New-look Boilermakers still dangerous in the Big Ten
Carsen Edwards became a household name during Purdue’s run to the Elite Eight last year. The gunner from Texas dropped 42 points against Villanova in the second round and 42 more in the Elite Eight against Virginia on the way to setting a new NCAA Tournament record with 28 3-pointers in four games.
But if Purdue is going to make another deep tournament run, the Boilers will have to do it without Edwards. The junior guard chose to forgo his final year of eligibility. The Boilers not only will have to replace his 24.3 points per game but also fill the leadership void created when the winningest senior class in school history (Ryan Cline and Grady Eifert) graduated.
It seems like a tall task. But Purdue coach Matt Painter, the reigning NABC National Coach of the Year, is used to it by now.
Before the 2017-18 season, many questioned how Purdue would handle the loss of Caleb Swanigan. The answer? By reaching its second straight Sweet 16 and setting a new school record with 19 straight wins. At this time last year, the question was how Purdue would replace four senior starters who made up one of the most influential classes in school history. The answer: by winning a share of the Big Ten title and coming within a Virginia prayer of reaching the Final Four. This is nothing new for Painter.
Purdue Basketball At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Matt Painter
2018-19 RECORD (BIG TEN): 26-10 (16-4)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Virginia 80-75 (ot) in the Elite Eight
G Ryan Cline (12.0 ppg, 3.3 apg)
G Carsen Edwards (24.3 ppg, 2.9 apg)
F Grady Eifert (5.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Painter has a knack for recruiting and developing high-end college big men, from A.J. Hammons to Swanigan to Isaac Haas. That trend will continue this year.
The Boilermakers should feature one of the best center combinations in the Big Ten. Junior Matt Haarms is a lean but versatile 7'3" center with uncommon mobility for someone his size. The lefty from the Netherlands is a solid low-post threat and an elite shot blocker who plays with passion.
He’ll be spelled by sophomore Trevion Williams, a potent rebounder who will command double teams in the low post this year. For a big-bodied player, he has an above-average handle and good floor vision. At one point, Williams weighed more than 300 pounds. He worked to cut about 50 pounds at Purdue, but he’ll need to continue to fine-tune his body if he’s going to reach his full potential in college and beyond.
At the 4, sophomore Aaron Wheeler gives the Boilers an outside shooter with springy athleticism in transition. The main knock on his game is his ball handling. True freshman Mason Gillis will also be vying for minutes at the 4. Evan Boudreaux, a Dartmouth transfer who was limited by injuries last year, will also try to find his role in a crowded frontcourt.
Purdue set new school 3-point shooting records in 2017-18 and in ’18-19. Even with Edwards gone, the Boilers should have plenty of outside shooting threats.
High Point graduate transfer Jahaad Proctor, who averaged 19.5 points per game last year in the Big South, could be one of the players who helps fill Purdue’s scoring void. Guards Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter Jr. were role players last season who will need to step up.
At 6'6", Nojel Eastern is one of the more unique body types at the point guard position. Defense is his calling card, and he can switch onto a 4 and give up nothing in terms of size or strength. The question is whether he can develop an outside shot to complement his athleticism.
Purdue will have a dramatically different feel this season. Instead of a star-dependent offensive juggernaut, the Boilers should be a more well-rounded team that leans on its defense.
Haarms and Eastern will anchor the defense and should both be in contention for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors at the end of the season. If they are, Purdue will be in line for some team awards as well.
Postseason Prediction: Round of 32
Big Ten Prediction: 4th