From the end of March through May 23, Purdue coach Matt Painter must have felt like he was sitting on pins and needles. That’s because the Boilermakers’ leading returning scorers — junior forward Vince Edwards (11.3 ppg) and sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan (10.2 ppg) — declared for the NBA Draft without hiring agents.
On May 24, Edwards announced he would return for his junior season, and a day later, Swanigan also announced his decision to come back. Given that information, it’s a safe bet that Purdue will once again be one of the better teams in the Big Ten after finishing in a third-place tie a year ago with a 12–6 league record.
All Big Ten predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Matt Painter
2015-16 RECORD (BIG TEN): 26–9 (12–6)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Little Rock 85–83 (2OT) in the first round
2016-17 PREDICTION: Fourth in the Big Ten
G Rapheal Davis (8.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.3 apg)
C A.J. Hammons (15.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg)
G Johnny Hill (5.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.3 apg)
G Kendall Stephens (6.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
With Edwards and Swanigan coming back to join 7'2" junior center Isaac Haas (9.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Purdue will boast an experienced and imposing front line. Swanigan, a power forward, averaged 8.3 rebounds and became only the second freshman in school history to amass 300 points, 200 rebounds and 50 assists. Edwards, a small forward, led the team in 3-pointers with 46 and in assists with 100.
Haas is expected to step in for A.J. Hammons, who was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks after being voted the 2016 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Purdue’s big and talented frontcourt will be bolstered by the return of 6'6" junior Basil Smotherman, who redshirted during the 2015-16 season after averaging 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds as a sophomore and 5.0 points and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman. Smotherman can play either the small forward or power forward position.
Another player to watch is 6'10" sophomore Jacquil Taylor, who had a 12-point, 10-rebound performance in a 107–57 victory at Rutgers last season. Taylor will get time at center and power forward.
“With the return of Caleb and Vince to go along with Isaac Haas, we really should have one of the best front lines in the country,” Painter says. “I like our experience.”
If Purdue is to challenge for the Big Ten title, the backcourt will be the key. P.J. Thompson is the likely starter at point guard after averaging 5.7 points and 2.7 assists as a sophomore. He emerged as a threat from the perimeter last season, shooting 41.5 percent from 3 — up from 28.6 as a freshman.
Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline will be the primary shooting guards. Mathias likely will be asked to replace ace perimeter defender Rapheal Davis, who was the Big Ten’s 2015 Defensive Player of the Year.
The Boilermakers made 268 3-pointers last season — second most in school history — and that figure should increase with the addition of freshman Carsen Edwards, a combo guard who averaged 25.3 points per game as a high school senior.
While Purdue lost 3-point specialist Kendall Stephens to a transfer to Nevada, Painter added former Michigan Wolverine Spike Albrecht as a graduate transfer. Albrecht underwent double-hip surgery before the 2015-16 season and left the team after eight games to rehab. During his time at Michigan, Albrecht shot 39.9 percent from 3-point range, and if he is healthy, he can not only add to Purdue’s perimeter scoring but also provide quality minutes at the point.
“Spike is trying to knock the rust off,” Painter says. “We have to make sure we listen to him and to our doctors and trainers. We have to be cautious with him and not let him overdo it. He says he feels great. He always has been a good team guy.”
Graduate transfer student Spike Albrecht is a point guard who played three seasons at Michigan and was team MVP for 2014-15. Freshman combo guard Carsen Edwards, from the Houston suburb of Humble, went 13-of-15 from 3-point range in one game last season in high school. Tommy Luce is a walk-on.
Purdue has participated in the NCAA Tournament eight times in Painter’s 11 seasons but has not won an NCAA game since 2012. With Edwards and Swanigan returning, it would appear the Boilermakers are ready to take the next step.
The non-conference schedule is loaded, with games against Villanova, Louisville, Notre Dame, Arizona State and possibly Auburn and Texas Tech in November. In the Big Ten, Purdue will play Indiana and Michigan State twice each but plays Wisconsin only once — at Mackey Arena, where Painter’s team was 17–1 last season.
The Boilermakers shot 47 percent from the field last season — the program’s best since 1997-98 — and have an excellent chance to top that mark this season with a nice blend of interior and perimeter options.
“Everyone has to get better, but I like this team’s potential,” Painter says. “We are an experienced team, but we still are a relatively young team.”