The Boilermakers are the defending Big Ten champs and if it weren’t for Miles Bridges returning to East Lansing this season, Purdue would have likely been a potential preseason pick to repeat in 2018. Even with Michigan State being the heavy preseason favorite, most people still have Purdue set to land somewhere between second and fourth place in the league.
While the loss of first rounder Caleb Swanigan is definitely notable, Purdue returns most of their other key contributors and should still have a stacked enough roster to compete at the top of the conference once again.
How will Purdue replace Caleb Swanigan down low?
18.5 points. 12.5 rebounds. 3.1 assists. That was Swanigan’s stat line this past season and replacing the All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year will be no easy feat for Matt Painter and company.
Luckily for Purdue they do have senior Isaac Haas. The 7’2” behemoth averaged 12.6 points and 5.0 rebounds in only 19.5 minutes per game and has had plenty of experience spelling Swanigan and former center A.J. Hammons throughout his career. The biggest question with Haas, though, is if he’s ready for the main role down low. We’ll touch on that one in a little bit.
The bigger question outside of Haas is who will add depth in the frontcourt. The obvious suggestion is freshman Matt Haarms, who enrolled midseason last winter and utilized the spring semester to participate in team practices while redshirtting. Like Haas, Haarms is a large fellow at 7’3” and will likely be the backup at the five. While Haarms early enrollment has allowed him to get a bit of a head start, he still hasn’t played in a game so he’s still on the inexperienced side.
Junior Jacquil Taylor will likely see significantly more playing time this season after missing all of last year with a foot injury. The 6’10” forward has been a bit of a project and has only saw limited playing time in his first two seasons, but should now see more minutes with the log jam in front of him finally clearing up. Taylor looked pretty capable at the World University Games, but Big Ten play will likely offer stiffened competition.
Rounding out the frontcourt will be junior college commit Eden Ewing and freshman Aaron Wheeler, both 6’9” forwards. Considering Purdue’s likely utilization of Vincent Edwards and Dakota Mathias, it’s likely that Haarms and Taylor will see the bulk of minutes behind Haas. If Purdue wants to make a run for the top of the conference, they will need to see both guys get up to speed in a hurry. Especially considering a few potential issues with Isaac Haas...
Is Isaac Haas ready for a key role?
Short answer: Yes. But with one major issue hanging over his head.
Haas is big, can score inside and can pick up rebounds in a hurry. He should prove to be one of the better Big Ten centers on both sides of the ball and will likely be a key option in Purdue’s offense. Everything we’ve seen with Haas in three seasons indicates he’s more than ready to take over in his senior season. There are, however, two major questions Haas will have to face this year, both involving his increased playing time.
The first is how will he handle the increased minutes. While Haas has started games in all three seasons for Purdue (41 in total), he’s averaged only 16.1 minutes per game over three seasons. With no proven option backing him up, Haas will see increased minutes and that could wear a bit more on the 7’2” center than in prior years.
While he should be capable of the increased role this year, Haas could have problems with some of the more athletic centers he’s likely to see throughout the season. Haas is a big guy, but he’s not as fast as some opposing centers and that could cause issues on defense.
The more legitimate issue, though, is fouls. While unfortunate, Haas is repeatedly on the wrong side of the whistle. On offense the center can get mugged repeatedly and not draw a foul, while defensively any minor contact with an opponent typically draws a whistle. His fouls per 40 minutes rate was the highest on the team last year, almost a full foul higher than Caleb Swanigan.
While he didn’t foul out last season, a lot of that was because he didn’t need to play a full 25-30 minutes on most nights. If Haas gets into foul trouble early on it means guys like Haarms and Taylor will see increased minutes. If either of these guys struggle this year, that could mean Haas’ ability to stay out of foul trouble will be key to Purdue’s success this winter.
Will Carsen Edwards break out in 2017-18?
Carsen Edwards had an impressive freshman season, averaging 10.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He became a key component of Purdue’s offense last year, proved to be capable of creating his own shot and held his own from beyond the arc (34%). He brought a high level of versatility to the backcourt, similar to how Vincent Edwards well rounded game at the wing has paid dividends for Purdue the past several seasons.
The sophomore spent the offseason impressing as a part of the USA U-19 team, as well as a part of Purdue’s USA team at the World University Games. Now Edwards is looking to build off of an eventful summer and have an even better sophomore season in West Lafayette. Edwards definitely has the skills to do so, and with the team needing to replace Swanigan’s production, Edwards will likely be primed for an even better year this winter.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the questions listed above mainly deal with just how good Purdue can be in 2017-18. The reality is Purdue will contend at the top of the Big Ten and should once again reach the NCAA Tournament, even if the Boilermakers aren’t as good without Caleb Swanigan.
However, if Purdue can answer the questions above and see some of their new additions hit the ground running, the Boilermakers could make a run for the top of the conference and will have the chance to once again reach the Sweet 16.
Purdue is going to be good this year, the only question is just how good they’ll be.