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2017-’18 Purdue Boilermakers Season Preview

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BTPowerhouse previews the upcoming season for the Purdue Boilermakers and what fans should expect from the program heading into the 2017-’18 season.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Northwestern Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017-’18 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2017-’18 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers said team.

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After nearly a decade of waiting, Purdue fans finally got their breakthrough last season. The Boilermakers finally put it all together and won the outright Big Ten title. In putting together that run, Purdue went 27-8 overall, 14-4 in conference play, and made its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The team turned that appearance into a trip to the Sweet 16, where the team fell short against Kansas.

Last season was a great one for Purdue and its fanbase. There really isn’t any other way to describe it. Purdue won its first Big Ten title in nearly a decade, won 27 games for the first time since 2010 and just the third time since 1998, and made the Sweet 16 for just the third time since 1998 as well. Add in a season sweep over arch-rival Indiana and it’s hard to find too many pitfalls in what was a banner year for the program.

The challenge now, of course, is maintaining that success. Matt Painter and his staff need to find a way to match last year’s intensity if the program is going to repeat, or even be in contention for another Big Ten crown.

And that task is easier said than done. The last time any team won two outright Big Ten titles in a row was 2007. The league is notoriously tough to predict and teams rise and fall with each given season. Purdue is hoping to avoid such a fall.

Maintaining that success won’t be easy, either. Purdue is losing do-it-all player Caleb Swanigan to the NBA and another contributor in Spike Albrecht. The Boilermakers also won the league in a down year and may have to contend against a better league, including Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Northwestern teams that have now grown up after playing young rosters last season. It won’t be easy.

But with a proven head coach in Painter and a talented returning core of Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, and Isaac Haas, hopes will remain high. If the Boilermakers can find a way to replace some of Swanigan’s lost contributions, Purdue may be able to avoid a step back.

Let’s see if the team can get the job done.

BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast

Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Purdue Boilermakers, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Boilermakers, featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Casey Bartley of Hammer & Rails breaking down Purdue's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.

1. 2016-’17 Season Performance

  • Record: 27-8 (14-4)
  • KenPom Team Rating: #19
  • RPI Rating: #19
  • Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (S16)

Last season was undeniably a successful one for the Boilermakers. The team won 27 games, won the Big Ten regular season title, and made the Sweet 16. It was a huge year for the program with only a few minor missteps. Last year’s team was a quality unit that scored major wins and showed impressive consistency all season.

And really, that’s what made last season so impressive. Purdue maintained its quality play from start to finish. That success started when the Boilermakers went 11-2 in non-conference play with the only two losses coming against Villanova and Louisville. Both teams would eventually go on to be top two seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Purdue then went 14-4 in league play and never lost back-to-back games all season. A significant accomplishment given the team’s schedule.

If there is one critique about last year’s team, it would have been Purdue’s struggles against its toughest opponents. The Boilermakers went 1-5 against top 20 KenPom teams with two painful losses to Michigan down the stretch and a blowout loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. Purdue beat quality teams like Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin, but couldn’t close the deal against the toughest teams.

Additionally, it’s important to note that Purdue’s advanced states profile wasn’t as impressive as the team’s overall accomplishments. The Boilermakers only ranked 19th nationally on KenPom last season, narrowly ahead of inconsistent Michigan (20) and Wisconsin (21) teams. While fans would rather have wins than impressive advanced stats profiles, Purdue’s ranking is important to remember heading into this season. Purdue doesn’t fit the profile of many other Big Ten champions during the past decade, who have often been ranked well inside the top 10.

But even if there were some concerns, it’s hard to complain about what the team accomplished. Upset losses against Iowa and Nebraska were rough, but Purdue still scored a plethora of quality wins and a few huge ones too, including a season sweep against arch-rival Indiana. At the end of the day, that’s what fans will remember.

Individual statistical leaders were Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, Caleb Swanigan, and PJ Thompson. Haas led the team in usage. Mathias led the team in assists. Swanigan led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, and total win shares. Thompson led the team in steals.

2. Offseason Exits

While Purdue isn’t losing many players this offseason, the ones it is losing are significant. The three players who will be departing are Spike Albrecht, Jon McKeeman, and Caleb Swanigan. Painter and his staff will have quite the challenge in trying to replace these three guys. Additionally, it is worth noting that Basil Smotherman also left the program in January.

