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2018-’19 Purdue Boilermakers Basketball 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 2018-’19 season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Purdue vs Texas Tech Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-’19 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2018-’19 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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Purdue has been at the forefront of the Big Ten conference for the past several seasons and the team has typically been a contender during the Matt Painter era. While that’s once again the case heading into the upcoming season, it’s interesting to remember that only a few years ago, fans were calling for the school to fire the coach after a disappointing run following the departure of the Baby Boilers.

Of course, that run was followed by two seasons with losing records and no NCAA Tournament appearances (though they did have an ill fated appearance in the CBI). Things weren’t much better early on in 2014-’15, with Purdue sitting at 11-8 and 3-3 in conference play. A strong close to the season, though, led to a return to the NCAA Tournament and a return to form for Purdue, making it back to the postseason every year since.

And while Painter’s Boilermakers had two early exits in 2015 and 2016, Purdue is now coming off of back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances.

The question is if Purdue can continue their recent success while losing a good majority of its identity this fall. Of course they do return star guard Carsen Edwards, but with four other starters departing it’s going to be an interesting season to say the least. Fortunately for Purdue, though, the downturn in recruiting classes under Painter while the Baby Boilers were in town has faded and he’s managed to stockpile plenty of options to keep Purdue contending at the top of the conference.

Of course, with so many fresh faces heading into the season and so many players on the depth chart that can play multiple positions, it means that it’s not exactly easy to figure out what this Purdue team will look like heading into the season, let alone this January. While there is uncertainty and plenty of questions Purdue will have to answer in the near future, there’s more than enough talent and options available that it should be another entertaining season in West Lafayette.

Let’s take a look.

1. 2017-’18 Season Performance

Record: 30-7 (15-3)

KenPom Team Rating: #5

RPI Rating: #9

Postseason Appearance: NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)

It was definitely an interesting season in West Lafayette this past winter.

Coming off of a Sweet 16 loss to Kansas and the early departure of Caleb Swanigan, the Boilermakers were expected to be good heading into the 2017-’18 season. However, they weren’t expected to be as good as they ended up, even if the year had its fair share of setbacks.

One of the more interesting developments in the first month of the season was the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, where most anticipated a Purdue and Arizona outing for the title. While the two teams did square off, it ended up being for the seventh place game after Purdue lost to Tennessee and Western Kentucky by a combined seven points. With fans feeling down on the team early on, a 25-point decimation of an Arizona team some called as a national title contender definitely helped improve morale.

That and a 19-game win streak that carried into February.

Unfortunately, Purdue had a rough start to February, losing to Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin by a combined eight points. They managed to win out throughout the rest of conference play, but had to settle for second place in the conference. Purdue once again came up just short in New York City, making it to the Big Ten Tournament title game before falling to Michigan by nine points.

While the season could have went a bit better, the Boilermakers still overachieved compared to what most people projected for the team and ended up with a two seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Boilermakers were once again hit with the bad luck bug, though, and faced another untimely injury that hurt their NCAA chances when Isaac Haas went down against Cal State Fullerton and missed the rest of the tournament. Without their center the Boilermakers struggled getting past Butler before falling to Texas Tech in the Sweet 16. Once again, a talented Purdue time succumbed to injuries and got knocked out of the postseason earlier then they would have been otherwise.

2. Offseason Exits

When the 2018-’19 season tips, it’s safe to say that this will be a new look Purdue Boilermakers squad. While leading scorer Carsen Edwards returns for another season, the Boilers will lose four starters in Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson. Losing four of your top five scorers is always going to hurt, but it could prove especially tricky consider the skill set and use of the players departing.

The most noticeable absence will be Isaac Haas, a massive 7’2” 290+ pound center that finally made the most of his starting role after playing behind A.J. Hammons and Caleb Swanigan earlier in his career. Haas became one of the key components on offense for Purdue and averaged 14.7 points while manhandling most opposing defenders inside.

Luckily for Purdue, the amount of playing time sophomore Matt Haarms had last season should soften the blow, even more so when you realize that Haas wasn’t a particularly good rebounder or shot blocker. While Haas played more than Haarms this past season, he actually averaged almost a block less per game than Haarms while he was out rebounded by Vincent Edwards.

