Boilermakers Basketball: On The Edge Of a Breakthrough Year?


Dec 31, 2014; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers guard Kendall Stephens (21) shoots over Minnesota Golden Gophers center Elliott Eliason (55) in the 2nd half at Mackey Arena. Purdue defeated Minnesota 72-68. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

In nine days, the Purdue Boilermakers basketball season and their road to the Final Four begins.

This Purdue Boilermakers team has been sculpted for the last four years, with 7-foot A.J. Hammons as the centerpiece. Head coach Matt Painter has not only been able to keep the important pieces together, but he’s been able to add valuable, long-term pieces over the past two seasons. Now, all the pieces are all in place for the #23 Boilermakers to make their run to the Final Four.

-= Related: Hammons Named to Preseason All-Big Ten Team =-

Hammons and freshman Vince Edwards led the Boilermakers to the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. They remain the backbone of this Boilermakers team, especially with Jon Octeus, who was a huge playmaker and veteran presence, gone. But they added Mr. Indiana Basketball Caleb Swanigan who projects to add a lot of value on both sides of the ball.

A first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament last season kind of put a damper on the 21-13 regular season. Out of 351 teams, the Boilermakers ranked in the Top 100 in points per game (70.0), field goal percentage (.453), rebounds per game (36.3), assists per game (14.9) and blocks per game (5.3).

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Yet as much as them team liked to play inside-out with Hammons and 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas, they lived and died by the three-point shot; and, unfortunately, it killed them throughout the year. Purdue shot a putrid 34 percent – 211th in the nation – from three-point range. Out of the 53.6 shots they took per game, 17.3 were from three-point range and they only made 5.8 on average.

Kendall Stephens – their Reggie Miller imitator – dealt with a nagging finger injury most of the season, which added to their three-point woes. Stephens starts healthy this year and Painter added some additional firepower with freshman Ryan Cline – national high school 3-point champion.

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Opponents had it a little easy against Purdue last year because there wasn’t a legitimate power forward on the floor when either Hammons or Haas played – sorry, but Rapheal Davis isn’t a power forward, more a small forward in a power forward body. Swanigan is a legit power forward – 6-foot-9, 260 pounds – and teams will likely choose to defend the low post which will open up guys like Stephens, Edwards and Dakota Mathias around the arc.

Defensively the Boilermakers will need to improve if they want to make it far in the NCAA Tournament. Last year they allowed 64.6 points and 24.5 rebounds per game. Not terrible numbers, but if you are only outscoring your opponents by an average of 5.4 points per game, then you are putting yourself into too many close game scenarios. Once again, Swanigan should help out majorly in the low post and Edwards projects to be one of the better all-around players in the country.

This Purdue team is going to be a lot of fun to watch. Either everything clicks and they walk into the Final Four or things go south quickly and they struggle to improve on last season. Painter has done a fantastic job rebuilding after the Baby Boiler era – even if it took longer than expected – and he now has his best team since the 2009-2010 squad that had championship written all over them. Perhaps this year, the Final Four in Houston is in their destiny. In nine days, we get to see just how good this team can be and if they are on the edge of a breakthrough year.

Next: Colts: Why Firing Pep Hamilton Is The Right Move

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