The most significant departure, obviously, is Swanigan. He led the team in minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, and win shares last season in route to being named Big Ten Player of the Year. Swanigan averaged an astounding 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game and scored double-digits in 34 games.

It’s hard to pinpoint a singular area where Purdue will miss Swanigan most. That isn’t because he didn’t contribute, but because he was so dominant across the board. He took a massive share of the team’s shots offensively, dominated on the boards, got to the free throw line, and could pass to teammates. Swanigan also improved significantly as an outside shooter, connecting on 44.7 percent of his looks from three last season.

Perhaps the biggest hit from Swanigan’s departure will be the attention that defenses dedicated to him. Teams were afraid to leave him one-on-one down low, so they would often double him and/or put their best defender on him. Losing a player that can demand that kind of attention will make everything more difficult for the Boilermakers. Shooters are going to get less room and fellow forwards are going to have to work harder for scoring opportunities. Purdue has the potential to overcome this issue, but it will need some players to step up.

Along with Swanigan, Purdue is also losing Albrecht and McKeeman. Neither of these two played major minutes, but Albrecht was a senior leader who averaged around 15 minutes a game. He was also an efficient player that could facilitate an offense.

McKeeman, on the other hand, saw 28 minutes all season. His departure won’t be felt much on the court by Purdue. Similarly, Smotherman’s departure won’t be felt all that much as he left halfway through last season and only averaged 12.1 minutes per game through 18 contests.

3. New Additions

This season, the Boilermakers will be adding five new recruits, including one JUCO transfer. The recruits are Nojel Eastern, Matt Haarms, Sasha Stefanovic, and Aaron Wheeler. The JUCO transfer is Eden Ewing. Eastern is rated as a four-star and the other four prospects are rated as three-star recruits by 247Sports. Stefanovic is listed as a shooting guard, Eastern and Wheeler are listed as small forwards, Ewing is listed as a power forward, and Haarms is listed as a center.

The newcomer receiving the most attention is Eastern. He was rated 68th nationally and the No. 15 small forward in the 2017 recruiting class. There’s little debating that he’s a player more than capable of contributing as a freshman. Eastern isn’t regarded as an elite shooter, but has a diverse skillset and can get teammates involved. Fans will hope that he can continue to grow and develop his game offensively and become the next star of the program.

Ewing and Wheeler are the other newcomers who could be in serious contention for Purdue’s top rotation. Ewing was considered one of the top five JUCO players in the nation and also received attention from Iowa State and LSU among others. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 rebounds for Tyler Junior College. Wheeler is a 6-foot-8 wing that has a 6-11 wingspan and solid feet defensively. Both of these two players could compete for bench minutes.

The final two additions will come with less hype, but have potential. Haarms is listed at a massive 7-foot-2, but is a pretty raw prospect that will take some time to develop. The good news is that he arrived last season and will have some experience with the Boilermakers. Stefanovic is another player that will need to develop in a deep and proven backcourt. It’s unlikely either of these two will be great from day one. However, Haarms will see minutes in a thin frontcourt.

Overall, Purdue adds a recruiting class ranked 33rd nationally with prospects that should help this season and beyond. Eastern is the guy to watch, but players like Ewing, Haarms, and Wheeler could also see playing time.

4. Points of Optimism

Purdue enters this season with high hopes. While the Boilermakers are not the league favorites, Purdue won last year’s crown and returns the vast majority of its roster from that run. The program also made some key offseason additions that could help make up for some significant offseason departures. There’s a lot to like.

As mentioned, the most exciting thing about Purdue’s team is the returning depth and experience. Purdue is returning four starters, including three All-Big Ten honorable mention players in Vincent Edwards, Isaac Haas, and Dakota Mathias. Add in Ryan Cline, Carsen Edwards, and PJ Thompson and that’s a pretty impressive returning core. All six players are proven in the Big Ten and could take steps forward this season as well.

Those six players also have potential star power as well. Vincent Edwards and Haas have put up big numbers before and are entering their senior seasons, Edwards had an impressive freshman campaign, and even Cline has shown flashes. Even if there isn’t a first-team All-Big Ten guy, Purdue has a handful of quality and proven options.

Purdue also adds some newcomers that could help the team overcome the departures of Albrecht and Swanigan. To start, Eastern could offer a really nice boost on the wing. He’s a prospect with plenty of raw talent that could be a great role player as a freshman. Additionally, Ewing, Haarms, and Wheeler should add significant depth at the four and five positions. None of those three will be Swanigan, but odds seem decent that at least one can be a decent bench option.

