The Purdue Boilermakers are primed to make the next step in becoming oneof the nation’s top programs, if they’re not already there, but some things must unfold for that to occur.
This team is bringing back a veteran-heavy centered team who had a 26-9 overall record last year, even if several key players departed via graduation after this past season. Last season ended with a bad taste in their mouths as they lost a first round match-up in the NCAA Tournament against 12 seeded Little Rock in double-overtime.
In hopes of them overcoming the failure of that early exit, there are three precise story-lines to watch closely in 2016-17.
Consistent Guard Play
Say it with me: Guard play.
The lack of guard play and depth has plagued Purdue in recent years. It’s been one of the biggest story-lines during head coach Matt Painter’s tenure, but this season looks like it could be different thanks to returning junior P.J. Thompson, senior transfer Spike Albrecht and freshman Carsen Edwards.
Thompson’s per-game averages in 2015-16 were 5.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Unassuming, yes, but of any player to shoot over at least 80 three-pointers, he led the team in three-point-percentage (.415). This trait is very valuable in college basketball and Thompson can look to affect the game in a lot more ways especially now with help coming in the backcourt. Thompson also improved considerably on defense and didn’t commit many turnovers, both traits necessary to thrive at Purdue.
Albrecht is most famously-known for his time at Michigan where he had a jaw-dropping performance in the 2012-13 National Championship game. That’s a distant memory and he’s now found a new home at Purdue. He’s coming off an injury and though he might not lead the team in scoring or any of the other major statistics categories, a veteran who’s reached the pinnacle is nice to have on the roster. At the very least he adds some valuable depth to the backcourt, especially with Johnny Hill graduating.
Edwards was the 88th ranked player in the ESPN 100 and he’s the only highly recruited freshman on the roster. He turned some heads recently after his performances during the team’s Spain trip, emerging as one of the most dynamic scorers on and off the ball.
The consistency from these three players and a few others at the guard positions will more than likely shape their postseason run, so don’t be shocked if you hear about this all season long.
The guard play is very important, but without dominating play from the guy called “Biggie”, Purdue’s season will falter, so he’s the key guy to watch during the season. As a true freshman last season, Swanigan averaged 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds and emerged as an under the radar freshman of the year candidate.
With A.J. Hammons now gone to the NBA, Swanigan will primed for an even bigger role heading forward and he has a great opportunity to average a double-double while increasing his points-per-game in the process. If Purdue makes headlines, which they will, you better believe Swanigan will be the catalyst of it. Not only that, but he may have to spend some time running the five this year to spell Isaac Haas, who will likely be the team’s starting center this year.
Big Games Highlight the Schedule
This is what separates teams’s who make the NCAA Tournament, mediocre teams and the elites. If the Boilermakers want to be mentioned in the elite category they must win the big games, something they struggled with last season. Against Top 25 teams they had a combined 2-6 record. That won’t get it done.
With non-conference opponents like the reigning champions Villanova (who come to West Lafayette in November), as well as Louisville, Notre Dame and Arizona State, these are must-win games— especially when you add in conference opponents like Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa, Indiana and Ohio State.
These games will be a story-line, but after the below average record against Top 25 opponents, it’ll make it that more intriguing to follow throughout the year. The reality is this is a NCAA Tournament team regardless, but the talent is there to compete and win against top level competition and that could help elevate Purdue to the next level in 2017.