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The Majesty of Caleb Swanigan

Through 16 games Caleb Swanigan has simply been a machine for Purdue.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, it is another fawning piece over how good Caleb Swanigan is. I have written a couple of fawning pieces lately on the likes of P.J. Thompson and Dakota Mathias, but its time to observe the majesty that is Caleb Swanigan. The sophomore is putting up some historic numbers. ESPN recently put out a midseason primer for the Wooden Award and he was listed as one of the top 10 players in the nation. NBC Sports had him listed as a midseason First Team All-American, something that if it holds to the end of the year, it will get him immortalized in the rafters of Mackey Arena. He would be Purdue’s First team All-American since JaJuan Johnson and he would be Purdue’s 27th consensus All-American.

At this point we are taking for granted what he is doing. Last night was his 13th double-double of the season. He’s been a machine. You go in each night knowing that a 15 and 10 is coming from him. Anything else is where something special happens. Last night he grabbed the game’s most important rebound and had the game-winning free throw. Even in that, his 16 and 11 was pretty mundane. When you go for 20/20 in three of the previous four games a 16 and 11 expected, if not anti-climactic, and that is absurd.

So let’s delve into some of the numbers:

12.9 rebounds per game

Currently, Caleb is second nationally in rebounds per game. Rokas Gustys, a 6’9” junior at Hofstra leads him slightly at 13.1 per game. Gustys has games of 23 and 25 rebounds, but has been under 10 four times. Swanigan has games of 22, 21, 20, and 20 boards and has been under 10 only twice (8 vs. Villanova, 9 vs. Morehead State). Swanigan grabs everything, and it is a credit to his insane work ethic. Here is what he had to say about rebounding:

“I don’t look at it as me competing against them for rebounds. It’s just me going after every single one. It’s a competition with nine other players on the floor. It’s not just the other team. It’s everybody.”

If the ball is loose, he wants it. That is the perfect Purdue mentality. It has paid off with four 20 rebound games this season. That’s enough to put him second on the school list for 20 rebound games behind Dischinger’s 9. Dischinger had six such games during the 1962 season, so Caleb needs two more to tie that, and this is in an era when there are far fewer rebounds to go around than over 50 years ago. Oh, and he is only the third Purdue player to have consecutive 20 rebound games.

What other records are up for grabs? Well, no Purdue player had as many as 20 rebounds in a game since William Franklin in 1972. Caleb has done it four times. The record for rebounds in a game is 27 by Carl McNulty in 1951. His 16 defensive rebounds against Minnesota was a school record for a single game.

Last season Caleb had 282 rebounds, good for 11th in a single season in school history. He already has 206 this year. Joe Barry Carroll holds the record with 352 during the 1978-79 season. With at minimum 17 games left Caleb should obliterate that record.

13 Double-doubles

Swnaigan is a human double-double. It is going to happen in every game. Purdue has played 16 games and Swanigan has had a double-double in all of them except Villanova, Morehead State, and Arizona State. He has increased his shooting percentage from 46.1% to 54.6%. He has increased his 3-point shooting (yes, you have to guard him even out there) from 29.2% to 40% while taking fewer shots. He has gotten better at the line (71.3% to 77.1%) and is even averaging one more assist per game.

Caleb picks his spots too. Perhaps the biggest play from last night came with 1:24 left and Purdue leading only 72-71. He drew a double-team and threw a perfect pass back out to a wide open P.J. Thompson, who buried a gigantic three-pointer to push the lead to four.

“The last time they got me on a jump ball, but I knew it was going to come so I waited on it. I threw it out to PJ and it was a good shot.”

In the intensity of a Big Ten game he had the state of mind to remember “hey, these guys doubled me last time. I will sit here and welcome it.” It is that mentality that makes me a believe a triple-double is in his future. Purdue has not had a triple-double since Joe Barry Carroll had 16 points, 16 rebounds, and 11 blocks against Arizona on December 10, 1977.

That is the only one in school history.

Back to double-doubles for the moment: Caleb leads the nation in them. He has 13 on the year and the school record for them in a season is 18 held by Glenn Robinson, Frank Kendrick, and Terry Dischinger (he had 18 three times). Caleb could break that before January ends. Last year he only had 8 all season, so he is up to 21 for his career. For perspective, Robbie Hummel only had 20. Caleb is now 15th on the school list for double-doubles. The record of 54 by Dischinger is likely safe unless Swanigan returns for his junior season, but getting 35 total to get to third behind Dischinger and Carroll is definitely possible.

Caleb has also gotten a double-double in seven consecutive games now. The school record is 12, so if he breaks the season record before the end of January he will also have the record for consecutive ones. It is a great relief knowing that a single guy is going to give you 15 and 10 each night regardless of opponent.

Finally, you look at the 20/20 games. He has four of them this season. The rest of college basketball combined, that’s 350 other teams, has three. His 32/20 against Norfolk State was the first 30/20 game for a Purdue player since Bob Ford in 1971 and only the 7th in school history. There have only been 19 20/20 games in school history and Caleb has four of them this year.

Insane Work Ethic

Matt Norlander had a great profile on Swanigan yesterday:

His workout regimen is evidence of it. In the fall semester, Swanigan had only two in-person classes to attend, the rest online. So because of this, he spent more time working out than anything else. Two hours of getting up shots, an hour of lifting, an hour's worth of practice, and post-practice workouts were common as well. Swanigan, who is 6-foot-9 and between 245 and 250 pounds, is now down from 13 to 10 percent body fat.

That’s all insane. It reminds me of some of the legendary workouts Mike Alstott was doing at Purdue over 20 years ago. You know, the exploits of him hooking himself up to his Jeep like a draft horse and pulling it up the hill next to Ross-Ade Stadium. We need to get a student scout over there to follow Caleb around and see what his workout plan is. Does he bench press the Boilermaker Statue? Does he improve his quickness by running through the engineering fountain without getting wet? Does the Physics department use the pressure of him grabbing a rebound to study particle physics and the smashing of atoms? I NEED TO KNOW!

The NBA Draft

I have come to accept that Caleb will be gone after this season. He was a good player last year, but right now he is playing like the Big Ten Player of the Year. Laughably, Draft Express only lists him at 57th on their latest mock draft. I find that absolutely hilarious. Here you have a guy putting up stupid numbers with actual production, yet the NBA, in its wisdom, would rather draft on “potential”. They would rather draft a 7’2” guy that they found in the Amazon rainforest who has never worn shoes just because of his “measurables” and “potential” than an insane worker who puts up huge numbers.

Right now Draft Express has something called a Viny Okouo ahead of Caleb. He is listed as a 7’2” 19-year-old who plays in Spain and averages a blistering 1.6 points and 1.5 rebounds per game. They have Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6’9” 225 forward averaging 8 and 3.8 ahead of Caleb. But hey, he plays for Barcelona, so he can probably get Lionel Messi’s autograph.

I hope this pisses Caleb off. I hope that he tests the draft waters, gets a grade and advice on what to improve on, and comes back next year to unleash holy hell once again on the Big Ten. If the man averages 18 and 13 as a sophomore, gets told to come back to school one more time with specific instructions on what to work on, and has an insane drive what else is he going to do? Would he average a 25-20-7 next year? Would he have a game where he grabs every single rebound available, offensive and defensive?

Caleb is going to leave Purdue with a wealth of accolades: all-Big Ten, possibly Big Ten Player of the Year, All-American, rebounding champion, etc. Can he become a legend? Will he lose the braids and bust out the 11 inch ‘fro for the NCAA Tournament? Can he win us a Big Ten title and lead us to the Promised Land in March?

It’s going to be fun to watch.