Additionally, it’s also important to acknowledge that replacing Swanigan could be easier (in some aspects) than many are projecting. This isn’t because Swanigan wasn’t a great player, but because he occupied two different positions and contributed in so many different ways. As such, Purdue will be able to more easily replace Swanigan by committee than if he had spent his time solely at one position and in one role.

For some context, think about it this way. Swanigan spent his time on the floor at either the four or five position. Replacing that sounds difficult, but with Vincent Edwards and Haas returning, Purdue can replace many of those minutes by simply giving those two more time. Edwards could play more at the four and Haas could extend his minutes at the five. Instead of trying to find a player who could see 20 to 30 minutes at a spot, Purdue has the option of giving two proven players more minutes and then filling in behind them. Not exactly a terrible situation.

Purdue generally projects as a tested team that brings back a plethora of proven and talented players from last year’s championship run. It also has an experienced head coach who has won at a high level with the Boilermakers before and several players primed for breakout seasons. These are all things that should get fans excited.

5. Points of Concern

At some point in this preview, we have to talk about the elephant in the room. The Boilermakers have one overriding concern heading into this season and it’s replacing Caleb Swanigan. He was a do-it-all player last season for Purdue and there isn’t going to be a simple way to overcome his departure. Whether Purdue fans want to hear it or not, how the team replaces Swanigan will be the story of this season.

During last season, Swanigan averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game last season and led the team in total minutes, points, rebounds, blocks, and win shares. He was the best player in the league and an All-American. He’s just the second Boilermaker to be named Big Ten Player of the Year in more than two decades. These kind of players don’t come around every year.

And just looking at Swanigan’s statistical contributions doesn’t accurately put into context what he meant to last year’s Boilermakers either. He played (and dominated) at multiple positions, took care of business on both sides of the floor, and freed up plenty of opportunities for the backcourt and wing groups. His lost contributions will be felt on the stat sheet and in the numbers of teammates.

Just think about it this way. Purdue finished seventh nationally in team three-point percentage last season, after finishing 73rd the year before. That’s a huge increase in one season, especially when Purdue returned four of its top six players in three-point attempts and lost Kendall Stephens. This was largely the same group of players suddenly hitting from a much higher clip from long range. While some of this probably had to do with improvement from the shooters, the easy explanation was Swanigan’s rise. He freed up room for these shooters to feast.

Another concern with Swanigan’s departure will be determining who Purdue looks to as its star player. Teams can win without an elite player on the roster, but it’s rare for a team to win at a high level without someone rising to the top. And while Edwards, Haas, and Thompson are quality players, can any of them get to first or second-team All-Big Ten status? It’s a huge question for this season.

Simply put, there’s no easy way to try and replace a player of Swanigan’s pedigree. As mentioned above, Purdue’s best strategy will probably be to increase Vincent Edwards’ minutes at the four, increase playing time for Haas at the five, and then rely on newcomers to fill in behind them. However, even that won’t replace what Swanigan did last season. Purdue will have to hope that a returner or newcomer can surprise, if the team hopes to replicate its success of last season.

And this is as good of a time as any to reiterate the point I made earlier in this preview. Purdue finished 19th nationally on KenPom’s ratings last season and had mixed success against its toughest opponents. While it would be disingenuous to imply that Purdue got lucky, one could argue that Purdue’s league title and record could have overstated the quality of last year’s team. Purdue was a bit weaker than your typical champion.

This is important because it could change how we view “regression” from last season. Most experts think Purdue will take some step back and the team’s overall achievements would imply that some regression would keep the Boilermakers within the top 25. However, that may not be the case, given the team’s advanced stats profile. Some regression could easily put Purdue in the 35 to 45 range, which could give the Boilermakers an underwhelming overall record.

Purdue also faces some significant depth concerns upfront. Edwards and Haas should form a nice starting dwo, but the team is likely looking at unknowns in Eden Ewing and Jacquil Taylor and two relatively unheralded freshmen in Matt Haarms and Aaron Wheeler as reserve options. While all four of these players have potential, this is something worth mentioning. Edwards and Haas can only play so much and some of these players will need to step up.

