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2016-17 Purdue Boilermakers Season Preview

BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Purdue Boilermakers and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2016-17 season.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-’17 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2016-’17 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers said team.


Purdue basketball became a routine contender in the Big Ten under Gene Keady, but eventually the program started to struggle and Matt Painter was brought in back in 2005. After a 9-19 first season, Painter followed with six straight NCAA Tournament appearances, stringing together a strong run thanks to the Baby Boilers. While Purdue had achieved a high level of success, recruiting never took off and the program had back-to-back losing seasons following the graduation of Robbie Hummel.

Heading into the 2014-15 season the fan base was tiring of Painter and the fan base was actually calling for the athletic department to fire the long-time head coach. Instead, Purdue flipped the script in the middle of the season, reached the NCAA Tournament and then continued to improve in 2015-16. A dreadful Purdue team suddenly reverted back to the Purdue of old, playing suffocating defense and smothering opponents as they contended at the top of the Big Ten.

While Matt Painter and recruiting can be a sore spot for fans of the program, the reality is Painter still has short bursts where he lands a laundry list of talented players. First it was the Baby Boilers, but since then Painter has still brought in guys like A.J. Hammons, Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas. Most recently Painter was able to land Caleb Swanigan after initially losing out to Michigan State. That recruiting win has had a big impact on Purdue, with the team now hands down one of the biggest programs in the Big Ten.

The defense may dip a bit heading into the upcoming season thanks to the departure of A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis, but Matt Painter has found a way to bring back Purdue’s traditional lock down defense. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend continues in 2016-17, but Purdue will likely rely on a frontcourt including 7’2” Isaac Haas and 6’11” Caleb Swanigan. While Purdue’s defense may suffer, they’ll easily tower over most opponents.

Now the biggest question is if Painter and the Boilers can build from the past two seasons and find a way to make a deeper run in the NCAA Tournament after getting knocked early the past two seasons.

1. 2015-16 Season Performance

  • Record: 26-9 (12-6)
  • KenPom Team Rating: 9
  • RPI Rating: 17
  • Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (First Round)

The Boilermakers got a huge boost last season with the late addition of Caleb Swanigan to the mix. That led to Purdue getting plenty of preseason recognition and they were hoping to potentially compete for a Big Ten title. It was a decisive improvement as earlier in 2014-15 there were plenty of fans calling for the firing of head coach Matt Painter.

While the season could have been a bit better, Purdue still managed another NCAA Tournament appearance and finished towards the top of the Big Ten with a 12-6 record. The team only lost one regular season non-conference game, once again dropping another game in the Crossroads Classic. When it came to their six conference losses, outside of a dreadful road trip to Illinois, the Boilermakers could have won the remaining five games they lost. That was more or less the recurring theme last season, as Purdue couldn’t capitalize on several winnable games and ended up finishing a bit worse than they probably should have.

Part of that had to do with the teams inability to handle the press in end of game situations. Another part of that had to do with the team occasionally struggling shooting the ball from three, with the team stubbornly shooting it repeatedly from outside even when the shots weren’t falling. Purdue seemingly saved faced in the Big Ten Tournament, having a chance to knock off favorite Michigan State before ultimately losing by four points.

There was a bit of a sour taste when Purdue lost in their opening round of the NCAA Tournament to Little Rock, dropping in double overtime by two points. Even more troubling was that the game was entirely winnable, with Purdue failing to close out the end of a game they should have won. It didn’t help that the team hit only 32.1% of their 28 three pointers or that there was no foul called when Johnny Hill was taken down on a drive to the rim in the closing seconds.

While the end result of last year definitely left a bad taste in Purdue’s mouth, the team has enough talent returning that they should be able to build off of the success from the past two seasons.

2. Offseason Exits

Purdue loses a ton of talent from last season, though the team could be even better this season. It’s a weird thing to say, but it’s the truth. The team is set to lose three key players from last season in A.J. Hammons, Rapheal Davis and Johnny Hill, as well as Kendall Stephens, redshirt freshman Grant Weatherford and walk-on Stephen Toyra.

