2015-2016 ITH Season Preview: Purdue Boilermakers

  • 09/28/2015 9:02 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Purdue Boilermakers.

After two sub-.500 seasons, Matt Painter’s 2014-2015 Boilermakers appeared bound for another ho-hum year after home losses to North Florida and Gardner-Webb in the non-conference schedule. But they re-found a defensive identity as the season went along and returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Robbie Hummel era.

In conference play, Purdue tied for third and sported the second best adjusted defensive efficiency behind Maryland. A more committed and focused A.J. Hammons anchored that defense. His block percentage (12.3) led the Big Ten and was 11th in the nation. But Purdue also got a strong performance on the perimeter, as Rapheal Davis’ work there garnered him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

As the team’s top two scorers last season, Hammons and Davis return for their senior seasons to a Purdue squad primed to challenge for one of the top spots in the Big Ten and a run in the NCAA Tournament. Beyond his shot blocking and scoring ability, Hammons was also among the top 10 in defensive (7th) and offensive (fourth) rebounding in the conference. Up front, he’s joined by sophomore Isaac Haas and freshman Caleb Swanigan, a one-time commit to Tom Izzo and the Spartans. A Fort Wanye native, 247 Composite ranks Swanigan as the 18th best player in the class. All three make Purdue’s frontcourt one of the nation’s best.

At 7-foot-2, Haas gives the Boilermakers another intimidating 7-footer to go along with Hammons. Haas used the most possessions on Purdue last year (30.3 percent) and sported a ridiculous free throw rate of 81.8. But he struggled from the line (54.7 percent) when he got there. And because of Hammons, he played just 14.6 minutes per game. If Haas converts at a higher rate from the line this year, he should bring more offensive value when he’s on the court.

Sophomore Vince Edwards was the team’s most efficient offensive player as a freshman (54.6 effective field goal percentage) and returns as the team’s third best scorer (8.8 ppg). He and junior Basil Smotherman add to an already loaded frontcourt. Junior Kendell Stephens balances the offense’s interior presence and hit on 38.4 percent of 3-pointers a season ago to lead the team. With Bryson Scott transferring to IPFW and Jon Octeus gone via graduation, graduate transfer Johnny Hill (Texas Arlington) has immediate eligibility to provide minutes at point guard along with sophomore P.J. Thompson. Sophomore Dakota Mathias along with three-star recruits Ryan Cline (Carmel) and Grant Weatherford (Arcadia) round out the backcourt.

Bottom Line: While Purdue hasn’t hit every preseason Top 25, they stand a good chance of being a staple in the rankings this season thanks to a stout defense and tough matchups in the frontcourt. They’ll get Butler in the Crossroads Classic for a good pre-conference test. Purdue and Indiana battle just once this season — a Feb. 20 matchup in Bloomington just before conference plays wraps. After the Boilermakers swept the Hoosiers last year — including a blowout win in West Lafayette and a four-point victory in Bloomington – Indiana will be looking for revenge. After the Indiana game, Purdue plays Maryland at home. Both games could have major implications in the top of the conference standings if all three teams play up to expectations.

Quotable: “Going into next year, it’s not something where I say, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ I learned that you wait and see what happens. If those guys play at a really high level that are going to fill those gaps in our rotation and come off the bench, then I need to do what I was trying to do before. But if they don’t, I think less people will play.” – Painter on whether he’ll have a large or small rotation based on having more options next season

PreviouslyRutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, Nebraska, MinnesotaIowaIllinois, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin

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  • sarge

    This pic on the article reminds me of the obvious home cooking purdue had last year. I remember this sequence of events in particular. Yogi should have gotten the foul on Hammons. The look he gave the ref was priceless. He was one of few Hoosiers who showed some fight in this game. His on court leadership can’t be questioned.


    Hard to question what doesn’t exist.

  • Hardwood83

    Give it a rest man.

  • marcusgresham

    Don’t even try to tell me they aren’t related.

