After having so many players return for this past season is seems weird that today’s player is the last one that saw action in 2021-22. Purdue’s 10-man rotation was cut in half though with three graduations, an NBA departure, and a transfer, so Caleb Furst is the final returning scholarship player with experience. He was also the only first year player this past year.
Caleb Furst – So. in 2022-23
2021-22 Stats: 34 games, 12 starts. 14.6 mpg, 4.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.4 apg, 57.3% FG%, 42.3% 3FG, 71.7% FT%
It was a very up and down year for Caleb. Early on it looked like he was going to be a fixture in the lineup. He was a starter as a true freshman and played a lot of minutes as Purdue raced to a No. 1 ranking. In the Hall of Fame Tournament he had 20 points and nine rebounds in 56 minutes of action, going 3 of 4 from three. He played a major role as Purdue beat two Final Four teams on consecutive days. In the first eight games of the season he played at least 21 minutes in each, and Purdue reached the No. 1 ranking with a perfect 8-0 record.
Caleb’s minutes began to diminish starting in the fateful loss at Rutgers. In that game he was scoreless in eight minutes and his only statistic was a foul. He would later play 22 minutes against Butler and 23 against Incarnate Word, but after that his minutes dropped dramatically. In the Big Ten Tournament he logged just 10 minutes, all against Michigan State. He did have 10 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes against Yale in the NCAA Tournament, but that was by far his best game in the second half of the season. It was the first time he reached double figures since the January 14th win over Nebraska.
So what happened? Was it a freshman wall? Was it injury (as he did successfully have offseason foot surgery already)? I tend to think it was more of a minutes crunch. Caleb primarily played at the four, and both Mason Gillis and Ethan Morton seemed to get more time there later in the year. He could shift to the five, but most of the time there went to Trevion Williams and Zach Edey.
Overall though, I think it was a good debut for Caleb. We saw what he could do when at his best, and that means a bright future for a player that was one of the highest rated recruits under Matt Painter. Caleb is a winner, as he won multiple state championships in his high school career and was Mr. Basketball. He made an early statement during Gillis’ early season suspension and showed that he can play at a very high level since he had his best games against two teams that made the season’s final weekend.
Going into 2022-23 Purdue will rely on Caleb a lot more. I think his versatility will be key, and I think he can be a major reason for any success the team has going forward. First, there are minutes there to be had at the five with Trevion gone. It is very bizarre to think of Purdue as “going small” with the 6’10” Furst in the game, but Caleb bring a different skillset than Edey and even Trevion, which can be good. He has much more of an outside game and can stretch the floor.
Edey has yet to attempt a three-pointer in his career and probably won’t unless it is a desperate situation. Trevion had the green light for the occasional three, but only took 14 last season and hit 5. Caleb was 11 of 36, and can give Purdue an outside threat at the five it has not had since Matt Haarms or maybe even AJ Hammons’ final season. He was over 42%, albeit in limited attempts, so I want to see him expand his game there. At minimum, Purdue’s offense looks completely different with him at the five because he is not a 7-foot back to the basket monster.
The first part of the homework is simple: get healthy. It is always dicey when a big guy has a foot injury, and as someone who has had foot problems his entire life I know that injured feet suck. Caleb is expected to be at 100% when the season starts in November, so that is good.
Like so many others on the team, Caleb needs to work on his defense. He has a chance to be a better perimeter defender than Trevion or Edey. For a long time Purdue has been very vulnerable against stretch fives. Just look what Hunter Dickinson has done to us. If Caleb can guard stretch fives that will help tremendously.
For everything else though, I am encouraged. He is a capable rebounder and had a season high 11 early on against Wright State. He is a decent free throw shooter and can play offensively inside and out. He can play at the four as a big power forward with an outside shot or at the five when Purdue goes small. The key will be integrating him back into the offense at the minutes he was at early on. Purdue was at its best this past year when he was playing 20 minutes a night. I have no idea what the correlation was, but Purdue started losing in the first game he did not play at least 21 minutes and he only got over that mark three more times the rest of the way.
I look for him to start the year as the primary backup to Gillis and Edey, so there will be plenty of minutes to go along there. We haven’t see what his passing is like (only 13 assists all year), but there will be more of a chance to showcase that. As long as he improves defensively we have a player that will see a lot of minutes in his career going forward. I expect him to play 20-25 minutes per night, be a fringe starter, and increase his average to at least 7-8 points per night.