most times last season?
Outside of the starting spots there are quite a few other questions heading into the season that should see some clarity as the season gets rolling. One main question is how will the freshmen perform and if guys like Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias can provide a spark on offense as many are hoping for. Regardless of either of those two guys stepping up, another major talking point is who will score now that the teams two leading shooters (Terone and Ronnie Johnson) are now gone from the program. Other things to watch and see how they pan out include how much of freshman Isaac Haas will we see, as well as if Jacquil Taylor can earn some playing time or if will he be lost in the shuffle.
Samford is bad, was bad and has a ton of roster turnover. They have a first year head coach who was thrust into the starting spot in the summer when the previous coach was fired after only two seasons thanks to the team seeing a mass exodus of talent. Samford is still predicted to be bad and once again a bottom feeding SoCon member, which also happens to be a horrible conference on it's own.
As for Purdue? Good or bad when it comes to Big Ten standards, they're surely better than Samford. Of course the same could be said for last year's opener versus Northern Kentucky, a game Purdue barely pulled out by a single point. Regardless, I expect tonight to see plenty of guys getting their feet wet as the team tries to mesh and find a set lineup. There's going to be plenty of new guys getting their first minutes and a bunch of guys now having more responsibility after quite a few players departed, meaning this Purdue team could very well experience it's fair share of growing pains.
Even with all the questions for a Purdue team trying to rebound and get back to the postseason, it should have enough talent and depth to take care of business. A.J. Hammons is a threat down low and should have his way versus an undersized Samford. The biggest question is if Purdue will be able to effectively shoot the ball, but that will likely only determine if tonight is a decent win or a blowout. I'm predicting Purdue wins easily by at least 20 tonight.