Overall, Painter and his staff return an experienced team heading into this season with plenty of proven options. However, there are some significant concerns, which start with the departure of Swanigan. How Purdue attempts to replace the big man will tell much about this season.

6. Top Player

Heading into last season, there wasn’t much debate as to who was Purdue’s best player. Swanigan decided to forego the NBA Draft and return to campus and didn’t leave much doubt. This is what I wrote in my preview then:

“Sophomore Caleb Swanigan decided to return to Purdue this season and is set to be one of the top players in the Big Ten this season. The power forward didn’t have a perfect freshman year, but with Hammons and Haas down low and Vincent Edwards also starting, Swanigan didn’t need to set the world on fire. Instead he gained valuable experience and starting becoming a better player throughout the season, with the forward now set for a breakout season.

Last season as a freshman, Swanigan went on to average 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and both of these numbers should improve. Purdue would benefit if Swanigan can improve on the defensive side of the ball, but his ability to rebound and score both inside and out is a huge advantage.

Swanigan’s outside shot wasn’t perfect last year, only hitting 29.2% of his threes, but he hit just enough that opposing teams had to at least defend him on the perimeter. If he can improve his shot from outside his offensive game could be set to explode this year as Swanigan has already shown the ability to get inside and score the ball around the rim.Swanigan does need to clean up his game a bit though. His freshman season was plagued by some untimely turnovers and there were times down the stretch when he disappeared offensively, even when he held a decisive size advantage.

With Swanigan set to see an even bigger role this season, as well as more minutes at center, that can’t happen. Of course it was his freshman season and it wasn’t long ago that Hammons had similar complaints levied against him throughout his first two seasons on campus.”

However, with Swanigan now heading to the NBA, this is an area of uncertainty on the team. The frontrunners at this point will be Vincent Edwards and Haas. Edwards averaged 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game last season with a 119.6 offensive rating and hit 42.3 percent from three-point range. While Edwards didn’t have a massive usage rate, he was efficient when he was asked to contribute.

Likewise, Haas was incredibly efficient last season. He averaged 12.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game with a 106.5 offensive rating last season, despite only playing 48.2 percent of the team’s minutes. Haas also led the Big Ten in percentage of possessions used when he was on the floor. While he didn’t play as much as others, he was dominant when he did play. Fans hope he can do the same in extended playing time.

The smart money will be on one of those two to be the team’s top option this season. However, a few darkhorses to watch will be Carsen Edwards and Nojel Eastern. Carsen put up nice numbers as a freshman on a loaded Boilermaker squad and Eastern comes in as a top 100 prospect. These two will most likely be a step behind Vincent Edwards and Haas, but both have a lot of long-term potential.

7. 2017-’18 Schedule Breakdown

  • 10/28 - Indiana State (Ex.)
  • 11/1 - Carroll College (Ex.)
  • 11/10 - SIU Edwardsville
  • 11/12 - Chicago State
  • 11/14 - at Marquette
  • 11/18 - Fairfield
  • 11/22 - Tennessee (Paradise Island, The Bahamas)
  • 11/23 - Villanova/Western Kentucky (Paradise Island, The Bahamas)
  • 11/24 - TBA (Paradise Island, The Bahamas)
  • 11/28- Louisville
  • 12/1 - at Maryland
  • 12/3 - Northwestern
  • 12/7 - Valparaiso
  • 12/10 - IUPUI
  • 12/16 - Butler (Indianapolis, IN)
  • 12/21 - Tennessee State
  • 12/30 - Lipscomb
  • 1/3 - Rutgers
  • 1/6 - Nebraska
  • 1/9 - at Michigan
  • 1/13 - at Minnesota
  • 1/16 - Wisconsin
  • 1/20 - at Iowa
  • 1/25 - Michigan
  • 1/28 - at Indiana
  • 1/31 - Maryland
  • 2/3 - at Ruters
  • 2/7 - Ohio State
  • 2/10 - at Michigan State
  • 2/15 - at Wisconsin
  • 2/18 - Penn State
  • 2/22 - Illinois
  • 2/25 - Minnesota

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of non-conference schedules that leave something to be desired. Where too many matchups are ‘buy’ games and there aren’t any games that get fans excited. A team doesn’t need to schedule Duke, Kentucky, and UCLA for every game, but it needs some interesting games.

