As Purdue transitions from a team that had three seniors, one of which was a fifth year guy, to one with no scholarship seniors it is going to rely on its junior class. Zach Edey figures to be the top scorer as the huge physical presence in the middle. Mason Gillis is the veteran starter that can transition into the role of vocal leader. Our third junior is one that has had to wait very patiently to make his mark, but is primed for a breakout year.
Brandon Newman – Jr. (RS) in 2022-23
2020-21 Stats: 28 games, 23 starts. 23.6 mpg, 8.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 39.8% FG%, 37.9% 3FG, 93.8% FT%
2021-22 Stats: 25 games, 1 start. 12.6 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 0.6 apg, 32.1% FG%, 32.1% 3FG, 79.2% FT%
The 2021-22 season looks like a step back for Brandon on paper. In 2020-21 he had a solid year coming out of his redshirt season. He was a regular starter, he averaged 8 points per game, he was almost automatic at the free throw line, and he had some big games like 29 points in the win over Minnesota. It looked like he was going to be one of the main contributors all season long for a highly ranked Purdue team.
That’s how the year started too. He had 14 points in the season opener against Bellmont, 15 against Wright State, 16 against Omaha and 13 against Florida State. Unfortunately, the 58 points scored in those four games represent half of his season total. We started to see some of his slide in the first two tests of the season, where he played 23 minutes against Villanova and North Carolina and went just 1 for 5 from the floor for three points. After Florida State he went into a shooting slump where he was 2 of 17 from long range against Iowa, Rutgers, North Carolina State, and Butler. By late January his minutes had dwindled and after going 0 for 5 against Northwestern on January 23rd he played just five minutes total in the next 12 games.
Brandon was the victims of a minutes crunch. The roster inevitably shortens as the season wanes, and coach Painter had him as the guy that slid out of the rotation. Eric Hunter Jr., Sasha Stefanovic, and Jaden Ivey were going to get the lion’s share of minutes at guard, and at the time Isaiah Thompson was the better offensive option. For his faults, Isaiah was shooting about 9% better from three and 14% better from the floor, so I can somewhat understand the decision.
I am going to put my “opinionated blogger hat” on now though, the one that questions a man getting several million dollars per year to fix issues with the team. I have long been an Isaiah Thompson defender. I know that comes from covering his entire high school career up close, so I have a soft spot for him. I desperately wanted him to succeed and he did have some good moments in his three years at Purdue. That said, I think it was a mistake that Painter picked him over Brandon.
The change seemed to hinge on one game, too. The first game where Newman was completely out of the rotation was the 83-73 win at Iowa on January 27th. Newman didn’t play, while Isiaiah played 29 minutes, went 6 of 8 from the field, and scored 18 points. It was a tremendous night for Isaiah. It ended up being a career high and showed what can happen when he was filling his role of “hit wide open threes” perfectly. This was a big road game against a good team that always gives Purdue fits, and Isaiah delivered in a double digit win.
To that point Isaiah was in year three with multiple starts under his belt. Newman was still in year two and was struggling. Coach Painter always defaults to experience, especially late in the year, and this was probably the game where Isaiah locked down his minutes because he couldn’t be taken off the floor, while Brandon was struggling.
As mentioned above, Brandon would play five minutes total the rest of the regular season, four coming in a blowout loss at Michigan. Isaiah would play at least 9 minutes in each of the next nine games, but he would score only 17 points total in that span. He eventually found more of the bench by the last two regular season games, playing just five minutes against Wisconsin and four against Indiana. All told, his offensive output in the final 11 regular season games was less than that of the Iowa game alone, and in a three game stretch against Rutgers, Michigan State, and Wisconsin he played 29 minutes and took one shot (a made three vs. Rutgers). Against Michigan State he logged an unfathomable 15 trillion. That’s 15 minutes without any other statistic. No shots. No rebounds. No assists. Not even a foul.
