Boilermakers set sights on Big Ten title
Few Power 5 conference basketball programs can afford to lose the league Player of the Year to the NBA Draft and still be quite confident of success moving forward. Reigning Big Ten Conference champion Purdue, however, is excited about the 2017-18 season even though Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan will be wearing a Portland Trail Blazers uniform.
Purdue will be without its centerpiece of the past two seasons, but Swanigan’s supporting cast is returning, along with the addition of five newcomers.
Coach Matt Painter will welcome back 72.5 percent of the scoring from a 27–8 team. Purdue’s Nos. 2-7 scorers return, including 7'2" senior center Isaac Haas (12.6 ppg) and 6'8" senior forward Vince Edwards (12.6 ppg), both of whom entered the NBA Draft before withdrawing their names.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Matt Painter
2016-17 RECORD (BIG TEN): 27–8 (14–4)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Kansas 98–66 in the Sweet 16
G Spike Albrecht (1.6 ppg, 1.3 apg)
F Caleb Swanigan (18.5 ppg, 12.5 rpg)
Haas and Edwards have the credentials to be All-Big Ten players in 2017-18. Haas is averaging 24.8 points for every 40 minutes played in his career and is one of only four active players nationally with at least 1,000 career points in less than 1,700 minutes played. Edwards will enter his senior season as the only player in college basketball with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 100 made 3-pointers.
The rest of the Boilermakers frontcourt essentially is new, although 6'9" junior forward Jacquil Taylor saw action during the 2015-16 season before sitting out last season with a foot injury.
Painter is excited about 7'3" freshman center Matt Haarms, a native of the Netherlands who played one year of high school basketball at Sunrise Christian in Kansas. The frontcourt will be further bolstered by the addition of 6'8" freshman Aaron Wheeler and 6'9" Eden Ewing, a junior college transfer who will have two years of eligibility.
Thanks in large part to Haas and Edwards, the 2016-17 Boilermakers shot 47.9 percent from the field, the program’s best since the 1997-98 season.
Led by sophomore Carsen Edwards, senior Dakota Mathias, senior P.J. Thompson and junior Ryan Cline, Purdue will feature the Big Ten’s most experienced collection of guards.
Edwards — no relation to Vince Edwards — was the only Big Ten freshman with at least 45 made 3-pointers and 35 steals. In the summer, he was a member of the USA Basketball U19 team that competed for the World Cup in Egypt. Mathias enters his senior season needing 89 3-pointers to break the school record. He made 72 last season, shooting 45.3 percent from beyond the arc. Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Thompson has committed just 49 turnovers, an average of 1.1 per 40 minutes played. Cline’s 87 made 3-pointers are the seventh most by a Boilermaker through his sophomore season.
An already strong backcourt will be even stronger with the additions of freshmen Nojel Eastern, a point guard from Evanston, Ill., and Sasha Stefanovic, a shooting guard from Crown Point, Ind. Painter will have the luxury of bringing the freshmen along slowly.
Purdue is 24–3 in Big Ten home games since Haas, Vince Edwards, Mathias and Thompson arrived on campus. This group knows how to win.
The Boilermakers also benefited from representing the United States in the World University Games from Aug. 19-30 in Taipei. Certainly, Painter, who is entering his 13th season as head coach at his alma mater, will have plenty of lineup options, even without Swanigan.
This is a team with enough talent to win the Big Ten.