The Purdue Boilermakers were led by a National Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan and a great supporting cast on the way to winning their 23rd Big Ten regular season championship, the most in conference history.
The success of the season earned them the #4 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look back on their season.
The Boilermakers had a very good season last year but were met with a second consecutive year of disappointment in the NCAA Tournament after losing to Little Rock in the first round. After losing captain Raphael Davis and their best player A.J. Hammons, there were a few questions around this team, but they still had high expectations.
Caleb Swanigan announced that he was returning for his sophomore season, which was by far the biggest key for this team heading into this season. Joined by Vincent Edwards in withdrawing from the NBA Draft, this team had a very talented group returning. It was just a matter of living up to expectations.
Purdue did a good job challenging themselves in the non-conference, including their home meeting with defending National Champions Villanova, a road game against Louisville in the Big Ten - ACC Challenge and finally the game against Notre Dame in Indianapolis in December.
Had the Boilermakers won even one more of those games, going 1-2 with the lone win against Notre Dame (that came from a huge second half comeback), the Boilermakers could be looking at much more national respect along with a higher seed in the tournament.
The team played exceptionally well against Villanova at Mackey Arena in November, but they simply got beat by a better team that night, though it was very close, 79-76. Caleb Swanigan led the Boilermakers with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in that game.
The team came out pretty sluggish against Louisville and quite frankly did not look very good for much of that game. They did come back in the final ten minutes, however, to make it a competitive game, but again they could not pull off the huge road win and lost 71-64.
Caleb Swanigan was the story of the non-conference season for Purdue, including his nice performance against Villanova he also had a game of 32 points and 20 rebounds against Norfolk State while only playing 30 minutes, the second of back-to-back 20-20 games.
The Big Ten season started on a high note for the Boilermakers, a 22 point beatdown against the young Iowa Hawkeyes at Mackey Arena. Dakota Mathias started to insert himself in the names of great defenders in the conference, holding Peter Jok to 13 points on 4-15 shooting. It was the kind of dominance that the Boilers fans expected heading into the season.
Purdue lost their only home game of the conference season on New Years Day with the students at home for winter break against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in overtime, though Swanigan again had a great game, finishing with 28 points and 22 rebounds.
The beginning of the conference season was a bit of an up and down ride for the Boilers, they won two straight after the Minnesota loss against Ohio State and Wisconsin, and then lost on the road at Carver Hawkeye Arena, where this team has struggled in the past.
Sitting at 3-2 in the conference with questions abound, the Boilermakers started to play some more consistent basketball, minus an inexcusable road loss against Nebraska. The Boilermakers went 11-2 in their final 13 conference games en route to winning the conference outright after beating their rival Indiana to sweep the season series and thanks to a Wisconsin meltdown against Iowa.
Caleb Swanigan continued to dominate headlines and won the Big Ten Player of the Year in a race that wasn’t a race at all.
The Purdue Boilermakers will enter the NCAA Tournament trying to exorcise the demons of the past two years where they had basically folded down the stretch of close first round games.
As the 4 seed in the Midwest Region, the Boilermakers had a fairly favorable geographical draw and will play their first two games in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their first round game will be against the Vermont Catamounts, who the Boilermakers defeated handily in 2015-16’, but this is a different Purdue team and a different Vermont team.
It certainly seems at first glance that the size of Purdue should be able to dominate this game in the paint and on the glass, and if the shots are falling for Purdue and they can take care of the basketball, the Boilers should certainly look forward to moving on in the tournament and get rid of some of the harsh conclusions people have drawn about the program in March.
The Boilers would face the winner of Iowa State/Nevada game in what should be a great game regardless of who they would face. They would play the top seed in their region Kansas in the Final Four, assuming that the seeding plays out the way it should. I really do expect that the Boilermakers will get to the Sweet 16 behind Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas’ size along with enough shooting to keep the defense honest.
A potential meeting with Kansas in the Sweet 16 would be an incredible game between the dominant size of Purdue against a team in Kansas with some questionable front court depth but dominant guards in Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson. A possible individual match-up of Josh Jackson and Vincent Edwards would certainly be a reason to tune into this match-up. While my heart and my Big Ten bias tells me that Purdue would win the game, my brain tells me to lean towards Kansas to possibly end the Boilers season.
No matter how the season ends, the fans of Purdue should certainly be proud of what this team has accomplished. If conference championships didn’t mean anything, they wouldn’t give them out, and Purdue won their 23rd this season to take back the lead from Indiana for the most in conference history. They’ve got the Big Ten Player of the Year and potential National Player of the Year in Caleb Swanigan, and this team has taken fans of the Big Ten on a great ride, no matter when it ends.