For a team that constantly finds itself the younger brother and just out of the national conversation, 2015 5-star recruit Caleb Swanigan’s decision to decommit from Michigan State and come to West Lafayette to play for Coach Matt Painter’s Purdue Boilermakers had the feeling of something monumental. Two years later, Caleb Swanigan is the Big Ten player of the year, finalist for National Player of the Year, and Purdue is the Big Ten regular season champs outright for the first time since 1996.
Caleb Swanigan’s sophomore campaign has garnered him the kind of accolades the Boilers haven’t seen since the Babies were in town. His 26 double-doubles doesn’t just lead the nation, only five other teams in the country have as many double-doubles on their entire team. He’s averaging 18.5 points a game, 12.6 rebounds a game, and 2.9 assists. The last person to average numbers that high in all three categories? Tim Duncan in 1992-93. His four 20-20 games(pts & rbs) is second most for any one player in the last twenty years. He hasn’t just been spectacular. He’s been consistent at it. He became the first Boilermaker to record 8 straight double-doubles in fifty years. He’s done it twice this season.
But all the records in the world won’t erase the ghosts of March. That will take wins in this year’s NCAA tournament. As a freshman, Caleb Swanigan helped lead a late surging Boilermaker team to a 5-seed against 12-seed Arkansas Little-Rock.
With 3:33 remaining in the game, A. J. Hammons made two free throws to put the Boilermakers up 65-52.
That memory immediately brings up another, two made free throws in Purdue’s first round game as a 9 seed against Cincinnati the year prior. Senior Jon Octeus made two free throws in that game to go up 56-49 with just 48 seconds left in the game.
Both games would go to overtime. Both games would be Boilermaker losses. Two inexplicable collapses in two straight first rounds games after 13 straight first round victories has left the Purdue fan base desperate for post-season success. Desperation that’s been exacerbated by a quick exit in this year’s Big Ten Tournament at the hands of the Michigan Wolverine’s where once again Purdue had the lead late and a chance to wrap up the game. Only this time, PJ Thompson missed the front-end of a 1 and 1 and Michigan was eventually able to push the game to overtime where Purdue lost again.
Despite these late game, early March collapses, there’s plenty to feel good about in West Lafayette. Dakota Mathias has become a game changer on both ends of the floor after being named to the All-B10 defensive team, he’s also the 20th most accurate deep threat in the country, shooting 46% from 3.
He is one of 5 players on the team shooting 40% or better(If you round up PJ’s .397%), and the team as a whole is shooting 40.6% from deep, the fourth best shooting team in the nation.
Isaac Haas is now coming off the bench, providing a 7’2” nightmare sixth man averaging nearly 13 points a game in just 20 minutes of action along with true freshman Carsen Edwards who has shown the kind of off-the-bounce creativity lacking in Purdue’s backcourt since E’Twaun Moore and you win with guards in March.
But Purdue’s success could come down to their starting power forward who does a little of everything on the court. Vincent Edwards was voted 3rd team all B10 by the media after averaging 12.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. He had the ball in his hands for the last shot against Cincinnati two years ago, and he’s who Purdue went to when they needed buckets late against Arkansas Little-Rock.
This year, he has more help and more weapons around him, and the Boilers hope third time is the charm for junior class that along with Caleb Swanigan, helped to turn Purdue back into Big Ten Champs.
This year, they’ll look to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA’s at the least.