The biggest loss by far is A.J. Hammons, who was an AP Honorable Mention All-American, First-Team All-Big Ten selection and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Hammons finally graduated this past season and ended up being drafted with the 46th pick of the 2016 Draft by the Dallas Mavericks. In his senior season he averaged 15.0 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game for the Boilers. A.J. had some growing pains when he arrived on campus, but he eventually blossomed into a dominating inside presence, as well as the top defender in the Big Ten. His loss will obviously have a huge effect on Purdue heading forward, but having Isaac Haas spell him the past two seasons, as well as the return of sophomore Caleb Swanigan, will help soften the blow.

Another key loss is the graduation of Rapheal Davis. Like Hammons, Davis was a key defensive weapon for Purdue, earning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award in 2015. Davis was also the team’s leader and was a huge motivator on both offense and defense. His strength on defense and his leadership helped deflect from the fact that he wasn’t always the best offensive player, outside of a stretch during the junior season when he found his outside shot during conference play. While his offensive game dipped this past season, he still averaged 8.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game this past season. He’ll be hard to replace on the defensive side of the ball, but on offense Painter should have options to replace his production.

The same can probably be said about grad transfer Johnny Hill. Hill seemed hesitant at times on offense, only scoring 5.1 points per game in just under 18 minutes an outing. He was a capable enough point guard, though, and added some much needed depth this past season. That being said, he wasn’t needed as badly as Jon Octeus was the year before, with a lot of that having to do with point guard P.J. Thompson greatly improving last year.

Also leaving Purdue are Kendall Stephens and Grant Weatherford, both of which decided to transfer out of the program. Stephens was a three point specialist his first two seasons with Purdue, but he missed time this past season due to personal reasons (death of a close friend) and ended up falling out of the rotation. With Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline stepping up to fill the void, Stephens fell out of the rotation and ultimately decided to transfer to Nevada.

Playing time also seemed to be a factor as to why three-star commit Grant Weatherford transferred out of the program. The Indiana native took a redshirt this past season and with a backcourt fielding plenty of more experienced options, it was likely going to be an uphill battle to secure minutes. Weatherford showed a ton of potential on the defensive side of the ball, but he was looking to head to a school were he could see more playing time heading forward.

3. New Additions

The Boilermakers didn’t have a big recruiting class for 2016, with the only commit (excluding walk-ons) being Carsen Edwards. The Texas native was rated as a four-star prospect per 247Sports Composite rankings and was also ranked as the 117th best prospect in the 2016 recruiting class.

The combo guard may be the lone 2016 commit this year, but he should play a large role in the near future. Edwards has shown the ability to be more of a combo guard, allowing the 6’0” freshman to play either the point guard or shooting guard spot, adding some versatility to the mix. The Boilermakers have some experience at the point, with junior P.J. Thompson and grad transfer Spike Albrecht, so that will allow Painter to ease Edwards into the point if he envisions the guard running the offense eventually.

The more likely landing spot for Edwards is the two spot, with his ability to shoot the ball a potentially huge addition to Purdue’s roster. The Boilermakers don’t really have a true shooting guard on the roster, with players like Ryan Cline and Dakota Mathias being mainly three point specialists. Having a guard than can distribute the ball, shoot from outside and create his own shot would be a huge boost and something Purdue hasn’t had as of late. Edwards showed plenty of potential during the team’s trip to Spain, where he averaged 16.8 points per game on 64.9% shooting.

Also joining Purdue is grad transfer Spike Albrecht, who joins the Boilermakers after spending the past four seasons with the Wolverines. While Albrecht isn’t a huge addition on the offensive side of things, he brings plenty of experience to the table and added some much needed depth in the backcourt. Purdue and Matt Painter have utilized grad transfers (Johnny Hill, Jon Octeus, Sterling Carter) to help fill out the backcourt the past three seasons and that trend continues for a fourth year with Albrecht.