Speaking of Vincent Edwards, Purdue will greatly miss his versatility next season. The benefit of having Edwards in the lineup was he was capable of a little bit of everything. He could create his own shot, get to the rim or just hit from deep. He was both a viable scoring option and a solid distributor, only behind Dakota Mathias in assists per game. He was also the team’s leading rebounder and a solid defender. His offensive prowess, alongside Dakota Mathias three point shooting and stout defense, might be the two biggest losses next season for the Boilermakers.

Also gone this season is starting guard P.J. Thompson and reserve forward Jacquil Taylor. Thompson didn’t exactly post flashy stats, but he developed an outside shot during the tail end of his career and didn’t commit many turnovers. Having an experienced option at point guard was key at times and now Purdue will likely have to rely on several inexperienced options as replacements. As for Taylor, the forward had potential but could never stay healthy so his loss will have less of an effect than if he had been healthy during his tenure here.

3. New Additions

While Purdue has only three incoming freshmen commits for 2018-’19, the roster will see considerably more newcomers entering the rotation this winter.

One guy to keep an eye on is four-star guard Eric Hunter. The versatile combo guard scored at will in high school and Purdue fans will likely hope he’s the second coming of Carsen Edwards. Of course, Edwards is still here, so that means Hunter might have to come off the bench behind Edwards and sophomore Nojel Eastern. If Hunter can emerge he could have a key offensive role early on, something Purdue will need as they replace four of their top five scorers from the past season.

Also joining the mix are three-star center Emmanuel Dowuona and four-star center Trevion Williams. While there will be minutes in the frontcourt for Purdue, it’ll be interesting to see which freshmen can work their way into the rotation. While he’s listed as a forward by the school, Matt Haarms will most likely hold down the center spot so that means there will be minutes available at the backup five and starting four.

Another player to watch is Dartmouth grad transfer Evan Boudreaux, who has two years of eligibility remaining. He is seen as a likely favorite to secure the four spot this season. Boudreaux averaged 17.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore before sitting out last season to transfer. The 6’8” forward also adds some versatility as he’s hit on 37.4% of his 174 three pointers in his first two seasons.

There are also two more additions that aren’t technically ‘new,’ as Purdue will also have forward Aaron Wheeler and guard Sasha Stefanovic available after they redshirted this past season. Wheeler is a 6’7” forward that can play the wing and bring some versatility to the mix, though he’s a bit raw and will likely be at the back end of the rotation. Sasha Stefanovic is a three point specialist that could see some minutes depending on how effectively he can shoot the ball, though he’s likely to be behind Ryan Cline in the rotation.

Also joining the mix is Kyle King, a preferred walk-on that likely won’t see much playing time in 2018-’19. While that’s the case for now, it should be mentioned several Purdue walk-ons (most recently Grady Eifert) have been able to contribute as backups throughout their days in West Lafayette.

4. Points of Optimism

Carsen Edwards and plenty of toys.

Purdue has a ton of question marks about how it will replace their departing starters, but the team also has plenty of options and talent to replace those minutes. It just means that it’ll be hard to get a gauge on this team until a bit later on in the season. And with Haarms and Boudreaux, that means Purdue’s two biggest concerns will be who runs the point and who starts at the three.

Which leads us to Carsen Edwards. The combo guard is seen as more of a shooting guard, but he proved this past season that he can run the point and can create his own shot when necessary. That means Painter will likely rely on the junior, especially early on. That’s not exactly a bad things as Edwards averaged 18.5 points per game while shooting 45.8% from the field and 40.6% from three. Edwards proved he could do it all in the backcourt and flirted with the NBA before deciding to return for another season in West Lafayette.

Edwards was an All-American and All-Big Ten player last year and is racking up plenty of preseason accolades this fall, including the preseason Big Ten player of the year. He’s arguably the most exciting player in the conference and just his presence alone will help lift Purdue up, making them a contender in basically any game they play this season. Even if there are growing pains in West Lafayette it’s safe to say Purdue will be an exciting team to watch nonetheless.

5. Team Weaknesses

When you have to replace four starters, there’s always going to be some level of concern. Luckily, a good chunk of that has been neglected due to the return of Carsen Edwards, who should be Purdue’s primary scorer and one of the nation’s top offensive players. Also, Matt Haarms playing in all 37 games and seeing plenty of action will help solidify the frontcourt, even more so with an experienced forward in Evan Boudreaux joining the team. Past that, though, there are plenty of question marks.

