Without much to write about today and a bye week coming up it is time to look a little more in depth at the Purdue basketball schedule. Since we know the football schedule years in advance it is easy to do those previews over the summer. With basketball it is a little more tricky. The Big Ten takes awhile to release its schedule and Purdue often does not announce the non-conference portion until mid-summer.
There has been little analysis about the upcoming schedule, so over the next week, with the football team on bye, I'll try to provide some thoughts. First, let's look at the first five games of the year, which should allow the Boilers to get off to a 5-0 start for the first time since 2010-11.
11/8/2013 vs. Northern Kentucky - Purdue begins the season with five straight games against smaller conference opponents at home. The first of those games is against the Northern Kentucky Norse, who are playing just their second full season at the Division I level. They have already scored a small recruiting by getting Kokomo's Tayler Persons to come on board in the class of 2014.
Last season was a rough one for the Norse, as expected of a new D-1 program. They were 11-16, but went 9-9 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Their only non-conference wins were over Hampton and Navy, while the only game against a major conference foe was against Ohio State, a 70-43 loss.
They lost their best player in Eshaunte Jones, who was committed to Indiana before Kelvin Sampson set fire to the program, then to Oregon State before playing at Nebraska and transferring to NKU. As for the program itself, the Norse were twice an NCAA Runner-up in Division II, as they lost in the title game in 1996 and 1997.
This should be a game that Purdue wins with ease. Even with a vastly different roster due to transfers and incoming freshmen Purdue will likely have a major size advantage with A.J. Hammons, Jay Simpson, Travis Carroll, and Donnie Hale. The Norse may be building something nice for the future, but they are still a transitional program that isn't even eligible for the NCAA Tournament last. A loss would be among the worst in program history.
11/13/2013 vs. Central Connecticut State - I must say that if Purdue's first two opponents at home were Kentucky and Connecticut instead of their directional little brothers it would create quite a bit of buzz. Instead, Purdue gets a Northeast Conference team that would fight to avoid the play-in games if it made the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils were 13-17 last year and 9-9 in the Northeast Conference. They have made the NCAA Tournament three times in their history, losing all three games in 2000, 2002, and 2007. They were led last season by Kyle Vinales, a 6'1" guard who was a possible transfer in the spring before he decided to return for his junior season. He is an excellent scorer at 21.6 points per game and he shot 36% from long range. Matt Hunter also averaged 15.7 points and 7.7 rebounds, but he is their best post player at only 6'5".
CCSU does not have a single player over 6'7" on the roster, meaning this should be another game where Purdue will be able to do what it wants, when it wants to in the post. The Blue Devils last had a winning record in 2010-11 when they went 19-12 but lost in the semifinals of their conference tournament.
Like NKU, this is not a game in which Purdue should be challenged.
11/17/2013 vs. Rider
This should be the first game in which Purdue might face a small challenge. Rider was a postseason team last year, reaching the second round of the CIT tournament, which is an exclusively low-to-mid-major tournament. Overall the Broncs were a respectable 19-15 and went 12-6 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. They did this despite being one of the lowest scoring teams in the country and ranking 320th in assists.
Like CCSU, Rider is 0-3 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, making it in 1984, 1993, and 1994. Their major conference games last year were 12 point losses at South Carolina and Rutgers. They are a decent and balanced low major that returns many of their better players. Because the MAAC is a one-bid league, this might be an NCAA team if they continue to play well together.
Anthony Myles is their top returning scorer, but again, they lack size. Their two tallest players are transfers that will not be eligible until the 2014-15 season. Also, this should be a game in which Ronnie Johnson and Bryson Scott can put on a show of assists. They were a good defensive team, so this is a chance for Purdue to play against a solid defense and see what happens.
11/20/2013 vs. Eastern Illinois
It seems as if Purdue cannot get out of a season without playing a directional Illinois. Last year it was Western. The year before that we played Northern in the Mackey rededication game. The year before that it was a game against Southern in a tournament in Chicago.
Eastern Illinois was a bad team in the low level Ohio Valley Conference last year. This league is often the domain of Murray State. Last year featured a 12-game losing streak, but the ugliest game was a 59-56 loss to non-D1 Rochester College. The lone highlight was a 79-70 win over Murray State, who just missed a second straight NCAA Tournament.
EIU has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2001. Their only other appearance was in 1992 when they lost in the opening round to a Final Four-bound Indiana. Purdue should have a field day on the glass as EIU was 328th nationally in rebounding and 314th in scoring at barely over 60 points per game.
Jay Simpson will likely see a familiar face in this game. Simpson played in high school at Champaign Central in Illinois, while 6'8" forward Josh Piper played for crosstown rival Champaign Centennial. Aside from that, the Panthers are a bad OVC team that should present Purdue with little actual challenge.
11/24/2013 vs. Siena
The fifth and final home game in the opening stretch comes against a team we could see again at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. The NCAA rules allow for four games in an exempt tournament like the Old Spice, so Purdue was able to take on a home game against Siena that counts as part of the Old Spice Classic even if it is not part of the tournament as a whole. Depending on how the tournament goes, we could see them again in Orlando.
Siena has fallen hard since Iowa hired away Fran McCaffery. They were one of the worst scoring teams in Division I last year at 60 points per game, good for 324th overall. They were only 8-24 and 4-14 in the MAAC. One of their few wins was over Northern Kentucky.
Just four years ago the Saints were an NCAA team and a serious threat to make some noise. In the 2009 Tournament they knocked off Ohio State in the first round before pushing No. 1 seed Louisville in round 2. The next year they were the trendy 27-6 pick that was supposed to knock off Purdue in a 4/13 game after Robbie Hummel went down. The Boilers won by 8, and that was the last time they were anywhere close to the national radar.
I don't think we can expect much more because of what was lost from a team that wasn't that good in the first place. Forward O.D. Anosike averaged a double-double, but graduated. Rob Poole and Evan Hymes are their top returning scorers, but there are seven freshmen on the roster for 2013-14. Steven Cruz is the lone senior and he is a walk-on, so this is a very young and inexperienced team. Like the other four games here, this should be an easy win.
Overall, Purdue has a lot of talent, so much so that anything less than a convincing 5-0 against this opening slate would be very disappointing. It is not so much that we're playing five low major teams, it is that we're playing five bad low major teams in the first five games. Among them, Rider is the only one that has been anywhere close to good in the past few seasons. They still aren't as good as the Bucknell team that stunned Purdue in Mackey to start last season.
The bulk of Purdue's non-conference schedule heft will come from the Old Spice Classic and games against Boston College, Butler, and West Virginia. These five teams will be lucky to be above 200 in the RPI at the end of the season, so any loss would be an anchor to Purdue's NCAA profile.