Top 25 Countdown: #18 Purdue

Rotation

G P.J. Thompson (Jr.)

G Dakota Mathias (Jr.)

F Vince Edwards (Jr.)

F Caleb Swanigan (So.)

C Isaac Haas (Jr.)

Bench

G Spike Albrecht (Sr.)

F Jacquil Taylor (So.)

G Carsen Edwards (Fr.)

G Ryan Cline (So.)

F Basil Smotherman (Jr.)

Before the season started last year, I was convinced that Purdue, after a five year absence from the national and Big Ten Conference forefront, was prepared to return to the precipice. To plant that black and gold flag with the big P at the top of the mountain next to the most recent one, somewhat tattered, but still standing proud, with Hummel, Moore, and Johnson still visibly traced into the hardened dirt by a since deceased stick. But the deities of the college basketball postseason are undeniably whimsical and omnipotent. Two seasons ago, their year culminated in a devastating late second half collapse in an 8/9 game against Cincinnati that resulted in an overtime loss. Last season they finished the season fourth in the Big Ten Conference, and rode their success all the way to the Big Ten Tournament title game where they would fall to March’s perpetual darling, Michigan State. But still, they looked primed. Primed to conceivably end an Elite Eight drought that not even the teams of the late 2000s were able to rectify. Alas, that would not happen, and it would not happen in a way that superseded even the 2015 result in the disappointment it wrought. A 5 seed in the Midwest, they drew a very good Arkansas Little Rock team. However, with just 5 minutes to go in the game, the Boilermakers were up by 14 and appeared to have already punched their ticket to the next round. Their win probability approached 100%. The fat lady was warming up her voice. And then it started again. The implosion. Now see, the 2015-16 Purdue Boilermakers had been blessed with three NBA-caliber seven footers. Three. Like that’s not a thing that college basketball teams have. And they couldn’t get them the ball late in regulation or in either of the overtime sessions. When Little Rock went up tempo, fourteen feet went off the floor. But, well, the only problem was that guys like point guard, P.J. Thompson became damn near unplayable. And it also didn’t help that Josh Hagins was kissed by the basketball gods. In spite of all of this, the Boilermakers finished last season with a top 20 offense and a top 15 offense. And even though they are forced to absorb the loss of second round pick, A.J. Hammons, they are uniquely equipped to do exactly that. So maybe this year is the year.

The absorption effort begins and ends with sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan and junior behemoth, Isaac Haas. Ostensibly the most highly regarded recruit in the history of the program, Swanigan exhibited incredible prowess on the glass as a freshman, particularly on the defensive end, where he finished first in the conference in rebounding rate. Furthermore, he proved to be an effective and efficient scorer inside the arc, while also showing flashes that he might be able to extend his production past it. And while his usage remained relatively consistent throughout much of his freshman year, the loss of Hammons will necessitate that he assume a much larger burden of the scoring, and consequently, his ability to fulfill his new, purportedly go-to role is one of the most significant questions underlying Purdue’s success this season. He will be paired in the frontcourt with with 7’2″ center, Isaac Haas, who although is admittedly somewhat limited athletically, is a freaking large human being. A per-minute stud in his time on the court a year ago, Haas combines his size with surprising touch around the basket in a way that at least somewhat alleviates pressure on his decided lack of mobility. Nevertheless, even though his role on defense can almost exclusively be limited to rim protection, it is assuredly a vulnerability that can be exploited by opposing offenses. Completing the frontcourt is 6’8″ junior, Vince Edwards, who might very well be the best all-around Boilermaker. Pressed into even greater ballhandling duties a season ago during a point guard search that did not look entirely kindly on either Thompson or Johnny Hill, Edwards has led Purdue in assists each of the last two seasons. Versatile and extremely skilled, Edwards is not only a proficient passer of the basketball, but is also one of Purdue’s best at creating extra possessions on the offensive glass, and is also an efficient scorer. Furthermore, and maybe most importantly for Purdue’s 2016-17 success, is that Edwards improved nearly nine percentage points from beyond the arc from his freshman to his sophomore year, from 32% to almost 41. If that kind of shotmaking can sustain itself throughout the course of this coming year, his Swiss Army Knife game will be all that more dangerous.

