Purdue head coach Matt Painter doesn’t take shortcuts when it comes to building a program. An approach centered on player development has resulted in the Boilermakers making 12 NCAA Tournament trips in Painter’s first 16 seasons as coach.
The standard remains just as high this season. With the decision of All-Big Ten forward Trevion Williams to come back for his senior season, Purdue returns all five starters and nine scholarship players from a team that finished 18–10 last season and earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Boilermakers will bring back 94.6 percent of their scoring and 88.2 percent of their rebounding from last season, which ended with a loss to North Texas in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite the disappointing postseason outcome, Purdue will enter 2021-22 season as one of the favorites to win the Big Ten title. The Boilermakers could also find themselves ranked in the preseason top 10 in national polls for the first time since 2009. There is talent, size, experience and depth at all positions, the ingredients needed to win championships.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Matt Painter
2020-21 RECORD (BIG TEN): 18-10 (13-6)
2020-21 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to North Texas 78-69 in the first round
F Aaron Wheeler (3.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
The 6'10", 265-pound Williams has led Purdue in scoring and rebounding in each of the last two seasons. Williams has posted 21 career double-doubles in his first three seasons at Purdue and is an excellent passer in the post. He's one of just five active players nationally with more than 950 career points (967), 625 career rebounds (630) and 125 career assists (126).
Sophomore 7'4" center Zach Edey proved he could handle himself inside as a freshman in the Big Ten last season, averaging 8.7 points and 4.4 rebounds while shooting 59.7 percent from the floor. At times, Williams and Edey played on the court at the same time, though Painter preferred having one of the two on the bench to spell the other in case of fatigue or foul trouble.
Third-year 6'6" sophomore Mason Gillis will be counted on to stretch defenses from the power forward spot again after shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point range last season. Gillis started 23 of 28 games for the Boilermakers and was solid at the foul line, making 81.4 percent of his attempts.
Sophomore Jaden Ivey, who made Team USA's 19-under national team this summer, emerged in the second half of his freshman season as a scorer capable of both getting to the basket and shooting from the perimeter. The 6'4" Ivey averaged 18.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists over his last six games, including scoring 26 points in the North Texas loss, the second-most points for a Big Ten freshman making his NCAA Tournament debut in league history.
Purdue also brings back a pair of three-year starters in the backcourt in senior point guard Eric Hunter Jr. and senior shooting guard Sasha Stefanovic. Hunter (26 steals) is Purdue's best perimeter defender and has improved his ball handling and decision-making, while Stefanovic, with 139 career 3-pointers, is Purdue's top perimeter scoring threat.
There's good depth in the backcourt with junior Isaiah Thompson, sophomore Brandon Newman and sophomore Ethan Morton all returning. Newman shot 37.9 percent from 3-point range and started 23 games before Ivey emerged. Morton struggled through some injuries as a freshman but is a former Pennsylvania Mr. Basketball with good court vision and is versatile enough to play multiple spots.
Purdue will always play a rugged, physical style under Painter, but decision-making with the basketball and perimeter defense are two areas where the Boilermakers will need to continue to improve in order for Purdue to reach its championship goals this season. Leadership will need to come from Williams and the senior starting backcourt tandem of Hunter and Stefanovic.
If Ivey and Edey continue to emerge and the supporting cast can continue to fill roles, Purdue could find itself winning a conference crown and making a deep NCAA Tournament run this season.
Postseason Prediction: NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
Big Ten Prediction: 2