The Purdue Boilermakers return seniors Rapheal Davis and A.J. Hammons. That sentence right there should be enough to strike fear into the hearts of opposing offenses. The two members of last year's All-Defensive team will be joined by rising sophomores Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards, P.J. Thompson and Dakota Mathias, junior sharpshooter Kendall Stephens, and the captain of the All-Name team Basil Smotherman. Transfer Johnny Hill has been recruited to fill the void left by Jon Octeus and freshmen Ryan Cline and Grant Weatherford will look to contribute with their shooting and defense respectively. Oh, and you might have heard about the Boilers' other incoming freshman.
1. How big of an impact will Biggie have?
The recruiting saga of Caleb Swanigan, Indiana's Mr. Basketball, was pretty much the only thing on Purdue fans' minds after Hammons announced his return. Biggie, as he is known, is the most highly sought after recruit Purdue has landed since Glenn Robinson in 1991. That was so long ago that the Big Dog's youngest son, Gelen, is now at Purdue. Fans would be crazy to expect Swanigan, who led his high school to their first ever state title, to turn out as well as Robinson, but expectations will be high for the young power forward.
Swanigan is not expected to see much time at the center position and will need to work hard to keep up with smaller 4s. However, he was a dominant player in high school and has been lauded for his work ethic, so expect him to give smaller defenders fits. He has shown some good abilities outside of the paint on offense and will need to be able to translate those skills to the college game, otherwise Purdue may run out of space in the lane with all of their quality big men. Will his play open things up for Hammons and the rest of the team? Or will he contribute to the team's preexisting scoring issues?
There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Purdue's defense will be just as intense as last season and they may be even more effective with the change to a 30-second shot clock. However, you may have heard that some points are usually required to win basketball games. Purdue returns their top scorers in Hammons and Davis, but both are far more recognized for their defense and neither registered in the top 20 in the conference. A balanced attack is good, but last year the Boilers lack of an elite scorer cost them in late game situations. A stagnant offense was what cost them in their first round loss to Cincinnati in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year and this season fans will be looking for marked improvement.
3. Going for #23.
Purdue basketball's biggest claim to fame is arguably their league-leading 22 Big Ten titles. Boilermaker fans are quick to tell you about it when the discussion of program strength comes up, but then last title came in 2010 and the one before that was way back in 1996 (before Caleb Swanigan was even born). This year's team isn't the favorite, Maryland has that locked down. In fact, some would argue that they aren't even a top five team going into the season with Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin all in the mix. However, Purdue always embraces the underdog role with open arms and the gap between the top six teams in the Big Ten this year won't be nearly as wide as it was last season. Watch for Matt Painter's team to hold serve at home and challenge for a share of the title.