A quick at Purdue might lead someone to underestimate the Boilers this season. While Purdue was a good team last year, the disappointing first-round exit is still front of mind. Moreover, the team lost its best player (A.J. Hammons), its point guard (Johnny Hill), a former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (Raphael Davis), and an upperclassmen that had been in Matt Painter's rotation for three seasons. That sounds like a lot, because it is a lot.
But give Painter credit for restocking the cupboard over the past couple of recruiting seasons. Junior Isaac Haas is done with his timeshare arrangement with A.J. Hammons, and assuming he can stay out of foul trouble and physically play more than 25 minutes a game, he's a threat to win player of the year in the Big Ten. Surrounding him are a variety of sharpshooting guards, including Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, Vince Edwards, and Ryan Cline. While this group won't do much damage inside the arc (particularly Cline, who made just one two-point field goal all of last season), they will bomb from the outside. Collectively, they shot 40 percent on three-point attempts, which is a nice counter to opponents that would otherwise prefer to sag into the paint to stop Haas.
Even better is that each of those guards is a combo guard, meaning the loss of Johnny Hill is probably not going to affect the team all that much. Moreover, Purdue is one of the last remaining motion offense teams in the country, as most has transitioned to a ball screen centric look. There are downsides to this—ball screen offenses more reliably create help defense situations—there's less pressure to have a dynamic playmaker at point guard. And as long as Purdue has big men that pull the defense in, running shooters around screens does not figure to be a problem.
Speaking of big men, it's probably time to talk about Caleb Swanigan. A former 5-star recruit, Biggie's freshman season was up-and-down, to say the least. A powerful finisher, Swanigan converted 84 percent of his attempts at the rim. And even though he was just a freshman, Swanigan showed great footwork in the post and a plus ability to get position.
Unfortunately, Swanigan also saw himself as a skilled outside shooter, attempting 72 during the regular season, and converting them at a 29 percent rate. In and of itself, 29 percent is not such a bad number. There are a number of Big Ten guards that convert at that (and lower) rates. But they generally do not have Swanigan's ability to get into the paint and push defenders around. Moreover, Swanigan had a knack for testing his outside shooting at inopportune times, such as when Michigan State held a slim lead against Purdue with less than a minute to go during the Big Ten Tournament:
But, despite Biggie's struggles with shot selection last year, it could actually be a harbinger of good things to come this season, for a coupe of possible reasons. First, freshmen—particularly those standing 6-6 and taller—that attempt a high number of 3s see a bit larger sophomore breakout seasons. I could theorize all day why that's the case, but the effect is there. Second, if his shot selection is truly broken, rather than this just being an instance where a player's ability has not yet made it into the games, then it's an easy fix: just don't shoot so many 3s. One would think that Matt Painter wouldn't let Swanigan take so many if he did not have confidence in his player, but there may be other considerations one needs to account for.
If you strip out the 3s, Swanigan is a load to handle in the post, and I can't imagine there are too many teams that are well-equipped to defend him this season.
And that's Purdue—two dominant post players and a large supply of sharpshooting combo guards. The team is lacking a dynamic playmaker, but Illinois showed us last year that the presence of one of those does not guarantee success. Purdue, on the other hand, looks primed to have a fine season. Potentially the best of Matt Painter's tenure.