Life in college basketball is a story of moving parts. When you only get players for a small two to five year period, you learn how to move on with the new and adjust to survive in an ever changing landscape around you.
Of course, some of the losses that teams are forced to endure leave far bigger gaps than others.
Matt Painter and the Purdue Boilermakers will have to figure out how to fill one of the biggest gaps that’s ever been left by a departure in the history of the program in Caleb Swanigan. The all-time great left after his sophomore year and was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers.
Along with Swanigan, Purdue also said goodbye to another leader in Spike Albrecht and walk-on Jon McKeeman.
Admittedly, Caleb Swanigan will not be easily replaced. That task wouldn’t be easy for a program like Duke or Kentucky, let alone a Purdue program that’s not necessarily used to bringing in the top-tier level recruits that Swanigan was out of high school. As highly touted as he was when he arrived, he shattered any expectation that any realistic fan could have possibly had for him during his career.
Last season, as a sophomore, Swanigan dominated nearly every opponent that the Boilers faced. He recorded four games of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds while also setting single season school records for rebounds and double-doubles.
Swanigan averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game, while also posting an impressive three assists per game, highlighting his underrated passing ability. He really took a leap in expanding his game by becoming not only a reliable three point shooter, but a rather deadly one. By shooting 44.7% from the three point line last season, he added a new dimension to his own game and to the Purdue offense.
The high-low with Swanigan and Isaac Haas became a deadly part of the arsenal when a defender was forced to come out to the perimeter to defend Swanigan, opening up passing lanes for his previously mentioned passing prowess. How will Purdue make up for possibly losing the consistency of that huge part of their offense? It’s certainly going to be an interesting challenging for the Boilermakers throughout the year.
It’s also worth mentioning that Swanigan won the Big Ten Player of the Week award six times during last season, the second most in conference history. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year and was named a First Team All-American by five different publications. Obviously, his will be the biggest individual loss for this Purdue team, and likely anywhere in the conference.
Of course, we could go on and on about the accolades of Caleb Swanigan, but there is another player to be mentioned when talking about losses this Purdue team will have to move forward from.
Another leader, a fifth-year transfer from within the conference, Spike Albrecht will also be missed. While his minutes were inconsistent throughout the year, he certainly provided a presence both on the court and in the locker room for Purdue as somebody who had been there before.
Having played in a National Championship with Michigan (and having a remarkable performance in that game, as you may remember), Albrecht was the only player on the Purdue roster last season who had even won an NCAA Tournament game.
His contributions weren’t necessarily of the statistical variety most of the time, but he provided a calming presence and a more sturdy backup option for P.J. Thompson. With Nojel Eastern coming into the program, Purdue may have a replacement for Spike, but his experience is something that can’t be replaced.
Purdue will also be replacing a fifth year senior and walk-on Jon McKeeman, who was always a fan favorite during those wonderful blowout games at home.
So, how can Purdue overcome the departures from a team last year that saw so much success?
It would seem that the keys are in the hands of the two Edwards. Vincent Edwards is a swiss army knife type player that can make plays at all three levels of the court offensively, and could also fill the role at the top of the key in a high low setup with Isaac Haas. His athleticism and size also lend to him being a solid defender for a Purdue team that will always rely on a solid defense.
Carsen Edwards, on the other hand, is an offensive dynamo. As I’ve said before, he’s the first guard that Purdue has had that could create his own shot whenever he wants since E’Twaun Moore. Late clock situations this season, expect the ball to be in the hands of Carsen Edwards and look for him to create a shot either for himself or an easy look for a teammate.
Likely the biggest loss from the departure of Swanigan will be his rebounding. In the gold medal game in the World University Games, Purdue struggled on the glass, giving up 17 offensive rebounds to Lithuania and losing the overall battle on the glass, 44-32.
The only way that Purdue is going to find a remedy for this question is through a group effort. Isaac Haas, despite his size, is not exactly an instinctual rebounder like Swanigan was. Purdue will need an all hands on deck approach to rebounding, including from their guards, to prove that won’t be an issue going forward.