Purdue’s upcoming schedule, however, doesn’t fall into this category. I like this schedule a lot, actually. The Boilermakers get marquee matchups against Butler and Louisville, a trip to the Bahamas, and intriguing games against Marquette, Tennessee, and Valparaiso. When all's said and done, Purdue could very well play six teams in serious NCAA Tournament contention. That’s a great schedule.

All of those difficult games will also do wonders for the team’s resume at season’s end. To start, Louisville enters this season as a top 25 team, Butler received votes in the AP Poll, Marquette and Tennessee are both among the top 50 in KenPom’s preseason rankings, and Purdue could also play Villanova in the Bahamas. Add in that three to four of those games are away from home and it looks even more impressive.

Perhaps the only downside to having such a challenging slate is that it will offer little room for error. Purdue has some potential resume fillers like Lipscomb and Valparaiso, but there are a lot of potential losses. This is where a dropoff could really bite.

The league schedule also looks particularly challenging. Not only does the team get Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in double-plays, but it also gets arch-rival Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan State in road-only games. That’s 11 games that look challenging on paper. And while Purdue is favored by KenPom in 13 of its Big Ten games, that’s still a lot of tough games, especially when teams like Maryland and Minnesota could easily overachieve on preseason projections.

Surviving this challenging slate will be tough, but possible for Purdue. This first step will be playing well at home. Even though the Boilermakers got some tough double-plays, that also means that many of the team’s most challenging contests will come at home. Protecting home court will be vital.

Moreover, Purdue needs to do a great job of avoiding upsets. There will be losses coming with so many difficult matchups, so it will be imperative to take care of opponents like Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers. The Boilermakers have six games against those four opponents and Purdue has 73 percent odds (or better) in each matchup. Purdue can’t afford losses this year like it had against Iowa and Nebraska last season.

While there will be positives and negatives to Purdue’s challenging slate this season, there’s more than enough to get fans excited about what’s to come. And, perhaps more importantly, there’s enough for Purdue to build a fantastic resume, or end up on the bubble on Selection Sunday.

8. Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG: PJ Thompson (Sr.) - 85%
  • SG: Carsen Edwards (So.) - 75%
  • SF: Dakota Mathias (Sr.) - 85%
  • PF: Vincent Edwards (Sr.) - 95%
  • C: Isaac Haas (Sr.) - 95%

(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)

With the lion’s share of last season’s roster returning for the Boilermakers, projecting how the starting lineup will shake out isn’t too difficult with this year’s Purdue team. After all, Purdue returns four starters and had another that emerged significantly as a freshman last season. There shouldn’t be too much drama.

At the point guard position, expect Thompson to lock down the starter duties. There won’t many surprises given that Thompson is returning for his senior season and saw significant playing time last year. He is a reliable option that averaged 7.4 points and 2.9 assists per game and had an incredible 128.4 offensive rating last season. Expect him to fill a similar role for his final year with the Boilermakers.

The battle alongside Thompson, however, should be more intriguing. Purdue returns Ryan Cline, Carsen Edwards, and Mathias. All three started games last season. As such, there’s little debating that (at least) two of these three will be featured in Purdue’s starting lineup this season. The only question is which two make the cut.

As of now, the clear picks are Carsen Edwards and Mathias. Edwards emerged over the course of last season and ended up averaging 10.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. He also has far more upside than the other two options. Mathias will also get time due to his defensive capabilities. He was on the All-Big Ten defensive team last season and should be in contention yet again.

While the vast, vast majority of the minutes at the one, two, and three spots will come from the four players listed above, there are a few backups to watch here. Specifically, Nojel Eastern and Sasha Stefanovic arrive on campus and will hope to see some time behind the more experienced options. Eastern seems like the most likely selection, given his significant recruiting hype. Either way, one of these two will get minutes.

The two frontcourt spots will certainly be filled by Vincent Edwards and Haas. These two played substantial minutes in each of the last two years and will be looking to take even bigger roles this season. The most important thing to watch will be how Haas performs as the team’s only proven option at center. He only played 48.2 percent of the team’s minutes last season, but will need to play far more this time around. Whether he can maintain his efficiency with more playing time will be a huge question about these Boilermakers.

Behind Vincent Edwards and Haas will be an intriguing, but unproven group of players. The team will return Jacquil Taylor and add three newcomers in Eden Ewing, Matt Haarms, and Aaron Wheeler. There’s little denying that Purdue is going to need at least one or two of these four to contribute.

