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Breaking Down Purdue's Non-Conference Schedule: How Many Games Will They Win?

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Now that Purdue's non-conference schedule has been released, how many games will the Boilermakers win heading into conference play? Can they avoid some massive upsets this time around?

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As posted last week, Purdue released their non-conference schedule for the 2015-16 season. The schedule isn't exactly loaded with marquee programs, but for the most part it does a solid job bringing in quality opponents while also sprinkling in just enough mid-majors to pad out the remainder of the schedule.

Here is the full non-conference schedule.

2015-16 Purdue Non-Conference Schedule:

  • Nov. 13 -- North Carolina A&T
  • Nov. 15 -- Vermont
  • Nov. 18 -- Incarnate Word
  • Nov. 21 -- vs. Old Dominion (Uncasville, Conn.)
  • Nov. 22 -- vs. Florida/Saint Joseph's (Uncasville, Conn.)
  • Nov. 28 -- Lehigh
  • Dec. 1 -- at Pittsburgh
  • Dec. 5 -- New Mexico
  • Dec. 7 -- IUPUI
  • Dec. 9 -- Howard
  • Dec. 12 -- Youngstown State
  • Dec. 19 -- vs. Butler (Indianapolis, IN.)
  • Dec. 22 -- Vanderbilt
That being said, how does this upcoming season's schedule compare to last year's and how many games can the Boilermakers expect to win early next season? Once again the schedule will have a number of similarities, thanks to Purdue's involvement with the Big Ten / ACC Challenge and Crossroads Classic, as well as their participation in another early season tournament (this year it's the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic, last year was the Maui Invitational). The end result is a schedule that has plenty of notable programs on the docket, though light on some true heavy hitters. No one is going to argue that facing off against teams like Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, New Mexico and possibly Florida is "easy," yet at the same time it pales compared to some of the teams they could have drawn (Notre Dame like in last years Crossroads Classic, a better ACC opponent, etc.).

This of course isn't exactly a 'big' problem for the Boilermakers and could actually be beneficial to Purdue. While the lineup will consist of plenty of solid, recognizable teams, they're still winnable games. This will allow Purdue the chance to piece together an impressive non-conference start with a SOS that will most likely end up looking pretty solid (and will only go up throughout conference play). While Purdue won't get a ton of hype over taking care of business here, if they can handle the schedule it will put them in great shape heading forward and provide them with enough of a test to be ready for conference play when things start to pick up. If anything, the biggest problem here is that a lot of the intriguing matchups will happen outside of West Lafayette, with Pittsburgh being on the road and Butler, Old Dominion and possibly Florida all being played on neutral court sites.

So...How many games will Purdue win here?

Ah, the question that most Purdue fans will likely try to take a stab at at least once before the season tips off in November. Last season Purdue didn't exactly set the world on fire with an 8-5 record before conference play, though in hindsight the losses to Kansas State and Vanderbilt didn't appear to be as bad when they happened. Of course the North Florida and Gardner-Webb debacles were held over Purdue for most of the season, something Purdue will try to avoid this fall.

Typical for most power conference teams, Purdue has a handful of mid-majors early on, including North Carolina A&T, Vermont, Incarnate Word, Lehigh, IUPUI, Howard and Youngstown State. Luckily there's not too much firepower there, with Vermont being the best of the group and the only team to have a KenPom rating in the top 150 (109th, with Lehigh next up at 196th). Vermont ended up finishing last season with a 20-14 record, not beating a power conference team and participating in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). The Catamounts will return plenty of talent and should contend next year in the America East Conference, but should still be overpowered by Purdue. That being said, people will probably look for a mid-major upset here thanks to Purdue's unfortunate two mishaps last season, though I still believe that the Gardner-Webb loss was the end result of an awkwardly placed game three days before Christmas, resulting in a complete lack of focus (and the unexpected loss).

The rest of the schedule is a bit tougher and will likely allow us to get an early look to see if Purdue is ready to contend for a Big Ten title or not. Old Dominion is coming off of an impressive 27-8 season, while Purdue will either get a not-so-good Saint Joseph's or a rebuilding Florida (with new coach Michael White) in the final of the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic. The neutral site location and likely draw of Old Dominion and Florida will be interesting because on paper Purdue should have the advantage in both games, but will need to play up to par to win versus both teams. Look no further than last season when Purdue played a sloppy first half and ended up losing to Kansas State, before dominating Missouri and edging Brigham Young once they cleaned up their game. A good Purdue performance would likely end with two wins and an undefeated November run, while losing any games this month to anyone not named Florida might make people a touch uneasy.

The schedule will ramp up at the beginning and end of December, with the toughest game being Purdue's road trip to Pitt on the first of the month. That of course is followed up by what could be an interesting home game against New Mexico. Both of these should be interesting because Pittsburgh and New Mexico have both been two very good programs as of late, but both had their worst seasons in years last year. Fortunately a home game versus a New Mexico team likely to fall back to down to earth in the post-Steve Alford era is a game Purdue should get, but traveling into a hostile environment at Pitt will be by far the toughest game Purdue faces prior to conference play.

After the first week of December things get a touch easier until the last two days games before Christmas when the Boilers will square off against Butler and Vanderbilt. For whatever reason the Boilers have struggled in Indianapolis and have yet to win in the Crossroads Classic, losing to Butler the last two times they've faced them in the Classic. And of course this Purdue team lost to Vanderbilt by 10 on the road last season, thanks to the Commodores shooting 58.3% from the field and 64.3% from three. On paper these are entirely winnable games, just like the rest of the schedule, but Purdue's struggles in the Crossroads Classic and playing once again a few days prior to Christmas during winter break could prove problematic.

So how will everything pan out for the Boilers? Well first the team will need to figure out some rotational issues due to the depth in the frontcourt and potential lack of perimeter shooting if they play big. They'll also need to figure out quickly on how to manage the point guard position, with sophomore P.J. Thompson and senior transfer Johnny Hill likely battling it out for minutes. If both of these questions can be successfully answered, the Boilers could run the table, though going 12-1 or 11-2 would be more likely. If turnovers pop up at the point or if the team struggles shooting the ball from outside, though, there are a number of talented enough programs here to pile on the losses.

When everything is said and done Purdue should be more than capable of going at least 11-2, if not better, during non-conference play this season. The Boilermakers have a tendency to periodically slip up just enough that running the table seems unlikely, though they should at least avoid losing any games to the mid-major programs this season. Either way, barring an unexpected setback, Purdue should be more than capable enough to lay a solid foundation on their path to another NCAA Tournament experience. And of course if they do slip up, this past winter proves that a strong finish in the Big Ten should be enough to get the job done anyway.