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2015-16 Big Ten Preview: Purdue Boilermakers Backcourt

Matt Painter's guards are a veritable mixed bag of potential stars, established veterans, and dedicated yeomen.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

In West Lafayette, all the attention tends to gravitate towards the frontcourt, and with measurables like 7'2" 282 pounds, 7'0" 250 and 6'9" 250 it might actually be due to a gravitational pull. However, there are guards at Purdue and they are just as important to their team's success as the big men up front. Let's take a look at them:

Johnny Hill, Senior, Point Guard

Purdue lost Jon Octeus to graduation and Bryson Scott to transfer this summer, leaving them short at point guard yet again. So Matt Painter and company went out and got UT-Arlington transfer Johnny Hill. Hill, who actually started his college career at Illinois State, averaged a respectable 10.1 points a game last season for the Mavericks. Hill's role with the Boilermakers will be a bit different than it was at his two previous stops. Purdue will look for Hill to utilize his passing and ball handling skills as a distributor rather than playing as a featured scorer.

Teammate Dakota Mathias had this to say about the team's new addition: "He's an energy guy. You can tell he's a leader and been through it all. He works really hard. The first couple of weeks we were here, me and him were in the gym together day and night."

P.J. Thompson, Sophomore, Point Guard

Hill's main competition for the starting spot at the point will be Thompson. The diminutive sophomore showed some promise last season as a reserve behind Octeus. P.J. spent the summer on tour in China with the USA Eagles and will hope to combine that experience with lessons learned from his freshman season and take a leap forward as a sophomore. Expect him to split time with Hill, who took the same tour with the Eagles last year, and compete throughout the season for a starting role.

Grant Weatherford, Freshman, Point Guard

Weatherford did not draw a lot of Power 5 recruiting interest before committing to the Boilers. In fact, you could say Purdue basketball's biggest competition was Purdue football. A 6'2" wide receiver in high school, Weatherford was recruited by a few Big Ten schools in football before committing to Matt Painter and Purdue basketball. His ability to bring football mentality and toughness to the basketball court has remind some of former Boiler standout Chris Kramer. Whether or not he can live up to Kramer's reputation as a lockdown defender remains to be seen, but with a near identical build, he certainly looks the part.

Ryan Cline, Freshman, Shooting Guard

I was able to watch Ryan Cline a bit in the off-season and he really impressed me. His team-first mentality and incredible shooting ability helped him lead the Indiana All-Stars to a sweep of their Kentucky peers, even without Mr. Basketball Caleb Swanigan. Cline also won a 3-point shooting contest over fellow Big Ten recruits Austin Granderstaff (Ohio State), Jalen Coleman-Lands (Illinois), Matt McQuaid (Michigan State) and Brevin Pritzl (Wisconsin), albeit in his high school gym in Carmel, Indiana. With three other scholarship shooting guards on the roster, along with wings Basil Smotherman and Vince Edwards, there is talk of Cline redshirting this season, despite his potential. Nothing is official yet, but it may be another year before we get to see if his range can translate from high school to the Big Ten.

Dakota Mathias, Sophomore, Shooting Guard

Mathias showed some flashes of potential last season and started 17 of 34 games as a freshman. Mathias' assist-to-turnover rate of 1.81 and his quality passing skills have led some Boiler fans to suggest him as a potential point guard in certain situations. While this is a possibility, Mathias is definitely more of a natural at the 2 spot. This season I think you will see a step forward in defensive ability from the 6'4" Ohio-native and with a year to adjust to college his shooting should also improve.

Kendall Stephens, Junior, Shooting Guard

After being held back by injuries last year, Stephens still seems like a player we haven't seen reach his full potential yet. He has the ability to be a great shooter, but has struggled with consistency, especially after his finger injury at the Maui Invitational. For example, in the NCAA Tournament game against Cincinnati he went 1-8 from deep after shooting a combined 9-16 from beyond the arc in the four games prior. If Kendall can become a more consistent scoring threat and help alleviate the defensive pressure inside, we could see a lot of him this season.

The Junior has said he's been motivated to try and expand his game this season as well: "I don't want to labeled as a one-dimensional player. I want to be able to do more things, like rebound and defend and of course getting to the basket. ... I've put a lot of time into it and am just looking forward to it paying off this season."

Stephen Toyra & Jon McKeeman, Seniors, Guards

These two walk-ons have both made the Big Ten All-Academic in the past and got to see the court five times last year. The 6'1" McKeeman is more of a point guard, while Toyra fits in at the shooting guard position. Neither is expected to see much time this year, but you never know.

Rapheal Davis, Senior, Shooting Guard

Reigning Defensive Player of the Year, senior leader, heartbeat of the team; if you don't know about Rapheal Davis yet, you probably haven't been paying near enough attention to Big Ten basketball. Davis made the "BTPowerhouse 25" and is likely to show up on more lists and awards pages by the end of the year if he can maintain, or expand on, his performance from last season. Look for Davis to increase his offensive efficiency and continue his aggression on defense this year. Davis will play at both the 2, the 3, and might even earn some time at the 1 as Painter tries to keep him on the floor as much as he can. Rapheal is quite possibly the most important player on this team despite all the attention on the frontcourt.

"We want to get Purdue’s name back on the national market and where Purdue should be. My sophomore year we were last (in the Big Ten). That’s something I will never forget. I’ve told the guys before I leave, I want to win a Big Ten Championship and do bigger things than that. If you don’t want to work hard, you’re going to be an outcast on this team." -Rapheal Davis

Overall, Purdue has a ton of depth and some raw talent at the guard spots, but the question is how effective can they be against the other top teams in the league. These players are going to have to match guys like Melo Trimble, Caris LeVert and Yogi Ferrell so that their frontcourt can be the deciding factor. Will they be up to the task? Only time will tell.