The Boilermakers have suffered back to back disappointing seasons and ended up finishing last year in the Big Ten cellar. Now with another sizable recruiting class and a handful of returning players, the Boilers look to bounce back and try to get back to the NCAA Tournament. If they want to make it to the postseason in 2015 it'll require more than five wins this year in Big Ten play. With that being said, let's took a look at the Purdue conference schedule.
Purdue's 2014-15 Big Ten Schedule
Home Only: Michigan, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska
Away Only: Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State, Penn State
Both: Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Rutgers
Looking at the schedule and there's some nice things for the Boilers and some not-so-nice scheduling quirks. On one hand it's definitely advantageous (to say the least) to only play Michigan, Maryland, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State once. Also, getting the first four of those teams at Mackey and drawing lowly Rutgers twice will help Purdue in their attempt to improve their win total this year. However, they also only play two of the other worst Big Ten teams (Northwestern, Penn State) once, both of which are on the road in arenas they struggle at. They also get Wisconsin and Michigan State both on the road while having to face a dangerous Ohio State team twice.
The schedule starts off pretty strongly and closes out with another difficult stretch. Considering Purdue's recent struggles it's not particularly beneficial to start off the season with Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Maryland. if Purdue stumbles out of the gate they may knock themselves out of the postseason race before the end of January.
The middle of the schedule is a bit more manageable thanks to facing off against Penn State, Northwestern and Rutgers twice here, but a crucial stretch to close versus Ohio State, Michigan State and Illinois could be tricky if the Boilermakers need to pick up some wins at the end of the regular season. Of course if Purdue is a bubble team at the beginning of March this stretch will provide plenty of opportunities for quality wins...or tough losses that could knock them out entirely if they're still alive at that point.
Assuming a .500 record gets you into the postseason, with Purdue possibly needing a 10-8 mark thanks to a tough draw in Maui and a few tough non-conference opponents (placed around a group of cupcakes that will kill the SOS), it's going to take some notable improvement on offense for Purdue to make the jump. The Big Ten was extremely unpredictable last year but there are definitely plenty of winning games in the middle of the schedule. The previously mentioned opening stretch will be pivotal though as starting off 1-3 or 0-4 could be detrimental to turning it around this year. Purdue does get three of their first four Big Ten games at home, though, and if they could knock off Minnesota, Michigan or Maryland in Mackey it could be a nice resume-building victory.
Purdue collapsed down the stretch last season but it looks like the middle of the season will be far more manageable this year. If Purdue can start off 2-2 in conference play and add a win in their closing three games, it would mean they'd need six or seven wins in the middle of the season to try to get back to the NCAA Tournament. With Rutgers on the schedule twice, as well as Penn State and Northwestern, Purdue should be capable of racking up some wins. One would like to believe this team can compete with the likes of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, but Purdue has been plagued with streaky play based heavily around their recent success (or lack thereof). That makes the opening especially important as the team is more likely to pack it in if they get off to a rough start.
All in all the schedule is friendly enough that Purdue will definitely not be in the cellar again in 2015. The question is will Purdue be able to finally achieve some consistency. This team is fully capable of winning nine or ten games, but their recent woes have me believing a 8-10 mark is a far more likely ceiling this year. The end result will ultimately depend on if Purdue can produce a more consistent product throughout the season, but I think at least seven wins for Purdue this year and a solid chance of finishing towards the middle of the pack.