Let's just get two things out of the way if you're a little hesitant to read this. First, it still stings. We're all still in pain together on this one after the Boilermakers shocking first round loss to Little Rock in the 2016 Madness tourney. Secondly, while some may think it's too soon, we have to move on and look ahead to 2017. So whether you're ready to or not, let's try to peer over this mountain of hurt and see how bright the light is at the end of the tunnel.
Although we're still a little under one year away, most sports betting sites are taking Duke at +500 to win it all. Purdue, however, is tied with Texas A&M and Maryland at +3000 odds to win, which means two things - First, they are favored to return to the Sweet Sixteen. And secondly, they are still considered a very dangerous group. Nobody doubts that this crew can return to the Big Ten championship and then some, although they will have a few massive holes to fill along the way. Undoubtedly, the biggest will be replacing A.J. Hammons. The big center led the team last season with 15.0 Points Per Game and 2.5 Blocks Per Game. They'll also have to find a new fit at the guard spot for Raphael Davis. The two seniors are moving on and replacing them will be a bit of a gradual process.
The likely fit for Hammons will be Isaac Haas. The now Junior 7'2 300lb giant, will finally get his chance to fully spread his wings. He still averaged 9.8 PPG off the bench last season and will now be given the keys to the Boilermaker truck on a full-time basis. The replacement search for Davis' nearly 30 minutes per night will be a little tougher.
The good news is there will be quite a few candidates vying for that starting role. Basil Smotherman and Dakota Mathias are the most likely candidates, while 2015 three-star recruit Ryan Cline will likely join in off the bench.
So now that the roster is figured out, let's take a look at Purdue's biggest threats next season (fully assuming we'll likely never see that miracle Little Rock bunch again):
1. Wisconsin Badgers - 2015-16 Sweet Sixteen finalist
Purdue dropped the Badgers twice last season each by an average of 8.5 points. Wisconsin is not as big a threat as people give them credit for. They narrowly won their early tournament games by a mere 3.5 points before being kicked out by Notre Dame.
2. Indiana Hoosiers - 2015-16 Sweet Sixteen finalist
We only played them once last year and lost 77-73. However, that team will look substantially different than the one we'll see this season. Their best player and leader Yogi Ferrell has graduated, so they'll need to find someone else to replace his 35 minutes and 17 PPG.
3. Maryland Terrapins - 2015-16 Sweet Sixteen finalist
Purdue went 1-1 against Maryland over a three-week span last February. The Terps came out in game one strong and put up an 11-point win, despite A.J. Hammons leading the game in both points and rebounds. The second game was all Purdue as Hammons again led the way to a 4-point win. The Terps also lose two grads from their starting 5 in Jake Layman and Rasheed Sulaimon.
4. Michigan State Spartans - 2015-16 First Round knockout
Purdue's loss to Little Rock was bad, but the world truly felt Michigan State getting bounced by a 15-seed. The Spartans went 1-1 against the Boilers during the season and barely took us out by four in the Big Ten final. The Spartans also lose their top three players to graduation in Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and
Matt Costello. Deyonta Davis is also heading to the NBA Draft and Marvin Clark is transferring to St. John's.
So with the Spartans Big Ten locomotive being derailed this coming season, this conference is wide open. The Boilermakers are among the elite now and can't afford to waste this opportunity. This could even be a benchmark-building year, as most of the team's top 5 will be entering their senior season in 2017-18.
This upcoming campaign needs to be a step in the right direction. Given the easy fits into the holes left by the graduating seniors though, and the depleting roster of our opponents - Purdue is already off to a great start.