The 2015-16 campaign will be a season of high expectations for Purdue. Coming off of a third place finish in the Big Ten and an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Boilermakers enter next season with four returning starters and legitimate aspirations to win the conference for the first time since 2010.
While familiar faces like A.J. Hammons, Rapheal Davis and Kendall Stephens will no doubt be relied upon heavily in 2015-16, Purdue also has a collection of new players who will have the chance to make some noise. Along with new freshmen Ryan Cline, Grant Weatherford and Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers have also brought in senior guard Johnny Hill from UT-Arlington. Though all four will likely get on the court at some point, the amount of playing time that each receives will obviously differ. Let’s take a look at which new Boilermaker has the best shot to contribute immediately next season.
Point guard is the only position up for grabs in Purdue’s starting lineup and Hill is the player with the best shot to claim it. Last season at Arlington, Hill averaged 9.6 points, 3.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds, not eye-popping numbers, but not much different from what Jon Octeus gave Purdue (9.3 points, 2.6 assists and 4.9 rebounds). Although he’ll obviously face much stiffer competition in the Big Ten, the 6-foot-3 guard is a tough defender and solid passer who should benefit from being surrounded by capable wings like Davis, Stephens and Dakota Mathias. With Weatherford and sophomore P.J. Thompson also competing for minutes at the one, Hill isn’t guaranteed to start. Still, he is the most experienced out of the bunch and has the best chance to win the job in Purdue’s veteran lineup.
Even with both Hammons and Vince Edwards returning in the front court, head coach Matt Painter will have a hard time keeping the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Swanigan on the bench. A five-star recruit, Swanigan is a potential low-post stud whose development is one of the keys to Purdue’s success next season and in the future. Not only does the Indiana native have major scoring potential down low, he is a banger who projects to be a terrific rebounder. The only thing stopping Swanigan from starting right away are the guys in front of him. The 7-foot Hammons (11.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 blocks in 2014-15) is coming off a second-team All-Big Ten season and is arguably the best center in the conference, and Edwards (8.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists) is a versatile player with very good passing ability for a power forward. They’ll be the starters off the bat, but if Swanigan plays up to his potential, he’ll get plenty of minutes and could work his way past Edwards on the depth chart.
A 6-foot-2, 215 pound point guard, Weatherford isn’t particularly dynamic but is a hard-nosed player and a good decision maker. His biggest role with the Boilermakers will likely be as a defender, where he projects to be above-average thanks to his build and tenacity. He’ll have a tough time beating out Hill, and he could even fall behind Thompson on the depth chart, but Weatherford has a chance to get minutes as an energy guy off the bench,
One of the top high school players in Indiana this past season, Cline is a light-out shooter who will have to battle for minutes in Purdue’s rotation against a number of quality wings. Davis and Stephens will likely start while Dakota Mathias, who started over Stephens at times last season, is the first player off the bench. That leaves Cline in a tough position, but the freshman could still get minutes because of his 3-point shooting. Stephens (38 percent) was the only Boilermaker to top 35 percent from behind the arc last season, making Cline’s biggest strength a need for Purdue. The 6-foot-5 guard also has experience handling the ball, but he probably won’t be asked to play the point next season.
Swanigan has the most potential of any newcomer, but Hill should make the biggest immediate contribution since the Boilermakers lack an experienced point guard. Look for Swanigan to still make a splash, with Cline and Weatherford getting chances as well.