For at least a short time, Purdue basketball is back. Sports, especially college sports, right now feels like a rare gift. We’re seeing games cancelled due to COVID the day of essentially, so let’s enjoy them while we have them. Tomorrow Purdue’s 2020-21 basketball season kicks off, and it is one of transition. Barring an offseason transfer, the entire roster will return for 2021-22 and we will only add Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman. That means a good season this year can mean a GREAT year next year.
As always, I wanted to know what the staff thinks, so here is our annual roundtable:
Who is the team MVP this year?
Jumboheroes (Andrew Ledman): I’ll have to go with the obvious choice and say Trevion Williams. He’s shown how good he can be. He was so good last season he scared away Matt Haarms. I’m looking for him to take another step forward.
Andrew Holmes: I mean, if it isn’t Trevion, it’ll be a surprise. But, %&#* it, let’s pick a surprise. I think we’ll see Eric Hunter Jr. step up and make this team his. Here’s why: He’s going to handle the ball more, but the talent around him will be better. Yes, better, although not nearly as experienced, so who will the young guys look to when things are going sideways? EHJ, and he is going to step up to that role and make game winning plays. I doubt he leads the team in points this year, but he is going to have to be the guy to drive this thing...if not? Well someone better step up big, because otherwise the season will be off the rails quickly.
Jace Jellison: I think the team MVP will be Trevion. With Haarms and Nojel gone, he is taking over the reigns as the leader and arguably best player. A good part of the team’s success will fall on him.
Casey Bartley: There’s no reason to not believe in Trevion Williams continuing to be the best player on the team.
Kyle Holderfield: Trevion Williams. He is going into his third year in which he has been getting a huge amount of minutes. A lot of Painter guys make a large jump from Sophomore to Junior Seasons. I see it here again. He will need to play around 30 minutes per game at center. I am seeing a 15 and 12 type year for the big man.
T-Mill: I agree it is going to be Tre. I think this is the year he becomes a walking double-double and, with his passing ability, might threaten to have only the second triple-double in school history (the first since Joe Barry Carroll). We’ll see if we can sound the Ice Cube Watch a few times.
Who is the breakout newcomer?
Jumboheroes (Andrew Ledman): Jaden Ivey gets this one. He’s a multitalented true freshman with basketball in his blood. His mother is quite the player and coach herself. With Hunter out for a bit due to injury there’s minutes to be had at guard and Ivey is gonna grab them.
Andrew Holmes: Ivey or Newman seem like the obvious answers. I won’t go into depth with them because at this point everyone already knows about them. I am really intrigued by Edey’s breakout potential though. Similar to Haarms coming in as a freshman, his height gives him some automatic advantages despite a low ranking. Edey hasn’t played much basketball in his life, but he is athletic enough and smart enough that he could learn quickly and be effective in certain situations. Preseason buzz has suggested he’s already better at rebounding and scoring than he was expected to be at this point.
Jace Jellison: The breakout newcomer will be Jaden Ivey this season. He can create off the dribble, which we lacked last year without Carsen and can shoot it from deep too. I expect him to have a large role with Eric Hunter Jr. out to begin the season.
Casey Bartley: It’s Ivey - because he’s the best player coming but also because he fills a role no one else has in a long time. (Newman and Morton are big time honorable mentions because they will both be awesome, too.)
Kyle Holderfield: I am going to say Brandon Newman. Everyone raved about him for the 2019 class, but he needed a year to develop, get stronger and learn the Painter ways. I see him as 2 or 3 and playing up towards 20 minutes per game.
T-Mill: I think it is Newman. He is a dynamic, athletic guard that has the size to get to the rim like Nojel, only he actually has a jump shot. He is a guy who can fill it up when he is on and I think he gets his chances early and often.
What is the biggest question facing this team?
Jumboheroes (Andrew Ledman): This might seem like an obvious question but, how do the large group of newcomers, five true and redshirt freshman scholarship players, gel with the current team. Painter always talks about wanting his teams to play old but that isn’t an option for this team. Incorporating this many players into a team can be challenging.