  • SilentBob

    The more I think about it, the less I’m sold Purdue can run two bigs for 40 minutes. Especially once big ten plays roles around. Kentucky could do it so well because their bigs were top notch athletes and arguably more offensively polished as a whole. Izzo tried to do this a few seasons back with Nix and Payne. I believe he scrapped the idea pretty early on if my memory serves me correctly.

    The thought of Hass and Swanigan trying to get back in transition makes me chuckle a bit. I don’t see any of these guys being able to follow Hayes or Layman around all game, and they lost one of their best perimeter defenders in Octeous. I believe the Big Ten is one of the best, more than likely the best, three point shooting conferences in the country. That combined with Purdues poor three point shooters could cause them to get burned quite a few times.

    I’m not saying it won’t work. Just gonna be one of those things I have to see to believe

  • TomJameson

    That late into the season both teams will have found their rhythm. Playing at IU will give the edge (if any needed) to IU just because of the atmosphere. I think by then there will be a good idea of a gameplay to beat them in the B1G.


    He stuck with Payne and Nix the whole year. I don’t get why people think having two bigs is so bad offensively. You can still run a great offense. It’s like IU fans have been brainwashed the last two years and think having someone like Troy at the 4 is successful. Purdue is going to play mainly off their defense. And they’re going to use their size. Painter is finding an identity for his team. Just a couple years ago it looked like his job was toast. Could be changing if this year goes well for him.

  • SilentBob

    Just last year it looked like his job was toast. If it wasn’t for a lack of quality big men that year in the big he would have been. And I’m not suggesting Troy play the four. You’re putting words in my mouth. I’ve been one of the bigger advocates of not putting Troy at the four. At least not starting there. This wasn’t even about IU.

    But you’re right about Nix, but funny looking back on it, Michigan States only conference loses came to offenses rated in the top 16 that year. And I’d easily take Michigan States backcourt that year, both offensively and defensively, over Purdues this year. Btw it wasn’t like Purdue was some defensive juggernaut. They were only alightly better defensively (58th in the nation) than offensively (61st).

    But here are some differences besides the level of coaching. Usg% was already dominated by bigs and that didn’t go too well. Michigan State could spread the ball around (they ranked 28th offensively to go with a great defense). Had a knockdown shooter in Harris, a good floor general in Appling, a rim attacker in Dawson, and a center who could spread the floor. Oh yea and Payne could hit free throws. Something Purdues bigs can’t. Purdue was also the worst turnover team in the big ten last year, they lost Octeous. Johnny Hill? The guy who is supposed to replace him had a tov% of 25 last year! In the sun belt! That’s way worse than Rojo who you’re always harping on. Also Michigan States starting backcourt produced 4.2 steals per game that year. Octeous who led them with 1 per game is gone.

    So what we have here is a team that doesn’t have any great outside threat, has no floor general, and is terrible at holding on to the ball. Their bigs also can’t spread the floor. They can get to the line, but can’t convert. They were the fourth worst free throw shooting team in the big last year. Add that they lose their second best perimeter defender, and the big is ripe with great perimeter players. Plus these big aren’t just not athletic like Kentuckys, and Adrian Payne. They also don’t have the depth of Kentucky, nor is Caleb anywhere near as big or as good of a defender as Towns. He is barely 6’8 which roughly makes him the same size as Hayes except a lot slower, and a lot fatter.

    So yea I think to more than fair to have a few questions. They were my dark horses last year so this isn’t just me hating on Purdue.

  • SilentBob

    Side note this isn’t just IU fans who think this way. This is the game thinking this way. The game had been moving towards smaller, faster, better shooting fours for years now


    Has it worked for us to have Troy at the 4?


    It’s going to be hard to compare with what UK had last year. I don’t think we’ll ever see that again. They were starting 6-6, 6-6, 6-10(6-8, 7-0, 7-0. But Painter does have to find the other pieces. We’ll get to see what strides Davis makes. I hate Purdue… but the B1G is better when them and IU are good.

  • SilentBob

    Defensively thus far? No. But this isn’t about Troy, this is about Caleb.


    Has it worked to help us win. That’s what I care about. Caleb is yet to be seen.