While Spike may not light up the scoreboards on offense, he should be a solid addition to the roster this season. One area that Spike has excelled at has been his ability to limit turnovers. Another area Albrecht is strong at is his ability to shoot free throws, hitting on 84.8% of his 92 career attempts. Why is this important? Well Purdue struggled mightily this past season closing out games, commonly committing turnovers when facing the press, as well as leaving points off the board with missed free throws. Having a composed senior that will limit turnovers and can convert clutch free throws could go a long way in close games.

Last of all, while not exactly a “new” addition, Basil Smotherman returns this season after voluntarily redshirtting last year. In his first two seasons the 6’6” forward averaged 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game in a backup role. Smotherman is capable of making highlight reel-esque baseline dunks and is a high tempo player, but he also has a tendency to disappear at times. Also, he hasn’t really proven to be a great rebounder and has had some room for improvement ever since he arrived on campus.

That being said, the junior has spent three years on campus, is experienced and should be a capable forward to backup Vincent Edwards, possibly even seeing some minutes at the four if Painter runs a small ball lineup with Swanigan running the five. He doesn’t have much of an outside shot, but he plays at a high level of energy and should be capable of providing a spark off the bench when he sees the court.

4. Team Strengths

A common theme last season for Purdue was size. That is once again a strength for Purdue, though it won’t be as big of an advantage as there is a bit of a drop off when it comes to the bench rotation. Either way, Purdue will be starting a lineup with a 7’2” center and a 6’11” power forward. Now think of another perennial Big Ten powerhouse, say Michigan State, and imagine the size advantage Purdue will hold come later on in the season.

It’s not just size, either, as Purdue’s starting center Isaac Haas is technically a new starter, but has played more than enough his first two seasons that the transition should be seamless. The 7’2” monster can be a force inside and has proven to be a difficult big for opposing teams to guard, he just needs to improve his touch when he’s not directly under the rim. Of course the fact that Haas struggles to get fouls called, with refs commonly letting defenders hack away, doesn’t help, but the junior is set for a breakout season in West Lafayette.

Purdue’s frontcourt advantage doesn’t end there, either. Caleb Swanigan was a consensus five-star recruit and has shown enough potential to make Purdue fans giddy as he returns for his sophomore season. He can score both inside and out and is a great rebounder, he just needs to improve on the defensive side of the ball. If he can add some consistency to his outside shot he’s going to be a real headache this winter for opposing teams.

Then of course you have Vincent Edwards rounding out the lineup. The junior hit over 40% of his three point attempts this past season, can drive inside and attack the rim and is one of the team’s better defenders.

Besides one of the conference’s top frontcourts, Purdue actually will benefit from a lineup full of experience, even if they lost a number of key players last year. Heading into the 2016-17 season every projected starter for Purdue was either a starter last season or played considerable minutes. Mix in guys like Basil Smotherman, Ryan Cline and Spike Albrecht and Painter has a stable of guys with a ton of experience to play with. With teams like Michigan State and Maryland bringing in rosters full of inexperienced freshmen and underclassmen, that experience could pay dividends this winter.

5. Team Weaknesses

The backcourt is still an area Purdue will need to improve on if they want to be a legitimate contender in the Big Ten. The production from their guards this past season wasn’t bad, and they have enough talent at hand to have a solid season once again, but they need to improve if Purdue wants to be a legitimate contender.

Point guards P.J. Thompson and Spike Albrecht are both hard working guards that will limit turnovers and have shown the ability to spread the ball efficiently, but neither have shown the ability to be consistent scorers. Thompson broke out during the teams exhibition trip, but that doesn’t mean he’ll do the same come conference play this season. Their inability to score the ball or create their own shots is problematic when you realize the teams other experienced options in the backcourt, Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline, have their own limitations as well.