This is not an article to dump on Isaiah. I promise. It is pretty clear that after the Iowa game, which is the one where Brandon officially fell out of the rotation, Isaiah got the minutes where only Brandon could have replaced him if you needed another player to swap with him. His defensive issues were legion (Isaiah’s plus/minus during that stretch was… bad) and he simply was not doing much offensively (17 points, 8 assists, 4 of 9 from three). It wasn’t even that Isaiah was struggling to score. He wasn’t even taking shots. For 15 minutes against Michigan State Purdue basically played 4 on 5, and it is a game that it lost by just three points.
I have to credit Brandon though. He didn’t pout. He didn’t whine. He was a four-star recruit and a prolific high school scorer, but you never heard a word from him. He worked though. When I went to the Maryland game I caught this video as we were leaving:
There he is, just getting up shots. He didn’t play a single minute in the game, but he got out on the floor as the arena emptied out and put in work. If you do this, you’ll endear yourself to Purdue fans forever.
It paid off. Due to foul trouble for Sasha, Brandon had his number called in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal against Penn State. He was a guy that had barely played in a month and half to that point and he had to come into a game in the first half where Purdue was trailing 27-20. Just 30 seconds after Sasha left with his latest foul Brandon nailed a midrange jumper to make it 27-22. The Purdue crowd, who had long been behind him, erupted. Brandon would go on to go 4 for 4 from the floor, finish with 12 points, 2 rebounds, an assist, and a steal, all with solid defense. He would get a standing ovation and was practically carried off the floor as he was the spark in a 69-61 victory.
While Brandon did not match those numbers in the remaining five games, he was back in the rotation. He struggled to a 0 of 6 game against Michigan State in 18 minutes in the semifinals, but added a block and a steal with two rebounds. His minutes dwindled again, and he did not play in the NCAA loss to St. Peter’s, while Isaiah played 13 minutes and had five points.
Does that make Isaiah vs. Brandon a great “What if” on the season? The only loss where the two both played extensively was the Big Ten Tournament final against Iowa. Brandon had foul trouble, collecting four that limited him to 10 minutes, and he had 2 points with an assist and a block. Isaiah played 11 minutes, didn’t score (or even take a shot), and had a rebound, a steal, and two turnovers.
If you look at the final 17 games after Isaiah’s big game at Iowa (11 regular season, 3 Big Ten Tournament, 3 NCAA) Purdue went 12-5. Isaiah played in all 17 and scored 29 points, all while being a pretty significant defensive liability. Brandon played in just seven games (two of which were blowouts where he got garbage minutes against Minnesota and Michigan), but scored 16 points. In three of the five losses Purdue fell by a single possession (Michigan State, Wisconsin, and St. Peter’s). Isaiah played 38 minutes in those games and scored 5 points (with his above mentioned 15 trillion against Michigan State). Brandon did not play at all.
Was picking Isaiah over Brandon the difference between a Big Ten championship and at least an Elite Eight appearance?
Unfortunately, we will never know. Based on the eye test from the run Brandon got in the Big Ten Tournament games it certainly looks like it could have been. If you give Brandon every minute Isaiah was on the floor I think you have a defensive upgrade even if the offensive numbers become a wash. I think if you do a straight up swap of Brandon for Isaiah in those three games Purdue wins at least one, if not two.
Going into 2022-23 we will get somewhat of an answer. This coming season will finally be Brandon’s time. Sasha, Hunter, Ivey, and Thompson are all gone from the back court. A couple of freshmen and a likely transfer are coming in. There are a wealth of minutes available for Brandon, and Coach Painter has been frank that he needs 20-25 minutes to really get into a flow. He will have every opportunity to succeed in 2022-23.
What I want to see from Brandon is a leap forward from his 2020-21 numbers. He is more dynamic than the typical shooting guards Purdue has had like Sasha and Ryan Cline. He has 305 field goal attempts in his career, and only 187 are from three. While he will take a lot of threes, that is not the limit to his game. He has a nice midrange game (something Purdue can use) and can get to the rim. I think he can really thrive this coming season in a much larger offensive role. He has the ability to be a regular double figures scorer and, when he gets hot, go off for 20-25 on a random night. We need him to at least be as productive as Sasha, and I think he can be even better.
He will absolutely get the chance to do so.