The biggest folly in the sports world is to count a good coach out.
It would be easy to say that about this year’s Boilermaker team. A “measly” 16-15 record last year, Matt Haarms to BYU, and the toughness of the Big Ten should taper expectations.
However, it would be ludicrous to count the Boilermakers out, and they are still trending in the middle of the conference. It is 2020; anything is possible. In a season with few chances to impress in non-conference, the Boilers have a chance to turn a head or two.
Purdue is lucky; they get to feel the warmth of Florida. Things will be hot, on and off the court, starting Nov. 25. Liberty may seem a little unassuming, but do not forget that the Flames are defending ASUN conference tournament champions and want to make their third-straight NCAA tournament appearance. Surviving that would lead to a scrum with Clemson or Mississippi State.
The Space Coast challenge will live up to its name for the Boilermakers. Afterward, Mackey arena will feel like home sweet home against the Crusaders of Valparaiso. Then the next challenge comes in the form of an ACC/B10 challenge game with the Miami Hurricanes. The ‘Canes are good but reliant on transfers. Assuming the Crossroads classic takes place, a matchup with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
This could provide opportunities for the Boilers to battle three ACC squads. Not too shabby. Finally, a tilt with the Sycamores of Indiana State could provide one last chance to tune up before the train really leaves the station.
There really is not a way to cover just how crazy the Big Ten can be year in and year out. The top of the conference is among the best in the country. Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan State may seem unbeatable, but the Big Ten is an “any given day” type conference. Getting hot could mean getting an upset. In the middle of the conference is a glut of teams. IU, Michigan, Rutgers, Minnesota, all seem great in some regard and have black holes in others.
This is the place where the Boilers could shine. They stuck it to rival IU twice last year, and on any given night could dispatch an Iowa or Michigan State with ease. Once conference play begins, it should be easier to tell just how the middle of the Big Ten will play out, but the Boilermakers will be chugging along. The cast they have is definitely designed to do it.
The Boilermaker crew may have lost a few players, but the drive to compete continues. Among the returning players that will get more attention this year are Isaiah Thompson and Sasha Stefanovic. Thompson is a stalwart guard, while the shooting of Stefanovic will only go up from last year’s squad. Then there is the question mark of Aaron Wheeler, who only played nine games but is expected to become more of an everyday starter. Throw in a forward/guard like Eric Hunter, Jr., and his 10.6 points per game last year into the mix, and you have a class that will only improve from there. New blood also may get the wheels turning for the Boilermakers
The freshmen class is a mix of new and old. After redshirting the 2019-20 season, a big recruit is ready to play. Brandon Newman was a talent at Valparaiso High School, and Boiler fans hope that the dynamic scoring he was known for continues with the four years of eligibility left.
Next comes the three-star man of mystery that may help the Boilers with the black hole on their roaster. A three-star recruit from IMG Academy, Zach Edey may use all seven-foot-four of his frame to help the team solve its issues at the center position. It may not be the most exciting class, but it could fill the holes and some key positions.
The Boiler already has made in-roads to next season, as Caleb Furst and Trey Kauffman are already on board for the 2021 campaign. Furst and Hoffman are forwards, but the Boilermakers have that spot covered this season.
Much like their rivals down the road, the Boilermakers have one player on the Big Ten Preseason Team. Trevion Williams was honorable mention All-Big Ten last year. This year, he will want more. After averaging 11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds last year, Williams will be even bigger for the team this year. A tenacious team player who had eight double-doubles last year, Williams very well could be the trendsetter for the team, perhaps even the heart and soul of a team, as he battles players like Luka Garza, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Kofi Cockburn, and others night in and night out in the Big Ten. A solid junior year is surely in store for Williams. But what can be said of the conductor of the Boilers?
In a school known for engineering marvels, it would be remiss not to include Matt Painter on that list. Painter has kept on the traditions that made Purdue basketball carry on strong after Gene Keady. And that will not stop when the expectations have tapered a little. Painter coaches with intensity and accountability and may have to chance things up a little bit to keep the Boilers on track to play at a high level.
Painter will do what is best for his team, and maybe that means temporarily putting the bread and butter of Purdue, the hulking center, on the back burner for now. In the middle of the very competitive conference, look for Painter to rally his team every single night, and do not be surprised by an occasional upset.
With no full schedule at this time, it would be hard to speculate on a record. Purdue is usually placed in the 8-10 place range of the Big Ten. However, do not think it’s a moonshot for the Boilermakers to aim even higher.