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Purdue 2017-18 Preview: Carsen Edwards and PJ Thompson Hold the Reins

Purdue will return a majority of their backcourt rotation from a year ago.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament-Michigan vs Purdue Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In the weeks leading up to the 2017-’18 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.

Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will feature the Purdue Boilermakers backcourt. The Boilermakers will see quite a bit of continuity with PJ Thompson and Carsen Edwards still in the guard spots, but will lose some key experience with the departure of Spike Albrecht.

‘BTPowerhouse Preview’ - Purdue Backcourt

  • 2016-17’ All Big Ten Qualifiers: None
  • Departures: Spike Albrecht, Jon McKeeman
  • Additions: Nojel Eastern, Sasha Stefanovic
  • Top Player: Carsen Edwards

Over the last handful of years, the question with Purdue has always been their guard play. When you look at a front line and you see either AJ Hammons or Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, you’re always going to be comfortable with what you have on your team down low. What can the guys on the perimeter give you?

In reality, though, the Purdue backcourt has been about as steady as you could hope for over the past few years with point guard P.J. Thompson near the top of the conference in turnover rate, coming in 6th at only 12.2%, and it should be noted he’s the only point guard in the Top 10 in the conference. Purdue has plenty of playmakers in its backcourt for the coming year, let’s take a look at how it should shake out.

Starting Rotation

Since arriving on campus at Purdue, P.J. Thompson has found himself to be a bit of a mainstay in the rotation at point guard for Matt Painter and the Boilermakers. He simply takes such great care of the basketball and is such a consistent shooter that it’s difficult to not have him out there. As a defender, his lack of size can sometimes cause problems for him, but his tenacity and heart is evident on every single possession. He has that type of bulldog mentality that you would associate with Purdue basketball.

A season ago, Thompson averaged 7.4 points, 2.9 assists, 2.1 rebounds and one steal per game. He did this all while shooting 51.6% from the field and 38.4% from the three point line. Thompson also only averaged 0.7 turnovers per game to go with his 2.9 assists, and his nearly 4:1 assist/turnover ratio is such a huge factor for any team at the point guard position.

At the other starting backcourt spot, you would presumably have Carsen Edwards. This would leave Purdue with an extremely small backcourt, but Edwards packs an offensive punch that will likely be too deadly for Painter not to put him out there to start games, especially during conference play. Edwards, a year ago, averaged 10.3 points in just over 23 minutes per game and is simply an offensive dynamo. He can get to the basket whenever he pleases and showed great improvement in his outside shot during the World University Games this summer.

Edwards is also a very stout perimeter defender for his size, averaging a steal per game in his opportunities. While steals don’t always show a direct indication of defensive prowess, you can tell by watching a game that Edwards is extremely bothersome with his strength and athleticism at his size for guys on the perimeter. Though he is small, he isn’t going to be pushed off his spot and his intensity on that end is something that all of Boilermaker nation loves to see.

Bench Rotation

Purdue will head into this season with a pair of guards that could see very interesting roles this coming season. Nojel Eastern, a point guard from Illinois, will bring some much needed size to the Purdue backcourt. At 6’6”, 220 pounds, Eastern is built with an NBA body and has good athleticism to go with it. 247Sports had Eastern listed as the third best prospect in the talent rich state of Illinois and he could provide an entirely different look for Purdue at the guard position.

Albeit against some questionable competition at some points in the World University Games, Eastern showed some really nice ability and good potential. Against the United Arab Emirates, Eastern posted 10 points and 9 assists in a Purdue blowout victory. Eastern is one of the most versatile and unique players to come to West Lafayette in quite some time and it will be very interesting to see how Coach Painter decides to use him this season.

The other player that could fill in as a true guard would be Sasha Stefanovic from Crown Point, Indiana. Another freshman, Stefanovic is a pure knockdown shooter. At 6’4”, 195 pounds, Stefanovic could also provide good size for the Boilermakers in a backcourt with a very small starting lineup. An Indiana All-Star, Stefanovic averaged 19.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists as a senior at Crown Point.

Overall

Purdue has plenty of guys who can fit in as guards with their versatile lineup, but Thompson and Edwards should look to get a bulk of the minutes in the backcourt as the Boilermakers look to repeat as Big Ten Champions.

It will definitely be interesting to see how Painter decides to employ his two freshman guards throughout the season. Eastern certainly looks to have a nice spot in the rotation carved out for him, while Stefanovic will have to fight and perform to earn minutes on a Purdue team that has so much depth and is so versatile.