Both Mathias and Cline have shown flashes, but they still remain predominately as three point specialists. This past season Mathias shot 72.6% of his field goals from three, while Cline shot 90.1% of his attempts from deep. Both player had passable three-point shooting percentages of 38.6% and 38.5% respectively, but each guy was plagued with inconsistent play and streaky shooting. Or in other words, while both guys could shoot lights out and go off on opposing teams, they could also go ice cold and start firing up brick after brick.

Their inability to consistently shoot the rock also ties into another weakness for Purdue, with that issue being three point shooting. This past season the team was third in three point percentage during conference play (38.3%) and 75th in the nation (36.7%), but the problem was what happened when the team couldn’t convert from deep. Instead of focusing on attacking inside (utilizing their strong frontcourt), the team commonly fell into the routine of repeatedly chucking up shots from outside and going ice cold on offense. The team had far to many nights where they lived and died by the three and when the shots weren’t falling the team had major issues hanging around with opponents.

Look no further then their NCAA Tournament loss (9 of 28), Big Ten Tournament Title game loss (3 of 15) and Maryland defeat (3 of 25). Purdue lost these three games by 2, 4 and 11 points respectively. Or in other words, refraining from a trainwreck performance from outside and Purdue could have won all three of these games.

That’s why it’ll be interesting to see how freshman Carsen Edwards performs this season. He may see more time at the two spot, but he can also run the point. His ability to shoot the ball and create his own shot adds a skill set Purdue didn’t have last year and if he takes off this season, he could be a key weapon down the stretch for the Boilers.

6. Top Player

Sophomore Caleb Swanigan decided to return to Purdue this season and is set to be one of the top players in the Big Ten this season. The power forward didn’t have a perfect freshman year, but with Hammons and Haas down low and Vincent Edwards also starting, Swanigan didn’t need to set the world on fire. Instead he gained valuable experience and starting becoming a better player throughout the season, with the forward now set for a breakout season.

Last season as a freshman Swanigan went on to average 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and both of these numbers should improve. Purdue would benefit if Swanigan can improve on the defensive side of the ball, but his ability to rebound and score both inside and out is a huge advantage. Swanigan’s outside shot wasn’t perfect last year, only hitting 29.2% of his threes, but he hit just enough that opposing teams had to at least defend him on the perimeter. If he can improve his shot from outside his offensive game could be set to explode this year as Swanigan has already shown the ability to get inside and score the ball around the rim.

Swanigan does need to clean up his game a bit though. His freshman season was plagued by some untimely turnovers and there were times down the stretch when he disappeared offensively, even when he held a decisive size advantage. With Swanigan set to see an even bigger role this season, as well as more minutes at center, that can’t happen. Of course it was his freshman season and it wasn’t long ago that Hammons had similar complaints levied against him throughout his first two seasons on campus.

Besides Swanigan, Purdue’s other frontcourt options could be huge heading forward. Haas was already good enough to be a starting Big Ten center last year, he was just stuck behind Hammons. While his conditioning and potential issues with fouls creates some questions on how many minutes he’ll log a night, there’s potential for Haas to finally get some recognition this season.

Also in the mix is Vincent Edwards, who is a versatile small forward that can contribute all over the court. The 6’7” wing hit 40.7% of his threes last season, can drive to the rim, is a solid rebounder and a good defender. If Edwards can produce at a similar level once again he should be set for another huge season for Purdue. With Rapheal Davis off to China, it’s Edwards time to shine.

