Is it getting boring? I don't mean the basketball, Purdue's teams have been solid and enjoyable, and hardly a cookie-cutter affair. Some years the offense runs through a big like Caleb Swanigan or AJ Hammons, or it's more of an ensemble act like 2015, or it's a guard like Carsen Edwards that runs the show. Last year's offense was the best in Big Ten play, the year before the Boilers ranked 2nd on both ends of the floor, and at the end of the last decade through the beginning of this one, Purdue was a defense-first team.
Personnel changes, Matt Painter changes. Back in the 2008 season, Purdue ran its offense out of the pick and roll about 5 percent of the time. That's pushing 15 percent these days. Michigan and Indiana are over 20 percent, so while I wouldn't say Painter has fully cast off his motion offense identity, it's morphing.
No, what's boring is the bottom line. The Boilers will win 25ish games, a couple games fewer if it's bad, a couple more if it's good, and 12ish Big Ten games. They'll reach the Tournament as a 4ish seed. And if you're a Purdue fan, the smart move has been to go ahead and deplete the hotel points account for the first weekend of the Dance, because you probably would not need it for the later rounds.
I do not know why this is the case. I could dig through the data, searching for some random correlation I could frame that conveniently fits a predetermined narrative about how because of the so and so inherent in Painter's system, Purdue will always underperform in March. That's the hacky thing to do, and someone out there has probably already done it. If that's what you came for, sorry. Instead, you're just going to get a boring preview.
Or maybe not. We're so used to Purdue winning—and it has—that sometimes it's hard to reorient oneself to the prospect of them being kind of average. For years, there have been three preseason ranking systems I know of that have been worth a damn: Pomeroy, Hanner, and Torvik. ESPN then introduced BPI (which I still have some qualms about), and John Gasaway has thrown his hat into the ring. And hey, they did pretty well. In any event, here's how the ranking systems see Purdue this season (Hanner no longer does his projections):
For those scoring at home, that's an average ranking of 31.5. That's not bad, that's almost surely worth a bid on Selection Sunday, absent some strange results. But it's not 25ish wins good, either. Rather, this is a team that looks to be just on the right side of the bubble. It does not strike me as overly pessimistic, either. Gone are Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, and PJ Thompson. Most teams would take a step or two backward after losing four starters. Carsen Edwards is back, of course, and a popular pick for Player of the Year, both in the Big Ten and nationally. His top sidekick will likely be forward transfer Evan Boudreaux, who was last seen two years ago starring for Dartmouth. Boudreaux is an excellent rebounder, and a threat to score from all over the court. Beyond the step up in competition, one might want to pay attention to his defense, as he was not much of a disruptor in the Ivy League. In short, he has an Old Man's Game, which is fitting, because he's a 5th year player (though only 21 right now) and he looks like this:
Of course, there's still Matt Haarms to erase mistakes made by his teammates on defense. And Ryan Cline remains an excellent outside shooter. Nojel Eastern is an intriguing prospect, in that he tried to do a little bit of everything last year. Problem was, he did not do any one thing all that well. Whether he remains a renaissance man or begins to specialize is an open question. Let's see, who else...I could talk about former walkon Grady Eifert, but I'm not sure how many words I can squeeze into the tale of That One Time He Scored Six Points Versus Penn State.
Next up are the four freshmen, not a single top-100 player among them. So that leaves us with a dynamic point guard, a Kevin Love type at the 4/5 (I hate to make the lazy white guy comp, but it fits here), a shotblocking center, a couple of role players, and a lot of question marks. To put it mildly, injuries, sickness, suspensions—anything that causes one of those five to miss time, could be catastrophic. But even the more mundane items, such as whether Matt Haarms can stay out of foul trouble (no small thing, he averaged about 6 fouls per 40 minutes last year), loom large.
Purdue should make the Tournament this year, but there's not nearly as much wiggle room as there was the past few seasons. Hey, maybe this year will be a little more exciting after all.