While last season was purposely billed to be somewhat of a rebuilding year for the Boilermakers, this year is built to be the year where the Boilermakers take the stride into being a legitimate National Championship threat. The Boilermakers had one of the youngest teams in the sport, which led them to some early-season struggles, but as the season went about, they developed and were playing as one of the best teams in the sport heading into the NCAA Tournament. Although they eventually lost to North Texas, the groundwork was laid for the future. The big key in the offseason was returning Trevion Williams and Jaden Ivey, who were both playing great basketball late in the season. Now the question is whether this is the Boilermakers team ready to lead them to the Final Four for the first time since 1980.
Down low, Trevion Williams will continue to have a major impact on the low post, as he really emerged as one of the top players in the Big Ten a season ago and should improve this season. Williams is a 6’10 bruising forward that is an efficient low post scorer, high-level rebounder, and is a great passer out of the post. Williams will get the ball on a lot of possessions and he’ll be able to score at an efficient enough rate that he will be able to contend for an All-American spot.
Also contending for a spot on that All-American list will be Jaden Ivey, who was a great piece later in the season. Ivey is a 6’4 guard that can play both on and off the ball, although he primarily will play off the ball. Ivey was inefficient as a shooter for much of last season but really came on during mid-January. Ivey is a good scorer, athlete, and defender, who will undeniably have a big impact on this team. Now the question is whether he’s ready to take the next step into being a potential All-American, as he certainly has the potential to be one this season.
Next to Ivey at the starting guard spots will be Eric Hunter Jr and Sasha Stefanovic, who each play an important role for this team. Hunter will play the point for this team, the 6’4 guard provides stability at the lead guard spot, he is a solid passer, while not a great shooter, he can shoot and make it from beyond the arc, and the biggest thing about Hunter is that he is an absolutely stout defender, who makes opponents best guards have a tough night. While Sasha Stefanovic is not really good at anything but being a three-point shooter, that one strength is a major factor for this roster, as Stefanovic is one of the premier shooters in College Basketball.
The Boilermakers also have a really good collection of forwards/ bigs to have either round out the starting-5/ come off the bench. Zach Edey is maybe one of the most overrated players in the sport, as he most certainly is not an All-American candidate as some have suggested, but that doesn’t mean he’s not very good. The 7’4 big man is a good interior scorer, shot-blocker, and rebounder, who will probably play reserve minutes when Williams exits (no, you can’t play them together, that’s a floor-spacing nightmare). Mason Gillis represents a solid four-man for this team, he’s a decent shooter, solid rebounder, while being a plus defender, while not a huge offensive threat, he will make shots when defenses forget about him. Caleb Furst may be the option at the 5 long-term, the four-star recruit looks to be a good option at the four, as he’s a good shooter, plus has high-level athleticism.
Off the bench, Brandon Newman looks to be a key piece for this roster in a sixth-man role. Newman is a good shooter, which will make him a key piece at a bare minimum, but what can allow him to move back towards being a starter will be consistency. Isaiah Thompson will have some role as a bench guard, he’s a decent shooter and passer, but lacks the dynamic ability to be anything more than a role player.
The Boilermakers are essentially running it back from a team that finished fifth in a loaded Big Ten and ended up being a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament, which means that the floor is pretty high for this Purdue roster, and I think they get monumentally better this season. For starters, with a freshman-dominated roster, as they were a season ago, a slow start was always going to happen, as there was no real offseason and they were playing in unusual circumstances. Add to that the fact that Purdue was a team that improved greatly throughout the season and was playing some of their best basketball heading into the NCAA Tournament. While losing to North Texas is less than ideal, I think that speaks more to the flukiness of the Tournament than anything. The other thing that has me excited was the improvement that Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey showed during the FIBA U-19 games where Ivey led Team USA in scoring, while Edey was much improved and showed some diversity to his game.
Coming into this season, the Boilermakers have a lot of things going in their favor. Adding another year of continuity will always help a team develop, especially one that was as young as last year’s team was. The question lies with Jaden Ivey really becoming a star, as he certainly has the potential to be one. Ivey really needs to be able to be a dynamic scorer, while being a more consistent three-point threat as well in order to unlock this team’s full potential. Should that happen, the Boilermakers will be in a prime position to win the Big Ten Championship and make a run in March as well. Should Ivey and the rest of the freshmen fail to develop, that is where this team goes from being a title contender to being just another good basketball team from the Big Ten.
PG: Eric Hunter Jr
SG: Jaden Ivey
SF: Sasha Stefanovic
PF: Mason Gillis
C: Trevion Williams
B1: Zach Edey
B2: Brandon Newman
B3: Caleb Furst
B4: Isaiah Thompson