7. 2016-17 Schedule Breakdown

  • 11/11 - McNeese State
  • 11/14 - Villanova (Gavitt Games)
  • 11/18 - Georgia State (Cancun Challenge)
  • 11/22 - Utah State (Cancun Challenge - Mexico )
  • 11/23 - Auburn / Texas Tech (Cancun Challenge - Mexico)
  • 11/26 - NJIT
  • 11/30 - at Louisville (ACC / Big Ten Challenge)
  • 12/03 - Morehead State
  • 12/06 - Arizona State (Jimmy V Classic - New York, N.Y.)
  • 12/10 - Cleveland State
  • 12/17 - Notre Dame (Crossroads Classic - Indianapolis, Ind.)
  • 12/19 - Western Illinois
  • 12/21 - Norfolk State
  • 12/28 - Iowa
  • 01/01 - Minnesota
  • 01/05 - at Ohio State
  • 01/08 - Wisconsin
  • 01/12 - at Iowa
  • 01/17 - Illinois
  • 01/21 - Penn State
  • 01/24 - at Michigan State
  • 01/29 - at Nebraska
  • 02/01 - Northwestern
  • 02/04 - at Maryland
  • 02/09 - at Indiana
  • 02/14 - Rutgers
  • 02/18 - Michigan State
  • 02/21 - at Penn State
  • 02/25 - at Michigan
  • 02/28 - Indiana
  • 03/04 or 03/05 - at Northwestern

Some teams get criticized for laughable non-conference schedules early on in the season. Well when it comes to Purdue, that’s most definitely not the case. The Boilermakers will actually face one of the more entertaining non-conference slates this fall and things will kick off quickly when Purdue hosts defending champs Villanova in their second game of the season as part of the Gavitt Games.

Purdue will also travel to Louisville for the ACC / Big Ten Challenge, face off against Utah State and either Auburn or Texas Tech in the Cancun Challenge, as well as play neutral site games against Arizona State (Jimmy V Classic in New York) and Notre Dame (Crossroads Classic). It’s not murders row, especially with several cupcakes filling the gaps, but it does provide a talented Purdue team with plenty of options for quality wins and a laundry list of games against NCAA Tournament caliber teams. Not to mention games against the defending champs (Villanova) and two college basketball powerhouses (Louisville, Notre Dame).

The conference schedule should also prove to be a somewhat challenging task as well. While the Boilermakers do benefit from drawing single plays against Wisconsin (home), Maryland (road) and Michigan (road), they also only face Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers once. Luckily two of their double plays are winnable games against Northwestern and Penn State, but they also draw Indiana, Michigan State and even Iowa twice in what should be some exciting, and close, Big Ten showdowns this winter.

There’s definitely some opportunities to get some early conference wins, with Purdue likely to be favored in at least six of their first seven Big Ten games. The one game that could be a toss-up, against Wisconsin, is at Mackey Arena, so Purdue could have the advantage as well. The trickiest stretch will kick off in early February when Purdue has back to back road games against Maryland and Indiana, followed up by home games against Rutgers and Michigan State. Three of those four games could have a huge impact on the conference title race this winter when everything is said and done.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: P.J. Thompson (Jr.)
  • SG: Dakota Mathias (Jr.)
  • SF: Vincent Edwards (Jr.)
  • PF: Caleb Swanigan (So.)
  • C: Isaac Haas (Jr.)

When it comes to Purdue’s projected starting lineup a lot of it is more or less set in stone heading into the season. When everything is said and done, it’s more or less guaranteed that Isaac Haas will be the starting center, that Caleb Swanigan will be the starting power forward and that junior Vincent Edwards will hold down the three spot. Of course the rotation here won’t be that set in stone, though.

Isaac Haas has looked pretty good his first two seasons, but most of his minutes have came spelling Hammons. That of course was a benefit the past two seasons, allowing A.J. to stay rested and helping him out when he got into foul trouble. The question heading into the season, though, is how many minutes Haas can realistically go each night and what will happen when he gets into foul trouble. The reality is Jacquil Taylor isn’t really a viable option at the five and Basil Smotherman is too small to run the center, even for a small-ball lineup, so we could see plenty of Caleb Swanigan sliding down to the five. That means Vincent Edwards or Smotherman should also see minutes at the four, as well as Taylor, but it also means Painter will likely have to find a way to split up Swanigan and Haas since Swanigan can’t spend the entire game on the court.

That means Purdue will probably experiment with some smaller rotations including a few more guards and might not always have Swanigan and Haas out on the court at the same time, but both are set in stone as starters. Also most likely set to start, at least at the beginning of the season, is junior P.J. Thompson. He’s a likely fit at the point guard, especially since Carsen Edwards has a greater chance to find minutes at the two spot.

