As I discussed in the first article in breaking down the schedule game-by-game, Purdue should be 5-0 by the time it heads to Orlando at the end of November for the Old Spice Classic. The first five games are simply way too easy and Purdue has too much talent to expect anything less. They are games where all the new parts, like the three freshmen and transfers Errick Peck and Sterling Carter can mesh with the returning players.
The season begins in earnest on November 28 with the Old Spice Classic, where Purdue plays probably the best team it will face in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
November 28 vs. Oklahoma State in Orlando - The Cowboys are the first team that Purdue will play that was in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. They were the No. 5 seed in the Midwest region, but got upset in the first round by Oregon, who made a run to the Sweet 16. After finishing 24-9 they have to feel like there is some unfinished business going into 2013-14.
OSU was a very good team last year. They won at Kansas and lost to the Jayhawks in double overtime at home by one. Kansas State beat them in two out of three games while the worst loss was to either Iowa State or at Virginia Tech.
Oklahoma State will be a good team again thanks to Marcus Smart, who was a consensus lottery pick but decided to return for another year in Stillwater. He averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. Le'Bryan Nash, Phil Forte, and Markel Brown all return as double-digit scorers to make OSU a likely top 15 team to start the season. Should Purdue find a way to win, this will be a definite bonus on the postseason resume.
November 29 vs. Butler or Washington State in Orlando - Should Purdue get past its first round opponent the second round game will likely be much easier. Butler suffered two major blows in the offseason when Roosevelt Jones was lost to a wrist injury and Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics. Still, they parlayed their double Final Fours into a major conference invite and they are no a Big East team. They are also a school used to coaching turnover and still finding success. Though Butler was in the NCAA Tournament last season they are likely headed for a bit of a down year, especially after losing Jones. Give them another year and they will be solid again.
As for Washington State, that also should be a win. The Cougars were 13-19 last season and finished last in the Pac-12 at only 4-14. They had some moments like falling to Gonzaga by two and beating UCLA, but as we saw in March, both of those teams were highly overrated. They also lost 6'10" Australian center Brock Motum, who was their best player by far.
December 1 vs. Siena, Memphis, LSU, or St. Joseph's in Orlando - I think we can likely eliminate Siena as a possible opponent, because they are most likely the weakest team in the tournament and would be in the 7th place game, thus Purdue would only play them for a second time if the Boilers lost both previous games. That leaves Memphis, LSU, or St. Joseph's as the third and final opponent at the Old Spice Classic. All three have benefits in terms of strength of schedule.
Memphis is likely the best team, as they went 31-6 and rolled to a perfect 19-0 record against Conference USA, but were only a No. 6 seed in the NCAAs. They were knocked out in the second round with a loss to Michigan State. They were a good team that lost pretty much any time they played another good team last year, and that included a loss at Xavier, whom Purdue played well.
LSU was 19-12 and was probably the best team in the country that did not play in a postseason tournament. They also brought in a solid recruiting class that included Jarrell martin, the No. 11 player in the country, and Jordan Mickey, the No. 38 player. All told,t hey had three Top 100 recruits according to ESPN, and this is LSU basketball, which hasn't been significant since Shaq was playing.
St. Joseph's is your perpetual decent mid-major. They were 18-14 last season and because they play in a decent conference (Atlantic 10) they have a good shot of making the tournament. Langston Galloway is their top returning scorer.
December 4 vs. Boston College - Purdue comes home from Orlando for its annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge game. After winning on the road at Clemson last year the Boilers will host Boston College in a critical swing game for the Big Ten. Purdue's surprise win helped the conference hold on to the trophy last year, and the Boilers can get a fifth straight win in the event. The four straight wins for Purdue is the longest active streak for a team from either conference, tied with Illinois.
Boston College is 6-1 all-time in the Challenge with their lone loss coming in 2011 at home against Penn State. They were 16-17 last season and hovers pretty close to .500 all season long. They beat the same Clemson team that Purdue beat twice and had a late loss at home to Duke by a point.
Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson are both back as their top scorers. Anderson gives them a solid 6'9" post player to build around, while Hanlan is a near 40% three-point shooter. Given that this game is in Mackey Arena, Purdue should be favored.
December 7 vs. Eastern Michigan - This was Purdue's worst loss last year. The Boilers, who were defensively deficient all year, gave up only 47 points and still lost thanks to abysmal shooting. Purdue was 29.8% from the field, 60% at the line, and had 18 turnovers to lose to a very bad MAC team.
Derek Thompson was their leading scorer in that game with only eight points. This was one of the worst scoring teams in the nation last year at only 56.6 points per game, ranking 339th out of 347 teams. They still somehow got to 16-18 and were 7-9 in the MAC.
December 14 vs. Butler at Bankers Life Fieldhouse - Purdue is the only team of the four in Indiana that is 0-2 in the new Crossroads Classic, which is on for a third season this year. Since Purdue and Indiana play only once in Big Ten play I don't understand why the organizer don't make it Butler vs. Notre Dame and Indiana vs. Purdue, but we're in a situation where we may play Butler twice and Indiana only once.
As mentioned above, the Bulldogs had some major losses in the offseason including top scorer Rotnei Clarke. Khyle Marshall will be asked to do more, but this is a young team getting adjusted to a new, young coach. They are still a dangerous team because they are going to play tough, fundamental basketball and won't beat themselves. We only need to remember our game with them two years ago, when Purdue completely melted down in the final 10 minutes, as an example of how we can lose to a rebuilding Butler team.
December 17 vs. Maryland Eastern Shore - This is a very, very bad team from one of the lowest rated conferences in the country. Purdue should be able to win with ease even if we started Neal Beshears, Anfernee Brown (a new walk-on), and Stephen Toyra. They were a dismal 2-26 last season with only a double overtime win over Coppin State and a win over Delaware State.
Somehow, they were worse than even Eastern Michigan in scoring. They averaged 54.8 points per game, good for 344th nationally and ahead of only Grambling State, Howard, and Northern Illinois. They were 347th in shooting from the field at a dismal 35.7%, which was the worst in the country.
Any loss in this game would be catastrophic.
December 22 at West Virginia - Purdue's final non-conference game comes as its only true road game outside of Big Ten play. Purdue and West Virginia agree to play four times in five years starting with that memorable New Year's Day 2010 game that looked like it could be a Final Four preview. If not for Hummel's injury, it might have been, as Purdue throttled the eventual Final Four-bound Mountaineers.
They were down last year, finishing 13-19 with a pretty young team. That included a 79-52 loss in Mackey Arena that was one of Purdue's best games of the season. While they struggled, they played tough at home in close losses to Kansas State and Kansas.
As for a final analysis, the non-conference schedule looks good for a young team like Purdue's if it wants to gain confidence. It is not particularly home-heavy with five of 13 games either on the road or at a neutral site. It has a nice balance of challenging opponents, but the total heft will only be decided with what Purdue does in Orlando. At the very least, Purdue got a nice break in getting Oklahoma State right off the bat. That is the best team they could have played and they are guaranteed a game against them.
The developments at Butler and the injury to Jones radically shifts expectations as well. If Purdue plays them twice the Boilers should be able to beat them twice. It is not as much of a toss-up as we originally thought.
Just as Purdue should go 5-0 to start, it should have very little trouble with Eastern Michigan, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and any second game against Siena. The toughest game by far is Oklahoma State, with a potential game in Orlando against Memphis or LSU next. Purdue should be favored against Boston College and the road environment at West Virginia will be tough, but Purdue should be the better team.
I think an 11-2 mark heading into non-conference play is very reasonable. Anything else and Purdue is likely sniffing the top 25.