And without further adieu, we bring you the official Boilermaker Blitz 2015-2016 basketball preview.
- Reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Raphael Davis
- Unquestioned team leader and elite wing defender. Has a lot of scoring potential especially if he can carry over and improve on his late season 3-point shooting from 2014-2015
- The best center tandem in college basketball
- Let's be honest here - we all want AJ Hammons to be "in it to win it", but Isaac Haas is more than capable and willing to be the go-to center for this team. It's an incredible luxury to have two NBA caliber centers on one college roster
- Returning are Kendall Stephens and Dakota Mathias, both of which probably did not live up to their own lofty expectations last year in regards to shooting percentage. Eventually, you are what the numbers say you are, but in my opinion, Purdue has two elite shooters returning that just didn't hit as many shots as they're capable of last year. This water should find it's level this year which spells a huge boost to the Boiler offense.
- Vince Edwards
- This guy quietly became one of the best players in the Big Ten last year, and is primed to truly break out on the national stage in his new wing role. He could already do most everything - dribble/pass/shoot/rebound/defend/think - but now he has improved his two most glaring deficiencies: athleticism and shot release. All I have to say is: watch out.
What is Gained:
- A pro's pro
- Not many other ways to describe freshman Caleb Swanigan other than just being a pro. His work ethic, as Matt Painter said earlier this week, is higher than that of any player he's had in this program which is an incredible statement when you consider guys like Carl Landry, Jajuan Johnson, Robbie Hummel, E'twaun Moore, and Chris Kramer. Swanigan will have his share of growing pains along the way, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that 5 star players really do mean something to a program looking to make that next jump. He just gets it, and seems determined to go to any and all lengths to take Purdue to heights not seen in over 30 years.
- J.O. 2.0?
- I don't know if I'm ready to go that far yet, but it looks like Coach Painter was so enamored with John Octeus that he went and found a damn near match of him for this year's team. Johnny Hill is long, athletic, able to score the basketball, and very very experienced. It will be interesting to see if he immediately takes the reigns as the #1 PG or if this turns in to a back and forth battle in non-conference. Painter lamented not recognizing Octeus's potential for last year's team sooner - hopefully Hill can bring that same type of impact to this year's squad.
- Another elite shooter
- The jury is still out on how Matt Painter is going to sort out minutes between Davis, Stephens, Mathias, and now Ryan Cline at the shooting guard position, but in Cline he has another guy that can change the course of a game with his shooting. I'm excited to hear that Cline isn't redshirting because that, to me, is a sign that Painter thinks this team can be special and it's "all hands on deck".
What is Lost:
- John Octeus
- This guy only meant more to the Boilers as last season went on, and one could argue that had he been a bit more aggressive on offense he could have had an even bigger impact on some games. It's no secret that losing 2 point guards to transfer and 1 to decommitment has put a strain on Coach Painter about the point guard spot both now and in the near future. Octeus was the absolute perfect fit and the perfect usage of the 5th year transfer rule.
- Basil Smotherman
- A role player with great energy, Smotherman seems to have all the potential in the world as a small forward if he can get his jump shot to be more consistent. It was seemingly his decision to redshirt this year which I think can benefit not only him but the Purdue program long term, but there's no denying the value in having a guy like Bas coming off the bench with athleticism and energy as he did on occasion last year.
What Questions Remain:
- How is Matt Painter going to manage minutes? How will he combat zone defenses that I am sure Purdue will see over and over again in response to their towering front line. How will he make it work with legitimately 7-8 guys that are starter caliber players right now?
- Will Coach Painter run two distinct units, in a fashion similar to how NBA teams operate, or will he rotate guys in 1 by 1 to work through lineups as games go on?
- Point Guard Play
- I'm not sold on having to decide on just one guy to be the #1 option at point guard. I think with the makeup of this team there are a lot of options here. Remember when Keaton Grant played "point guard" for the Boilers before Lewis Jackson's arrival? I see no reason why, for certain periods of time, Dakota Mathias or Ryan Cline couldn't serve the same type role. Purdue doesn't need their point guard to score 15 a game - just get the ball up the floor, hit open jump shots, and facilitate the offense.
- AJ Hammons
- Unfortunately this is still a thing. Nobody knows what's really going on with AJ this time, but the general consensus is that it's nothing serious. However, as I alluded to above, Isaac Hass is a more than capable center and a true NBA talent. If AJ doesn't get it together soon it's absolutely possible for him to again lost his starting nod just like he did last year.
- New Rules
- The new rules on the outside seem to be stacked against the Boilermakers. No 5 second rule, arm bars allowed in the post, shorter shot clock forcing faster offensive sets, more "freedom of movement", and a wider charge zone. I thought Purdue adapted relatively well to the new rules last year, but has to take massive strides in the free throw shooting department this year to not just deal with the new rules, but use them to their advantage. Haas, Hammons, and Swanigan should average at least 15 free throws a game between them - at least. Hitting those at an above 65-70% clip will mean the difference in more than one game this year.
At the risk of sounding overtly drunk on the kool aid, I will just say this - Purdue basketball 2015-2016 has the talent on paper to be the team that gets Purdue back to the final four. That does not mean it will happen. That does not mean that's what I'm predicting. I'm merely saying that from a personnel and talent perspective, it's all there. They say you need, on average, 3 NBA players to get to a final four and here's ours: AJ Hammons, Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, Vince Edwards, Kendall Stephens.
This team has quality depth not normally seen from programs not named Duke, Kentucky, or Michigan State and that is something that will prove invaluable as the Big Ten looks to again be an absolute meat grinder this year.
The non-conference slate may not look all that imposing, but now that the completely meaningless preseason rankings are out, there are definitely some quality opponents coming up sooner rather than later. Officially, I will say that the Boilers lose 2 games before Big Ten play.
The Big Ten this year is brutal, absolutely brutal. That said, in my opinion there is a clear cut top tier of 4 teams, 6-8 somewhere in the middle, and a few bottom feeders. That top tier is Maryland, Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan State (in no particular order). As for the middle, when the dust clears I really think you could see 8-9 Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament - it's that good this year. Officially, I will say that Purdue drops 3 games in league play.
So that brings us to an overall record of 26-5 heading into the Big Ten Tournament, 11-2 in non-conference and 15-3 in league play which would put Purdue in the mix for a 3-5 seed in the NCAA tournament. After that, it's kind of a crap shoot depending on seedings, brackets, upsets, and matches so I won't make a prediction on how far the Boilers will go in March.
But I will say this - I would spend an absurd amount of money to get to hang out in Houston wearing Old Gold and Black April 2-4 next spring.
Boiler Up. Hammer Down. Hail Purdue.