As Vince Edwards (pictured above) tried to process the stunning loss his team suffered at the hands of the 12-seeded Arkansas Little Rock Trojans, he mustered up succinct and telling words:
“It’s the same story all year. Get a lead. Lose it.”
The rising junior’s exasperation was well placed. After all, this was the 2nd consecutive opening round loss that Purdue endured–both times giving up a late lead. In the 2015, Purdue blew a 7-point lead with 48.5 seconds left against the 9th-seeded Cincinnati Bearcats. In the 2016 opening round, the team allowed the aforementioned Trojans to erase a 13-point deficit with just over 3 minutes to go in regulation, eventually losing in OT.
The Boilermakers postseason misfortunes have been largely understated nationally, but you can rest assured that those around the team feel a sense of urgency.
But, right now, the team must put the bad breaks and missed opportunities behind them, as a season in which they are a consensus top-25 team is on the horizon.
Let’s take a look at why some–including myself– are excited about the Boilermakers.
The return of Caleb Swanigan and Vince Edwards
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
After testing the NBA draft waters, Swanigan and Edwards both made the decision to return for the 2016-17 season, giving Purdue the best possible news.
Swanigan, the 6’9″ 260 lb forward, had a solid freshman year as an integral member of the twin tower offense, scoring double digit points in 20 separate games. In addition to being an unbelievable load down on the block, Swanigan has decent range out to the 3-point line and is a pretty solid passer. The Indiana native led the team in rebounding, pulling down an impressive 8.3 of them in just over 25 minutes per game. As good as Swanigan was at times during his first season, he can be even better as he gets more comfortable playing the 4 spot–something he wasn’t used to doing in high school. He has quick and agile enough feet stay with stretch forwards and bulk to handle bruisers. I would not be surprised to see him as an All-American team next season.
Edwards was an efficient offensive wing for the Boilermakers–he shot 45% from the field, 40% from deep, and 82% (team-high) from the free throw line. He can get out on the break to score and defend at a solid clip. One area in which he can get better–and he has vowed to do so–is vocal challenging his teammates to lock in. Being a junior, Edwards has enough leeway and experience to keep his team in line when they slack off–something Purdue has a tendency of doing. Look for Edwards to continue his production with a slight uptick in scoring with A.J. Hammons gone.
Purdue will likely go with a 3 point guard rotation this season–P.J. Thomspon, Spike Albrecht, and Carson Edwards. All three are different and bring something necessary to the table.
Coach Matt Painter got a big boost to his backcourt when grad transfer Spike Albrecht (remember him?) decided to play his final season at Purdue. Albrecht will add bring a much needed sense of maturity and experience to the Purdue team. He’ll also add additional scoring punch from the guard spot.
PJ Thompson, however, should be the starter from the get-go. He emerged as the starter early last season, and remained a steady floor manager for the Boilermakers all season. P.J. was always under control and very rarely turned the ball over. Coach Painter actually called Thompson before pursuing Albrecht just to re-assure his point guard that he wasn’t being recruited over. Thompson has embraced Albrecht and has begun picking the grad student’s brain about what it was like to play in the national championship a few years ago. The two should form a formidable backourt.
Incoming freshman Carson Edwards is a 4-star guard from Texas. Edwards is billed as a shooter, but who isn’t afraid to use his stocky frame to mix it up a bit. Thompson has taken on a mentor role to the younger Edwards, something that will go a long way in his development.
Last season, Purdue was a very good defensive team and ranked well not just in the Big-10 but nationally as well. The team had one of the country’s best defensive ratings and we top 10 in finishing off possessions with defensive rebounds. You didn’t need numbers and metrics, however, to see Purdue’s gritty defensive effort. Their interior defense was bolstered by the two 7 footers in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas down low and stingy defensive wings in Rapheal Davis and Vince Edwards. While Hammons and Davis’ departure hurts, Haas and Edwards remain. Haas and Swanigan move their feet very, very well for guys there size, and opposing guards are always hesitant to go straight up against them because of their bulk. Neither block shots at the rate of Hammons, but they play more focused defense. Perimeter defense at the small forward spot will be crucial next season, but Purdue has a variety of candidates to fill that void.
Given Purdue’s lack of front court depth, it is imperative that Isaac Haas stays on the floor. Haas is prone to foul trouble, posting one of the highest foul rates among teammates. The team was better with him on the court last season, and that’s likely going to be the case next season.
Though Purdue, as a team, was an above average 3-point shooting team last season, they have an embarrassment of riches in the shooting department next season. And with very good post players in Haas and I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:
P.J. Thompson: 42%
Vince Edwards: 41%
Jacquil Taylor: 40%
Dakota Mathias: 39%
Ryan Cline: 39%
I believe this Purdue team can and will overcome its tournament lapses. Frankly, I think the Boilermakers are a potential sleeper final-4 team. The roster is very balanced and has a bevy of quality wings and guards to compliment their two-headed monster down low. Coach Painter does needs to clean up the offensive spacing a bit and encourage Haas and Swanigan to pass out to the perimeter for better looks at times. A.J. Hammons void will not go unnoticed, as he brought scoring and defensive punch to this team. But the fact that Swanigan can play the center position as well as the 4, he should eat up some of those minutes. Overall, I expect Purdue to win about 28 games and make a deep run in the tournament. Most have the Boilermakers ranked in the 20s, but I have them as a borderline top-10 team.