The only commit from the 2016 recruiting class, freshman Carsen Edwards went relatively under the radar outside of West Lafayette. Outside of Purdue fans, there wasn’t much fanfare for Edwards this summer heading into the season. That being said, just about two months into the year and that has rapidly changed as the 6’0” Texas native has quickly solidified himself as one of the top Big Ten freshmen this season.
A four-star combo guard ranked in Rivals Top 100 for 2016, the versatility surrounding Edwards was seen as a huge win heading into the season. It’s no secret that Purdue’s backcourt has been a touch thin when it comes to depth, having to rely on a consistent run of grad transfers to add depth to the point guard position. The bigger issue is that the players Purdue has utilized in the backcourt have commonly been limited and more one-dimensional in their game. While that has somewhat changed this year with P.J. Thompson’s improved offensive game, the Boilermakers have seen a run of offensively challenged point guards paired with three-point specialists. Edwards ability to run the point and create his own shot is something that Matt Painter hasn’t had since Terone Johnson was still on campus (with the closest thing since being a year of grad transfer Jon Octeus).
The versatility Edwards brings to the table has paid dividends so far for Purdue, providing a legitimate scoring threat on offense that has helped the Boilermakers out considerably this season. Look no further than the Auburn or Iowa game to see what Edwards is capable of, with the freshman hitting 7 of 13 three pointers and scoring 40 points across both games. His ability to create his own shot and not simply rely on three pointers has also helped spread the floor offensively and adds some firepower to the backcourt that guys like Spike Albrecht or Ryan Cline are incapable of doing.
Speaking of firepower, the freshman was responsible for starting the rout on Iowa at the end of last month, scoring the first eight points of the game and helping Purdue jump out early.
Even his teammates have taken notice of what Edwards has shown so far this season.
“It was major. I told him he’s a bad man. That’s a quick 8-0 run,” mentioned forward Vincent Edwards. “It was impressive. That’s a great start, to come out and be fearless and be ready to go.”
The impact of Edwards also goes hand in hand with a backcourt that has been highly impressive this season.
Junior P.J. Thompson wasn’t particularly known for his offensive prowess during his first two seasons, but the point guard is currently averaging 7.7 points per game while shooting 41.2% from beyond the arc. Purdue has shot lights out from deep this season, making 40.3% of their 380 three point attempts, a percentage good enough for 17th in the nation.
The improved offensive production from the backcourt has been critical as opposing defenses can no longer simply focus on shutting down Purdue’s frontcout by clogging the lane. One of the sore spots for the Boilermakers last season was when the three ball wasn’t falling defenses could simply load up inside and limit scoring opportunities for A.J. Hammons, Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. However, with more efficient shooting, the inside has opened up and sophomore Caleb Swanigan has absolutely thrived, averaging 18.3 points and 12.9 rebounds per game so far this season.
Carsen Edwards has also fit in nicely with the Boilermakers on the defensive side of the ball, leading the team with 1.1 steals per game while managing just under three rebounds an outing. For a freshman he’s shown to be a capable defender, especially if you paid attention to how he helped slow down standout Peter Jok in Purdue’s dismantling of Iowa. It sometimes takes time to get players up to speed with defense and Edwards has shown he’s more than capable of holding his own in Matt Painter’s defensive schemes.
That being said, Edwards isn’t perfect and has been prone to several off-nights this season. His occasional issue with inconsistency is something to keep an eye on, especially since the Boilermakers will need more consistency down the stretch if they want to contend for a conference title. So far the Boilermakers have lost three games and in those games Edwards went 1 of 8 (Villanova), 4 of 15 (Louisville) and 3 of 14 (Minnesota) from the field. It’s pretty clear that when Carsen struggles shooting the ball Purdue’s offense isn’t running on all cylinders, so Painter will need his freshman to not fade down the stretch.
While Edwards has a few areas for improvement, the freshman has proven to be a key contributor from the beginning of the season and has helped Purdue get off to a quick start. If Edwards can keep it up over the next two months the Boilermakers will be in the hunt for a conference title this winter. It’s been quite some time since Matt Painter has had a combo guard that can play both spots effectively. With Edwards only being halfway through his first season on campus, it looks like the skies the limit for this Texas native.