JADEN IVEY (17.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.1 apg)
TREVION WILLIAMS (12.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.0 apg)
SASHA STEFANOVIC (10.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 3.0 apg)
ERIC HUNTER (6.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.0 apg)
DAVID JENKINS JR. (transfer, Utah)
FLETCHER LOYER (freshman, Homestead HS)
BRADEN SMITH (freshman, Westfield HS)
CAMDEN HEIDE (freshman, Wasatch Academy)
WILL BERG (freshman, Sweden)
A year ago, Matt Painter and the Purdue Boilermakers were considered a legit Final Four threat, maybe even national championship material. They had a high-lottery pick in Jaden Ivey, a couple of talented bigs in Trevion Williams and Zach Edey alongside enough quality role players to make a deep tourney run. Instead, they bowed out to Cinderella Saint Peter’s in the Sweet 16. Now, Ivey and Williams are gone. So is veteran Sasha Stefanovic. The two point guards, Eric Hunter Jr. and Isaiah Thompson, both transferred out of the program. As such, it’s a completely different cast for Painter. He still has Edey back in the fold, and there are other returning players who got time a year ago: guys like Mason Gillis, who started 25 games, and Caleb Furst, who started a dozen. Ethan Morton averaged 15 minutes a game. There are also plenty of new faces. Painter and his staff brought in four freshmen, and three should be in the rotation. He brought in a key transfer in well-traveled David Jenkins Jr. (South Dakota State, UNLV, Utah), and Painter also has a couple of guys who redshirted a year ago ready to make an impact. But life without Ivey and Williams will obviously look different. Ivey was electric and could make something out of nothing. Williams could score, rebound and pass out of the post at a high level. Meanwhile, Stefanovic shot 38 percent from deep last season. How do they bounce back?
ROAD TO SUCCESS
Painter loves his frontcourt. The 7-4 Edey, who took up basketball in 2017, only logged 19 minutes a game last season because he couldn’t co-exist on the court with fellow big Williams. Now, Edey should get 30 minutes a night as long as he stays out of foul trouble. “I think he’s an All-American,” Painter said. “One of the best players in the country. And I think our four frontcourt guys are as good collectively as just about anyone’s four up front.” Furst played a lot early last season as a freshman, but then his minutes were cut as the season progressed. The 6-10 sophomore is versatile, can shoot well and should see time at both the 4 and 5 this year. Trey Kaufman-Renn redshirted last season, and the skilled 6-9 forward is another threat to step out and make shots from the perimeter. He’s added strength, so Kaufman-Renn can play both the 4 and the 5 as well. Another freshman, 7-2 Swede Will Berg, likely won’t see much time this season because of Edey, but Painter loves his upside due to his size and ability to stretch the defense. The trio of Edey, Furst and Kaufman-Renn should make Purdue difficult to defend up front. Edey is a monster, and is nearly impossible to stop when he gets the ball in the post. Both Furst and Kaufman-Renn should fare well alongside Edey because of their ability to space the floor. If teams double Edey, they can knock down open shots. If you don’t double Edey, prepare to get scored on inside. While Purdue won’t be able to replace Ivey on the perimeter, the Boilermakers do possess skill and depth at the guard and wing spots. Gillis was a key contributor a year ago, when he started 18 league games, shot a sizzling 45 percent from deep and averaged 6.6 points and 5.0 boards per game. Gillis is the ideal Painter player: he plays hard, defends, can feed Edey in the post and also makes shots. Brandon Newman averaged 8.0 points per game and shot 38 percent from 3 as a redshirt freshman two years ago, but he struggled last season. Painter is hopeful that the 6-5 junior guard can regain the form and just play his role: a shooter who defends and rebounds. Ethan Morton is ultra-versatile and has shown the ability to play and defend multiple positions, from the point to the 4-spot. Morton only averaged 2.4 points last season, but he’s able to make shots from deep, can guard and makes quality decisions with the ball in his hands. True freshman Cam Heide only played three games as a senior at Wasatch Academy due to a foot injury, but Painter expects the 6-6 wing to take on an immediate role due to his size, athleticism and ability to shoot. Redshirt freshman Brian Waddell tore his ACL and MCL last October, but the long and efficient 6-7 son of ex-Purdue grad Craig Waddell should be ready for the start of the season.
Who emerges as the point guards? “There’s uncertainty at the position,” Painter admitted. “But it’s not that we don’t have people who can do it. It’s just we haven’t seen it from them yet.” Purdue went after guys in the transfer portal. Nijel Pack (Miami) and Tyrese Hunter (Texas) took the NIL bags and went elsewhere. Now, Painter may have to rely on freshmen to run the team. Braden Smith is an in-state kid who is tough, can really pass and possesses all the intangibles. But he’s a freshman and is also coming off a couple of significant foot injuries. The hope is that Smith can shoulder the load. The backup plan is using the versatile junior Morton, plus Jenkins and another frosh, Fletcher Loyer, in a playmaking-by-committee strategy. Morton is a jack-of-all-trades guy while Jenkins has been a scorer his entire college career, so it may be difficult to transform his mentality at this point. Loyer is also more of a scorer than a facilitator. That means the key to the team could be the play of Smith. A year ago, the point guard position wasn’t exactly a strength, but Purdue had enough high-caliber players to make up for the deficiencies. This season, Smith and the other point guards will have shooters and Edey down low — but there isn’t a playmaker like Ivey. That’s the question besides point guard play for this group. Who steps forward and can get a bucket with the shot clock running down or with the game on the line?
Jenkins spent his first two seasons at South Dakota State and averaged 19.7 points as a sophomore. After sitting out a year, he put up 14.8 points in the Mountain West for UNLV before having his worst offensive campaign a year ago — just 8.5 points per game at Utah. Jenkins has shot 41 percent from downtown in his career and has been known as a scorer. The biggest question for him this season is whether he can morph into a true combo guard and fill a significant void: a veteran guard who can run the team at times. “He’s the wild card for us,” Painter said. “I don’t want to take away his ability to score, but we need someone to be able to shore up some point guard responsibilities.”
It’s difficult not to have confidence that Painter will figure it out, even after losing three of his top four scorers from a team that went 29-8 overall and was ranked No. 1 in the country at one time. The Boilermakers have gone to the NCAA Tournament seven straight years, and 13 of the past 15 seasons. But it’s also tough to win without a high-level point guard or a big-time playmaker. Sure, the Boilermakers have one of the best big men in the country — but it’s not 1990, or even 2010. Bigs just don’t hold the same value anymore, especially 7-4 bigs who don’t do much damage away from the basket. The good news for Purdue is that they have some nice pieces, plenty of depth and Matt Painter. But it’s difficult to see the Boilermakers as much more than a first-weekend NCAA Tournament team unless Smith (or someone else) establishes himself as an upper-tier Big Ten point guard.