Purdue Boilermakers Men’s Basketball
2022-2023 Strengths & Weaknesses
With the season starting tonight for Purdue Basketball, let’s take a look at three strengths and three weaknesses that could mean success or struggles for the Boilermakers this season.
Strengths for Purdue:
1 | Front Court Depth
No secrets here. Matt Painter has built a formula for the success for Purdue basketball with space-eating, skilled, high ceiling big men alongside three point shooters. In his time at Purdue, Painter has enjoyed a plethora of talented players in the front court like Carl Landry, JaJuan Johnson, AJ Hammons, Isaac Haas, Caleb Swanigan, Matt Haarms, Trevion Williams, Zach Edey, Caleb Furst, Trey-Kaufman Renn, and hopefully Will Berg. This list includes five players that are 7’ or taller and a host of others who are at least 6’10.
It isn’t just the height that has pushed Purdue to the top but their skill as well. From the passing and low post wiggle of Trevion Williams, to the down-low forces of Zach Edey and Isaac Haas, the athletic ability to control the paint on defense like JaJuan Johnson and AJ Hammons, the ability to step out and hit threes in Swanigan and Furst, and the ability to do it all in TKR, Purdue has had it all.
That is what makes the front 2022-2023 court dangerous . Everything is covered, with the exception of an elite rim protector. In football terms, try preparing your team to defend a team that can equally run Army’s triple option and Mississippi State’s air raid. That’s what having to defend a bruiser in the middle like Edey (Army) and then having to defend the gazelles you get in Furst and TKR (Miss. St.).
Purdue has three players who would start on more power conference teams at center than not. The depth at the 5, which includes Mason Gillis in a small ball line-up, will make any coach envious.
2 | 3 Point Shooting
It’s great having the depth in the front court that Purdue enjoys this season but it means nothing if you don’t surround it with guys who can shoot from behind the arc. Alongside this era of height Coach Painter has clearly recruited toward, he has also made it a priority to get the absolute best shooter he can land every year. He made this a priority after the abysmal seasons of 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 that saw Purdue shoot 32% from behind the arc both seasons. To compare, from 2015 to 2017, Purdue shot an average of 38% from three. The focus that Painter placed on that aspect of recruiting has continued into the 2022-2023 season.
On this year’s roster, Purdue enjoys a multitude of players who shoot, or are capable of shooting, greater than 40% from 3 point. Ethan Morton (44%), Caleb Furst (42%), and Mason Gillis (41%) return as players who shot above 40% from three last year while Brandon Newman shot 38% as a redshirt freshman. The redshirt freshman and incoming freshman are known to be excellent shooters as well. Trey-Kaufman Renn shot 40% as a sophomore and junior, Brian Waddell and Fletcher Loyer shot 41% in two varsity seasons, and Braden Smith shot 43% over his four years as a varsity starter.
The season goes the way of the big men this year, but when it comes to making those big men more effective, having four other players who are threats to shoot at a high percentage from 3 means more one on one match-ups down low.
3 | Quality of Bench/Reserves
One thing has become apparent in this decade long run of Purdue basketball; Purdue wears opponents down. The Boilermaker depth provided Purdue fans with an average of 24 wins over the last 8 seasons. That is something only Michigan State can lay claim to (although they technically have .5 more wins per season). This type of success comes from the bench providing little to no drop off in production. This is something that Coach Painter has mentioned multiple times.
Coach Painter recently stated:
‘“..the best motivator is get enough good players to where if someone is not ready or someone doesn’t want to do what you are asking them to do, then you can just move to the next guy…but our guys that come and attend Purdue and play for us they know we don’t try to trick them in recruiting…we don’t become you, you become us.” - Matt Painter, B1G Media Day 2022
This approach has led to the possibility of bringing guys off the bench like David Jenkins Jr. (83 starts), Brandon Newman (24 starts), and Caleb Furst (12 starts), who combine for 119 total starts, to get minutes against an opponent’s second team. This may be one of the most experienced benches in major college basketball this season. Purdue will rely on their young guys because they are that good, but when those young guys struggle (and they inevitably will), what a luxury it is to have four guys who would start most anywhere else waiting in the wings.
Weaknesses for Purdue:
1 | Lack of Ball Handlers
One thing many Purdue fans are worried about, and rightfully so, is the lack of players who can handle the ball at a level that won’t produce multiple bad turnovers. This is something that hurt Purdue last season where they had more off guards and combo guards than true point guards. As great as they were as role players, Eric Hunter Jr. and Isaiah Thompson are not true point guards. Adding only one true point guard in freshman Braden Smith after whiffing on the transfer market for a point guard doesn’t provide much solace.
It is no secret, Purdue has struggled over the course of multiple seasons with full court pressure and teams extending their defensive pressure beyond the arc. That could be alleviated by having multiple ball handling guards, similar to what we have seen with Brad Underwood at Illinois. Underwood often plays two point guards simultaneously. Purdue does not have that luxury this season and will rely on Braden Smith, as the only quintessential point guard, to handle a bulk of the ball handling responsibility. Others filling in like Ethan Morton, Fletcher Loyer, and David Jenkins have point guard skills and played the position in high school.
2 | Expecting Inexperienced Players to Provide Scoring
This is the inverse of the great depth that Purdue will enjoy this year, given that Loyer and Smith could start over some experienced players. Make no mistake, a lot is going to be asked from these two along with Trey-Kaufman Renn this season, and their performance may dictate Purdue’s sucess. The ball will go through Edey as option 1 and 2 (likely 3 as well) every time down the court, and rightfully so, but these young guys have to provide scoring punch in ways other players may not be capable.
There isn’t a guy on the roster who will be able to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim the way Jaden Ivey, Carsen Edwards, or E’twaun Moore were able to, but if they can get two feet into the paint, make smart decisions, and find open players or open shots, Purdue will be a good offensive team.
Can we trust young guards and wings to consistently put the ball on the floor and make good decisions? That’s a question that may not get fully answered until February or March.
3 | Defensive Limitations on the Perimeter
The inability of Purdue players to defend the perimeter has been an issue for what seems like an eternity. Yes, Purdue has had great defenders on the perimeter like Dakota Mathias and Nojel Eastern, but other than the 2017-2018 where they played together, Purdue hasn’t had multiple guys who could lock up the perimeter. You saw this when Rutgers isolated Eastern and ran plays for other guards, rendering his elite defensive skills useless, and forcing Purdue’s other defenders to hold up (they did not).
Defense is the biggest issue Purdue will face this season. Matt Painter will expect young players like Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer, Camden Heide, Brian Waddell, and Trey Kaufman-Renn (yes, I know some of these guys won’t play a lot of minutes this year) to come in and play tough, sound defense, in order to avoid putting Furst and Edey in bad positions. Zach Edey is a lot of things, but an eraser on defense is not one of them.
How quickly these guys adjust to the physicality and speed of the game will determine a lot about this team. One thing that was lacking the last few seasons was communication on the defensive side of the ball. This is where experience can take hold and is something young players, even those who grew into being great defensive players like Rapheal Davis, Dakota Mathias, and Keaton Grant, couldn’t do in their first seasons. Players who can come in their freshman year and make a major impact defensively, like Chris Kramer, don’t grow on trees (even if opposing fans think we genetically grow our 7 footers), but Purdue will need at least one young player to step up and make his mark on defense.