Of course, Edwards and Haarms can’t score all the points for Purdue and the team will need to replace long time starting point guard P.J. Thompson, with this likely being one of the top concerns. As of now it appears Painter is ready to give the keys to sophomore Nojel Eastern, a combo guard that showed some flashes in a reserve role. Of course though, he hasn’t started a game and there could be growing pains.

Painter will also likely turn to Carsen Edwards to help run the point. Edwards showed this past season he can score effectively on or off the ball, meaning he’s likely to be the key ball handler at times when he’s on the court.

Also of concern is how the mid section of the roster will pan out. Purdue liked to put Dakota Mathias in the three last season and we could see smaller lineups with Ryan Cline in that role, but Cline isn’t as good of a defender and is more limited on offense than Mathias was.

Then, there’s freshman Eric Hunter Jr., who was a dominating offensive presence in high school, but is now behind Edwards and Eastern. The idea of two offensive minded combo guards in Edwards and Hunter Jr. could cause some efficiency issues and Painter is unlikely to run a full out small ball lineup with Eastern / Edwards / Hunter. So, if Hunter wants to see some serious playing time it means he’ll either have to take over the point or that Eastern is struggling.

And of course, the frontcourt and the rotation is pretty much up in the air as well. Both Williams and Dowuona can play center, but they’ll be behind Haarms at the five. With Boudreaux at the four it creates a log jam and likely relegates them to backup roles, though both have shown the potential to see immediate playing time. Then there’s the question if Purdue can find minutes for a second three point specialist (Sasha Stefanovic) and how exactly wing Aaron Wheeler will enter the mix.

The Boilermakers have a dominating guard and a solid foundation in the frontcourt, but they have no proven option at point guard unless Painter relies on Edwards to handle the ball. They should be able to shoot the ball from outside, but three-point specialist Ryan Cline is a liability of defense and anywhere not behind the perimeter. And they have plenty of options to come off the bench, but that depends how quickly a bunch of players with no collegiate experience can piece it together.

6. Top Player

As mentioned above in the points of optimism section, Carsen Edwards.

The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and unanimous preseason All-Big Ten team member is looking to make the most of his junior season after deciding to comeback to West Lafayette instead of heading to the NBA. Edwards, the Jerry West Award winner this past season, was a key reason for Purdue’s success last season and was the team’s leading scorer.

“Whatever my team needs me to do, whether that’s on or off the court, I’m willing to do it,” said Edwards. “My main focus is to win games for my team.”

When all is said and done Edwards till likely lead the Boilermakers in scoring and assists, while being both the team leader and their main offensive weapon. That’s not a huge surprise as he’s shown he’s fully capable of taking over games, including a 40 point performance against Illinois on the road last winter. When Edwards is on, it’ll be difficult for anyone in the Big Ten to slow down Purdue and just how well he builds off of last year’s success will likely determine just how good Purdue can be this season.

7. 2018-’19 Schedule Breakdown

• 11/1 - Marian University (Ind.) (Exhibition Game)

• 11/6 - Fairfield

• 11/10 - Ball State

• 11/15 - Appalachian State (Charleston Classic)

• 11/16 - Wichita State or Davidson (Charleston Classic)

• 11/18 - TBD (Charleston Classic)

• 11/23 - Robert Morris

• 11/28 - at Florida State ( ACC / Big Ten Challenge)

• 12/1 - at Michigan

• 12/6 - Maryland

• 12/9 - at Texas

• 12/15 - Notre Dame (Crossroads Classic)

• 12/20 - Ohio

• 12/29 - Belmont

• 1/3 - Iowa

• 1/8 - at Michigan State

• 1/11 - at Wisconsin

• 1/15 - Rutgers

• 1/19 - Indiana

• 1/23 - at Ohio State

• 1/27 - Michigan State

• 1-31 - at Penn State

• 2/3 - Minnesota

• 2-9 - Nebraska

• 2/12 - at Maryland

• 2/16 - Penn State

• 2/19 - at Indiana

• 2/23 - at Nebraska

• 2/27 - Illinois

• 3/2 - Ohio State

• 3/5 - at Minnesota

• 3/9 - Northwestern

• 3/13-17 Big Ten Tournament (Chicago)

Purdue has a number of question marks heading into the season and thankfully, will get a slow rollout to start off the season. With a pair of mid-majors to open at home in Fairfield and Ball State, followed by a not particularly good Appalachian State in the Charleston Classic, it likely won’t be until the fourth game when Purdue faces a major test when they likely tip off against Wichita State, potentially followed by a game that could include Virginia Tech or Alabama. While the Shockers are the most difficult opponent in Charleston, all three games should be winnable and having neutral site wins over Wichita State and possibly Virginia Tech or Alabama would be a good start to the season.

