There was plenty of hype around the Purdue Boilermaker basketball program heading into last season, especially after five star big man Caleb Swanigan announced he was joining the program after flipping his commitment from Michigan State. Things started well for the Boilers and they worked their way into a top 10 national ranking, but things didn’t end the way they would have hoped.
Setting their sights in the offseason for a Final Four run, they were disappointed to fall very short in a first round loss that showed one of the biggest flaws the Boilers had all of last year: closing out close games.
With the end of last year, a few departures and offseason additions in mind, here are three huge questions surrounding the Purdue basketball team coming into the 2016-17 season.
1.) Do the Boilers finally have the guards and poise to finish out the tight games?
Time and time again last season and in recent years, the Purdue backcourt has been the biggest question surrounding this team. Every year, they seem to think they’ve added the talent to break the press, keep their poise and do all the things needed to win those tight games. However, each year they have still struggled to get that done.
Johnny Hill and Raphael Davis have both departed the Purdue backcourt. In their place, Purdue will have a point guard they’ve raved about in freshman Carsen Edwards, along with the graduate transfer from Michigan, Spike Albrecht. One would think that Spike, with his experience making impacts in big games, would have the poise to handle the press late in games. The team has raved about Edwards in practice and from their stretch in Spain, where he played very well.
While the Boilers once again think they have improved in the backcourt, it’s a question that just can’t be answered until we start to consistently see the press being broken.
2.) Will Caleb Swanigan take the massive leap forward that he’s capable of?
While Caleb Swanigan had a way above average freshman year, there were still some holes in his game that people would have liked to see patched up (as there are with almost any freshman). One of the biggest issues with Swanigan during his freshman campaign was his turnover rate. Per 100 plays, Swanigan turned the ball over nearly 22 times in his freshman season. In the close games that Purdue always seem to end up in, even one or two of those turnovers being cut out could result in a different result.
It’s no secret that Swanigan wants to play in the NBA, but his game has quite a way to go before he gets there. At his size, he’ll have to be able to hit the perimeter jumper with more consistency. When Isaac Haas is in the game, he will attract so much defensive attention to the post that Swanigan should be able to step out for open 15-17 foot jumpers without much resistance. If he can make that shot more consistently and only take it when it’s there for him, he’ll become an absolute handful for opposing coaches to deal with.
3.) Who will fill the gaps left by Raphael Davis and A.J. Hammons?
In a recent piece I discussed Rapheal Davis and A.J. Hammons being by far the biggest losses for this program. Raphael Davis was the unquestioned leader of this team on the court and off the court. His leadership abilities were praised by anyone you heard from in and around the program. Along with being a defensive stalwart, leadership is usually one of the more difficult pieces of a team to replace when all of the members of the team gravitate to a leader that way. Who will fill that role?
Everyone knows what A.J. Hammons did for the Boilers, both offensively and defensively. Many expect Isaac Haas to take a massive leap forward along with Swanigan, and offensively that should be enough to fill the gap that Hammons will leave. But defensively, neither Haas or Swanigan are really true shot blockers. Swanigan has a block rate of 0.9%, and while Haas has a much better rate of 5.3%, it still doesn’t really compare to the rate Hammons boasted of 10.4%.
While Haas and Swanigan certainly have the size to be shot blockers, a lot of it is timing and instinct. Whether or not the timing and the ability to block shots without fouling can improve for the Purdue frontcourt can stay steady without Hammons will be very interesting.