But are any of the four frontcourt bench options capable of playing 10 to 15 quality bench minutes this season? Conventional wisdom implies that at least one will be a decent bench option. After all, Haarms and Wheeler are solid prospects and Ewing and Taylor both already have college experience. There’s a chance none of the four are particularly great this season, but the odds seem relatively low of that scenario.

Overall, Purdue returns what figures to be one of the more proven lineups in this year’s Big Ten. Purdue returns four starters with substantial experience and another player in Carsen Edwards who played significant minutes last season. There are some questions about the upside of the backcourt and the frontcourt’s depth, but Purdue’s lineup figures to be in good shape heading into this season.

9. Team Perspective From Casey Bartley of Hammer & Rails

“First of all, it's almost fitting that Swanigan left for the NBA. Now, the four seniors who helped turn Purdue's program back around will get a chance to get the spotlight.

I get it. Caleb Swanigan was awesome. He was a once in a generation performer at the collegiate level. He did things you just don't see anymore. He was all heart and toughness, skill and size put into a great narrative. He will absolutely be missed. There's no statistic to put to having your best, most talented player being a true ass-kicker. Someone who is always there putting in that much work every single day. He took Purdue to the Sweet 16 by grabbing an offensive rebound off a missed free throw. He's incredible.

But this team is better than that one. Coach Painter has quietly brought in the best recruiting class in the Big Ten this year. (Yes, you heard me, the best.) Last year, he had to rely on a bench of Ryan Cline and Spike Albrecht and not a whole bunch else. This year he'll have Jacquil Taylor - hopefully healthy - as the perfect back up to Haas and another 7'2 guy Matt Haarms who might be way ahead of schedule, an improved with the ball in his hand Ryan Cline, and a 6'6" point guard Nojel Eastern who is going to be really good. Eden Ewing is a serviceable athlete off the bench. Aaron Wheeler is a 6'9" freak who probably won't play much this year but is the best athlete on the roster and Sasha Stefanovic who almost certainly will redshirt.

But more importantly he will have a starting five of four seniors and a much improved Carsen Edwards. Each starter has a chance to receive all Big-Ten honors this year. But it's the Edwards that will lead Purdue to a second straight Big Ten title. Carsen didn't have just one trip overseas for Team USA, but two, and showed off a much improve stroke from deep. Vincent showed in the World University Games that he's ready to be the #1 option. P. J. is the Mr. Consistent. Dakota really stepped into his own last year and became the best perimeter defender in the league, and Isaac Haas is still a monster.”

10. Overall Season Outlook

Few things are tougher in college sports than repeating. For as tough as it is to win a title in its own right, it can often seem twice as challenging to get it done for the second time. Purdue now faces the challenge of trying to repeat after putting together a banner year last season. Reaching that goal won’t be easy.

There’s little debating that Purdue’s most significant challenge will be replacing do-it-all superstar Caleb Swanigan. He was a dynamic force for the Boilermakers last season and will be sorely missed by fans. Not only due to what he contributed himself, but also because of what he opened up for teammates. Purdue became an elite outside shooting team last season and there’s little debating that Swanigan’s presence down low played a huge part in that success.

The good news is that Purdue has enough pieces to overcome Swanigan’s departure. To start, Vincent Edwards and Haas look poised to replace the lion’s share of Swanigan’s minutes upfront. Both were All-Big Ten honorable mention selections last season and will be looking to take another step forward this season.

Additionally, Purdue returns Mathias and Thompson in the backcourt and young players like Cline and Carsen Edwards, who are both set to take further steps forward this season. Between those six players, Purdue has more than enough experience to field a dangerous lineup. It’s also one that features more than enough experience to hold up during the challenges of conference play.

However, there will, of course, be challenges for the Boilermakers. To start, Purdue is going to have to find some productive reserve options upfront. Vincent Edwards and Haas look solid, but there are a lot of unknowns behind them. Moreover, the team is also going to need at least one of its top players to take a step forward and younger players like Carsen Edwards and Nojel Eastern to make a mark. That’s a lot to ask.

But with so many proven options returning and plenty of talent littered along the lineup, Purdue fans should have high hopes entering this season. The Boilermakers figure to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten and in good shape to get another NCAA Tournament bid. If some of those questions can be answered in a good way, Purdue could very well repeat as Big Ten champion and have another shot at a rewarding March.

Big Ten Prediction: 4th Place