The question mark is who exactly will play the two spot. With Ryan Cline suspended for the opener, that should go to Dakota Mathias in the opener. The last starting spot is likely a toss up between Mathias and Cline, with whoever is more consistent from the perimeter and playing better on defense likely getting the starting spot. Of course Carsen Edwards had an impressive exhibition trip in Spain, can play both guard spots and can create his own shot. Depending on how quickly he gets up and running for Purdue, it is certainly possible he could break into the starting rotation at some point this season, with Mathias/Cline set to be featured in a sixth man role with a focus on three point shooting.

9. Team Perspective From Casey Bartley of Hammer and Rails

"The dirty secret in West Lafayette last year was that after Rapheal Davis’s knee injury, he was the worst player on the court for us a few too many times. He was an offensive liability on a team with a lot of offensively limited players and his defense slipped. He’s replaceable, despite the captain moniker. There’s not such an easy path to replacing Hammons. He was Purde’s everything on defense, and Purdue’s going to miss him dearly on that end. Oh, and he was pretty damn good in the post on offense. But Purdue has a 7’2” monster who has patiently been waiting like one of Danaerysus’s dragons in the dungeons in Isaac Haas, surviving off the few scrounges of post-up meat left over after A. J. went to the bench.

So if you’re wondering why Purdue fans are walking around with puffed-out chests, that’s why.

The truth is, Purdue should be a different team this year than last, in more ways than just personnel. Carsen Edwards is the kind of dynamic offensive weapon we haven’t had in years. He’s capable of making plays off the dribble that none of our other guards are. He can shoot. Everyone can shoot. It’s crazy the shooting we should have. And the passing.

This is a pivotal year for Purdue. This is the year we’ll find out how good of a coach Matt Painter really is. This is the first roster he’s had without any ready-made excuses going into the season.

Painter’s going to have two teams this year. The team when Haas is on the floor and the team when Haas isn’t on the floor. When Haas is in, the ball is going into the post. When he’s not – from what I’ve seen in Spain and during the scrimmages – Purdue is going to leverage all that shooting and Dakota Mathias’s passing to turn into a spread pick and roll system. Caleb Swanigan was bad last year. There’s no way around it. He was misused. But using him as the pick and pop guy in the half court will allow him to take advantage of all the tools that made him such a coveted recruit in the first place. This is the evolution in offense that Purdue fans have pined for, and if Painter pulls it off, Purdue’s gonna have a top 10 offense in the country that more than makes up for any fall back on defense they’ll have losing the last two defense players of the year for the B10.” Casey Bartley.

10. Overall Season Outlook

Matt Painter may have struggled after the last Baby Boiler made it to the NBA, but the coach has turned things back around in West Lafayette and has Purdue once again contending at the top of the Big Ten. Usually when a team loses this many key players, that doesn’t lead to good things the following season. Luckily for the Boilermakers, though, the team had a deep rotation last year and now fields a roster full of experienced players.

With teams like Michigan State and Maryland set to have a ton of fresh faces, that could help open up the door for Purdue to make a run at a Big Ten title. Of course Indiana and Wisconsin will take issue with that, but the Boilermakers have enough talent at hand that you can’t count them out.

The biggest question is if Purdue can finally get some better production on the offensive side of the ball from their backcourt. Purdue will have a height advantage and has a dominating frontcourt, but their backcourt consists of two point guards that are limited on offense and a pair of three point specialists that are streaky shooters. If freshman Carsen Edwards can capitalize on the early potential he has shown, he could be the missing piece for Purdue this season.

We should get a pretty good vibe on how to look at Purdue early this season thanks to a tough non-conference schedule. Even if Purdue ends up with several losses over the first two months, this team should still contend at the top of the Big Ten and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be back in the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season.

Now Purdue fans just want to see a longer run in March after two early exits the past two seasons. If Painter can get better production from his backcourt, that should be easily accomplished.

Big Ten Prediction: 3rd Place