Purdue will have a few more games in the first two months providing opportunities for quality wins, with Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic and road trips to Florida State and Texas. None of those games will be easy, but it allows for Purdue to start building a strong resume early on if they can pick up some quality victories. It’s also nice to not have the entire first two months full of cupcakes like some other Big Ten programs have done in the past.

Unfortunately for Purdue, they’ll have a rough opening to conference play, having to head to Ann Arbor in December. Following that will be a Maryland game that could prove challenging and then they’ll be forced to play at Michigan State and Wisconsin in two of their first three Big Ten games in January when the rest of conference play starts.

If the Boilermakers can make it through the beginning of conference play, then they should be in good shape as the back half of the schedule lightens up considerably. While no games in the Big Ten are easy wins, especially on the road, the Boilers have a five-game stretch starting at the end of January with two games against Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska and a trip to Maryland, a five-game stretch that Purdue should be favored in all five outings.

After a showdown in Bloomington against the Hoosiers, Purdue will close off the season with games against Nebraska, Illinois, Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern. While three of those games are on the road, Purdue does draw Ohio State at home and if Purdue plays to their potential, they are fully capable of handling the other four teams at the end of the season.

Basically, the easiest way to describe Purdue’s schedule is that the team has the talent to win on any given night, but has just enough issues with their lineup that that won’t ultimately happen. While Purdue will inevitability face growing pains due to inexperience and questions on just how their rotation will piece together, the talent on hand should be enough to help them get through most nights. And the reality is while they face plenty of difficult opponents, there are plenty of opportunities for quality victories that should be achievable (Wichita State, Florida State, Texas, Notre Dame).

8. Projecting Starting Lineup

PG: Nojel Eastern

SG: Carsen Edwards

G/F: Ryan Cline

PF: Evan Boudreaux

C: Matt Haarms

Purdue’s lineup could be influx over the next several months but at the end of the day there shouldn’t be any doubt that both Carsen Edwards and Matt Haarms will end up with starting spots at the two and five, with Edwards likely playing both guard positions at times this season. The more interesting position battles to watch involve the one, three and four, though the opening day starting lineup might be pretty conservative when everything is said and done.

Due to familiarity and experience, Nojel Eastern has a strong shot at landing the opening day point guard spot. Averaging 2.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game as a freshman, Eastern was raw at times last season and isn’t a sure thing at the starting point, but Purdue needs someone to fill the spot and he’s a safer option than true freshman Eric Hunter Jr.

While Hunter Jr. might end up working his way into the starting lineup at some point this season, that will likely come down to if he can run the point and keep mistakes to a minimum. He’s shown to be a proven scorer, but Purdue has Edwards in the backcourt and will likely prefer to have a point that can limit turnovers like P.J. Thompson did the past several seasons for Purdue.

At the three, there’s a decent chance Painter could bring out Ryan Cline, though the starting wing will likely depend on the opponent that night and how everyone plays once the season begins. Cline is a senior, experienced and a proven three point shooter. The problem is he doesn’t bring much else to the table offensively, is likely a defensive liability and his starting spot will likely depend on if Painter wants to run with three guards in the starting lineup. Of course one of the biggest reasons why he could be starting on opening night is Painter doesn’t really have much of an option currently behind him.

Unless Painter unleashes a true small ball lineup with Hunter, Eastern and Edwards, Ryan Cline could end up filling the Dakota Mathias role. The two obvious choices behind Cline right now include a pair of redshirt freshmen, one of which (Sasha Stefanovic) brings a similar skill set to the table. With Aaron Wheeler still a relatively raw and inexperienced option, that only leaves senior Grady Eifert as the other option currently available.