  • calbert40

    The proof is in the Top 10 AdjO national ranking in 3 of the last 4 years running with just 1 big. Last year’s D wasn’t bad because of Troy at the 4. We were bad because of two things: 1) very poor perimeter D at stopping penetration, and 2) no shot blocking presence to keep guys from getting at the rim. Hopefully, Bryant helps with problem #2, and a different mindset helps with #1. The fact, though, is that we don’t have to be Purdue level on D to be successful. We have to be 2015 UW level on D to be successful (Barely outside of the top 50).

  • calbert40

    I would think having Hammons and Swanigan on the floor together would hurt their transition D. They will help them in other areas, but that is one area that opponents could exploit.

  • calbert40

    Their frontcourt should be great, but it is hard to win without quality PG play, and I think that will be PU’s achilles heel. They will have to play slow due to their personnel, and when you look at some of the best teams in the B1G, they could have some match-up problems…but so could other teams with them. The problem I think they could have is that their bigs are not quick and athletic, but rather slow and plodding.

    I know Swanigan is a Top 20 player, but I don’t think he helps the flow of their offense this year much. He is a post player (not a “Stretch 4”), and unless they get some perimeter shots to fall this year, every opponent is going to pack the lane against them and dare them to shoot over them. They will be good, but not great, and I think a 4-5 B1G finish is in store.

  • mahaus

    I agree with the fact that PG will be a struggle for PU this year, but everyone harping on Swanigan being too big and slow won’t expect what they will see in a couple months. I go to Purdue and have seen him and talked to him a couple of times on campus. He is easily 20 lbs lighter since showing up to school. Talked with Basil Smotherman and PJ Thompson a couple of times as well, and they commented that one of his biggest goals was to lose some weight and increase his athleticism. He has done the first part without a doubt. Plus he has been going up against Vince Edwards all offseason, and that has undoubtedly made him work on his fitness and transition game.

    Swanigan is also a true 4. He has always wanted to play the 4, but being 6-8 on a hs team usually doesn’t allow that. Now that he has the height behind him, he can afford to play tighter D and potentially let some speed get past him. After all, they will just run into one of the countries best rim protectors. And if fitness is a problem, Edwards can slide into the 4 or I’m hoping that red-shirt freshman Jaquil Taylor has made some big strides and can make a significant impact there. He is a thin 6-9 and in the little time he spent on the court last year, showed some great potential.
    I’m really looking forward to B1G bball season, especially considering that will mean the end of football season. But it still annoys me the lack of respect PU is receiving in the B1G and nationally. They improved at every position except PG. Now I am fully aware how important PG is to a team, but literally every other position will be better. That has to count for something considering PU was a team that could honestly compete with just about any team in the country. It is going to be a fun year!

  • calbert40

    I wouldn’t say predicting PU to finish 4th or 5th in a really strong B1G is showing a lack of respect. Every team has question marks in the fall, and PU is no exception. The issue for them is that they have two big question marks: PG play and perimeter scoring. Even if Swanigan is exactly what you believe he is, those question marks don’t go away. Their perimeter offense looks to be a problem.

    Last year, Hammons and Haas combined for 20.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg and 3.5 blocks/game. They played almost exclusively when the other was not on the court. I assume Painter will keep the rotation pretty similar at this position. Edwards actually played more minutes (26.9 mpg) than Hammons, but always at the 4. If we add Swanigan to the post rotation, someone is losing minutes. I doubt Swanigan only plays 13 mpg, but more along the lines of 20-25 mpg. If Painter moves Edwards or Swanigan to the 3, they will get eaten alive by some of the really athletic 3s in the B1G on the perimeter, so I doubt he does that with his rotation. My point being that Swanigan is an excellent add, but it is at a position that PU was already very strong at, so it doesn’t help in the areas of concern for the club.

    Someone has to get the ball into the post players’ hands, and PU really doesn’t know who that will be right now. Also, until Davis and Stephens and maybe Mathias can consistently make opponents concerned with where they are on the floor, opposing Ds will just pack the lane.

    I think PU will be good, but they are going to need a PG to step up and play really well, and a consistent outside shooting threat to emerge, if they want to challenge for a B1G title.