Andrew Holmes: Cohesion. This year will see a huge influx of new talent on the floor. Emphasis on both “new” and “talent.” This isn’t a Calipari at Kentucky class, but between Newman, Ivey, Gillis, Morton, and Edey we have a whole lineup of freshmen, who could all realistically crack the actual starting lineup by year’s end. Indeed, with EHJ out for the first game, it could happen right from the jump, but I’m not just talking about that. Every single one of these guys brings unique talents that could see them overtake the upperclassman on this roster. As I mentioned above, even Edey has surprised enough already to be talked about as a significant contributor. All of this together means, we’re likely to see a lot of guys playing together this season that have never shared the floor before this year. Add in COVID, and all the issues that it has caused in the summer and preseason, plus the issues it will cause during the season, and you’re looking at a team that might throw a lot of passes to no one in particular or miss their rotation on defense because they expect a teammate to be somewhere that he isn’t. That’s the big question for this team:
Will they be more new or more talented?
Jace Jellison: The biggest question facing the team will be the freshmen and how they perform. We have a solid group of guys, Ivery, Morton, Newman, Ivey and Edey that have the potential to contribute as freshmen and take this team to the next level.
Casey Bartley: Can Wheeler find his jump shot again?
Kyle Holderfield: Power Forward. Aaron Wheeler was supposed to make that jump last year and it never happened. Will it happen this year? It is officially time for the 4th year junior to S**t or get off the pot. On top of that how does Mason Gillis do as the backup PF?
T-Mill: How fast can we grow up? We head into the opener with maybe as few as eight scholarship guys because of Hunter’s injury, Ethan Morton battling mono, and Emmanuel Dowuona having some conditioning issues. Of those eight, four are freshmen that have never played college basketball. This team has to grow up very fast.
Where does Purdue finish in a brutal Big Ten?
Jumboheroes (Andrew Ledman): This one is hard because the Big Ten is gonna have so many good teams this year. Add to that the questions about the newcomers for Purdue and I just have a hard time guessing with any certainty where they’ll finish. I’ll go completely off the cuff and say they finish 6th.
Andrew Holmes: Somewhere between 3rd and 12th, does that help?
Jace Jellison: I think Purdue will finish in the 4-6 range during the Big Ten season. You have teams like Iowa, Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State all loaded up once again at the top of the conference.
Casey Bartley: Fourth
Kyle Holderfield: Middle of the pack. 6 to 8. We are young and going to take some bumps, but damn we are talented. There will be growing pains AND we need Eric Hunter Jr. back from that leg injury - bad.
T-Mill: It is going to be interesting. I think you have a lot of pretty good teams but few great teams. I am not sold on Iowa as a top 5 team nationally because they are completely and utterly incapable of playing any defense whatsoever. Illinois is my pick to win it, but every night is going to be a dogfight and we are lacking our force multiplier in Mackey. If Painter can get a young team to a top 6 finish he deserves B1G coach of the year.
Your pick for a final regular season record?
Jumboheroes (Andrew Ledman): I had to look up how many games the team will ever play this year. Turns out it’s 27. I’m gonna go with 18-9 for my record.
Andrew Holmes: I don’t know how many games we’ll even get this year, so I’ll just say 5 games over .500.
Jace Jellison: 19-7
Casey Bartley: 6 games above .500. Giving a number of games is a little optimistic for me.
Kyle Holderfield: 17-10 (I think there are 27 games scheduled?)
T-Mill: The non-conference slate has some challenges, but it is not overwhelming. The trip to Miami is likely the toughest. I think we can get six of those seven games. then get to 10 wins in the conference and go 16-11.
Does Purdue make the NCAA Tournament?
Jumboheroes (Andrew Ledman): I believe 18-9 going into the BTT will be enough to get this team into the NCAA Tournament and keep the streak alive.
Andrew Holmes: Yes, I trust Matt Painter and even with all the new, I think each one of these guys fits well with the program and the culture.
Jace Jellison: If the NCAA tournament returns with a field of 68, I think Purdue gets in with ease. Last year was uncharacteristic of a Matt Painter led squad and will improve in many areas. People will sleep, but the train is coming.
Casey Bartley: NCAA - yes, get off me with that garbage. We’re quality.
Kyle Holderfield: Gut says yes. A real cancer is gone, who I believe hindered team chemistry last year. I will let you decide who I am talking about.
T-Mill: The Big Ten’s strength is going to raise a lot of boats and as many as ten teams could make it. Even last year Purdue had an outside shot at an at large bid had the Big Ten Tournament been played and we made a run. If this team grows up fast I think we make it, and 2021-22 is going to be a GREAT year.