Luckily for Purdue, they managed to add grad transfer Evan Boudreaux to the mix this spring. While both Trevion Williams and Emmanuel Dowuona have plenty of potential as true freshmen, they’ll likely be better fit as backing up Boudreaux and Haarms this winter. And with the transfer of Jacquil Taylor, there aren’t any other options in the front court outside of the previously mentioned Eifert.

Besides bringing experience the frontcourt, with the 6’8” forward starting all 54 games he’s played in, Boudreaux was both a solid scorer for Dartmouth and capable of cleaning up on the glass, averaging 9.5 rebounds per game in his prior two seasons.

Matt Haarms is no slouch at 7’3”, but Haarms and Haas surprisingly struggled rebounding the ball even though they were usually the tallest players on the court. Besides adding some much needed experience and scoring for Purdue, Boudreaux adds an interesting wrinkle to the offense as the big has hit on over 37% of his three pointers and can help spread the floor. Purdue was at its best last year when they could shoot from three and having an option in the frontcourt that can help out on that front will help keep Purdue’s offense rolling this season.

9. Team Perspective From Thomas Beindit

Often, when a team loses many of its key players, fans and media experts regard them as a “wildcard” for the new year. There’s little debating that many have pegged Purdue as one of these teams heading into this season. A team that loses a lot, but returns “enough” to win big in the Big Ten and beyond.

However, my perspective is a little bit different.

Purdue is a wildcard, but I’m of the belief that things are either going to go very well, or very poorly for the Boilermakers.

On the positive side, Purdue returns Carsen Edwards and some key reserves in Ran Cline, Nojel Eastern, and Matt Haarms. The program also adds some solid newcomers that should be able to help the team this season. Throw in a proven head coach in Matt Painter and it’s not hard to see why many are optimistic about the team’s chances.

But there’s also no denying that Purdue loses a lot as well. Purdue loses four starters, including some program greats like Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas. Simply put, the roster has been utterly gutted from last season. And when this has happened to other teams in the league like Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin, things haven’t gone well.

Overall, this leaves me with the belief that things are either going to go very well, or very poorly for the Boilermakers this season. Either way, it’s going to be a fun ride.

10. Overall Season Outlook

Heading into last season, Purdue was expected to regress mainly due to the loss of star forward Caleb Swanigan. The Boilermakers were still expected to be a NCAA Tournament team, but not a team that won a school record 19 games in a row, was ranked in the top three and almost won the Big Ten.

While that technically means nothing when looking at the 2018-’19 Purdue Boilermakers, it does make it easy to point out that preseason projections typically mean very little, especially if a team has enough talent on hand to overcome their weaknesses. And that’s why trying to project just how Purdue will fare this winter is so difficult.

On one hand, Purdue has one of the best players in the country in their backcourt in Carsen Edwards, a junior that will likely be starting his NBA career a year from now. They also have a talented and experienced frontcourt with Matt Haarms and graduate transfer Evan Boudreaux, as well as plenty of intriguing newcomers all over the roster.

That’s also the problem with Purdue heading into the season. Will Nojel Eastern make the leap in his sophomore season? Who will handle the point? Can they keep turnovers down? How does Eric Hunter Jr. fit into the equation? Can an inexperienced Purdue team limit turnovers and costly late game mistakes? How will a roster loaded with players that can play 2-3 positions come together? What will Emmanuel Dowuona and Trevion Williams role be this year? Does Purdue have any wings that can contribute solid minutes?

Purdue will likely start answering these questions during the first two months of the season, but the non-conference slate is difficult enough that there should be several losses scattered throughout the early season.

The Boilermakers have the talent to contend with basically anyone on their schedule, but there will be growing pains with so many new faces and inexperienced players expected to see serious playing time. Purdue will likely be very good at times this season, they’ll also likely have stretches of painful mediocrity marred by the inconsistency of a roster that will rely heavily on players with zero collegiate and Big Ten experience.

So what can we expect this year? A Purdue team that at times looks very good and at other times looks average at best. While there are question marks all over the roster, Purdue is still capable of competing on any given night and should still have enough talent on hand to compete towards the top of the Big Ten. When everything is said and done Purdue should once again find their way back to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth year in a row.

Big Ten Prediction: 8th

(Please note: Final Big Ten predictions come from Thomas Beindit.)