The backcourt however is enigmatic. Junior Dakota Mathias is the most likely candidate to start at shooting guard. A much improved player on offense his sophomore season, Mathias became one of Purdue’s and the Big Ten’s more consistent threats from 3, shooting nearly 42% in conference play. Last season, he also often operated as a secondary ball handler, proving adept at taking care of the ball. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen exactly how his production will be affected by his decidedly larger role, especially when he will be counted on even more to make shots in lieu of the departure of the self proclaimed perpetual green light of Kendall Stephens. The shotmaking of sophomore Ryan Cline will also be integral to the development of the Boilermakers on the perimeter, and even more importantly, to the alleviation of interior pressure on Swanigan and Haas. P.J. Thompson will ostensibly get the first opportunity to be the starting point guard. Diminutive and far from a natural playmaker, Thompson still did have the third highest offensive rating of any player in the country a season ago and shot a likely irreplicable 47% from 3 in conference play. And while he did flash the ability to effectively initiate and lead an offense, he can be somewhat of a liability on defense, and was a partial impetus to the Boilermaker collapse in the tournament. Fortunately, there might just be a star waiting in the wings. Four star freshman Carsen Edwards appears equipped to fulfill and even transcend the lead guard vacancy in West Lafayette – a void that has not been capably filled since the days of Lewis Jackson and Chris Kramer. Edwards has already impressed in preseason action overseas, and he already looks like an explosive scorer that could become Purdue’s secret weapon and more, sooner rather than later.

Namedrop Corner

spike1

Michael Joseph Albrecht

We had just come back from the under 16 TV timeout. The CBS cameras flashed first to C-Webb and Jalen in the crowd, a partial resurrection of the Fab Five. The pinnacle of Michigan basketball. Or so we thought. They were maize and blue mythology, heroes in basketball shorts and Nikes. Pushed into obscurity is ostensibly something they thought they would never be. We get a quick glimpse of the Wolverine set out of the timeout before the camera turns to star point guard Trey Burke who had just come out of the game. He nods his head. About what, we don’t know, but it was like he knew something. A secret Joe Couch Potato could not even begin to conceptualize.  15:00. Sauce Castillo with the ball on the left wing. Maybe it was some subtle ode to the anonymity he had previously reveled in, but no Louisville Cardinal seemed to recognize that there was someone wide open in the corner. Almost like he was some sort of spectre. And then… HERE’S ALBRECHT. Corner pocket. 13:09. Off a Russ Smith miss, Tim Hardaway pushed the ball up the floor and found, well… ALBRECHT, CAN HE DO IT AGAIN? The answer, once again, was yes. Yet, it still seemed like some sort of mirage, like a narrative already becoming so dangerously close to Disney sports movie that it couldn’t possibly be real. It still felt impossible to genuinely comprehend what was happening, because it wasn’t clear what exactly was happening. Backpedaling down the court, screaming LET’S FUCKING GO. Jim’s Nantz’s voice getting louder and louder seemed to approximate the intensification of the moment, but it still wasn’t really helping. 12:04. This time, an absolute bomb, early in the shot clock. UNBELIEVABLE. UNREAL. Jim trying his very best to articulate the inarticulable. 5:59. This, the most YOU HAVE TO SHITTING ME three of them all. And yet, sports are cruel. Sometimes, moments are just that. They succumb to the timelessness of narrative, but oftentimes ephemerality afflicts. And in that moment, Michael Joseph Albrecht was the biggest star on his sport’s biggest night. His aspirations changed. A date with Kate Upton seemed within reach. Make me like Mike became make me like Spike. Until it was over. Memory isn’t maize and blue. It’s just a maze.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s