The Purdue Boilermakers made the NCAA Tournament last year and only lost one starter while bringing in a pretty stellar recruiting class. However, even though this team has had success and clearly has a ton of talent, there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the Boilers. Let's look at three of the most pressing ones.
#1 Can this team take that next step?
This question might be a bit cliche, but it is very applicable to this Purdue team. Last season the Boilers fought tooth and nail to earn their way into the NCAA Tournament after an extremely disappointing December. By the end of the Big Ten season, Purdue was arguably the best defensive team in the conference and had developed more chemistry than the school's Pharmacy program. This year's team returns DPOY and glue-guy Rapheal Davis, dominate big man A.J. Hammons and every other key piece from last year, except for Jon Octeus.
The addition of 5-star recruit Caleb Swanigan and graduate transfer Johnny Hill, has the Boilermakers expected to make the jump from good team to elite. Will they be able to do it? The team seems very committed and have avoided the potential pitfalls of the offseason that have befallen other teams thus far. That was the easy part. Now, the path to becoming that elite team will likely start with spacing and guard play on offense, which bring us to our next question:
#2 Is there a go-to guard on this team?
When it comes down to crunch time in big games, having a player that can run the offense as well as create (and make) his own shots is a huge boost. One great example of this is Travis Trice for Michigan State last year. There were games during the Spartans post-season run when MSU seemingly won simply because of Trice's desire and talent. Can Purdue find a guy like that this season? Davis is an unquestioned leader like Trice, but has yet to really take over a game on offense. Kendall Stephens can get hot from deep and has hit game-changing shots before, but his consistency has lacked. Dakota Mathias? He's got a lot of potential, but still needs to develop quite a bit before he can step into that kind of role.
#3 Will outside shooting be enough of a threat to open up the inside?
One of the biggest concerns with Swanigan playing the 4 spot at Purdue will be spacing. Biggie has a solid mid-range game and is fairly athletic, but he still did most of his damage in the lane in high school. At Purdue, that lane has been occupied by Hammons or Isaac Haas on almost every possession. That means teams are going clog the inside as much as possible, especially if Purdue shoots 32.7% from three again. Both Stephens and Mathias were called sharpshooters coming out of high school, and yet Purdue woefully failed to place any players on the list of three-point percentage leaders last year. This season they add another high school marksman in Ryan Cline, but we'll have to wait and see if shots start falling in Mackey until the season starts. If they don't, the big boys inside will have to work extra hard to put points on the board.
Purdue has shown that they have the potential to do all of the things asked of them above. Now, they just have to execute and do it consistently. This year's Boilers should compete for their record 23rd Big Ten title, but if they don't answer these questions it could be a long and frustrating season in West Lafayette.