The season kicks off for the Purdue Boilermakers with a home game against the Samford Bulldogs of the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs will be one of the favorites to win the regular season SOCON title and will travel to West Lafayette to take on the defending B1G regular season and B1G Tournament Champions.
For this season, we will go with ‘The 3 Pointer’ for our keys to each game the Boilers have. This will also include an ‘And 1’ key plus key players and a prediction. With that being laid out, let’s get into it!
1 | How Does Samford Defend Zach Edey?
Unlike a lot of mid major programs, Samford will have some decent size to be able to handle Purdue’s big man. The first man up in this effort will likely be Baylor transfer Zach Loveday who is 7’ and weighs 240 pounds. It is doubtful that they just leave him to defend the reigning National Player of the Year but likely after Loveday the job will go to 6’11 freshman Riley Allenspach or 6’9 Achor Achor. Either way, it is highly unlikely the Bulldogs will want to put those two players in a position with Edey by themselves.
The issue that Samford may face is altering their main defensive principals for a singular game against a type of player they will simply not see the rest of the season. Zach is a unicorn when it comes to the college game much in the same way that Shaq was during his time at LSU. Do you reconstruct a lot of your main principals for a singular game or do you roll with your main defensive principals knowing it’ll help further down the line? It’s an issue every single coach who plans for Purdue will have to look at.
More than likely what Purdue will see is similar to what FDU did in doubling from the opposite low corner to force a difficult pass from Zach to a contested player so the defense has time to recover. The way that Purdue can help with this is good movement off the ball after a standard post entry, ball movement once Zach kicks the ball out, and reposting to Zach at some point. The biggest key would simply be to hit the open three point shots when they are available as it forces defenses to abandon the double team in light of giving up more open shots on the perimeter.
Look for Samford to switch defenses up and they may even employ a 2-3 zone to help defend the post but that causes a host of other issues like giving up offensive rebounds, creating driving lanes for guards/wings to penetrate, and being susceptible to open shots behind the arc. When a team has one of the best rebounding point guards in the B1G who can also penetrate and hit open threes, the zone look may not be a successful one against the Boilers this season. It also allows Zach to rebound misses quite easily.
*Side Note: Samford has been pumping up the possibility of a 5’5 guard tipping off against Edey. I’m not sure if it will actually happen but they have devoted a fair amount of time and effort making a series of videos about it over the last week. It may be worth the brief social media craze for the small program to generate some talking points outside of the box score.
2 | Defending Garrett Hicks and Jermaine Marshall
The two best scorers that Samford has are two really high quality basketball players. Marshall led the Bulldogs last season with 13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds but at 6’6 is more of a small forward than a power forward (unsure of where exactly he plays). Hicks is a transfer from Alabama A&M where he averaged 12.6 points per game over his four seasons there. The two players form a nice combo for Samford as having two high level scorers like that at a smaller school makes it difficult for other lower division 1 programs to defend them. That shouldn’t be the case for Purdue.
These two will be a great test for how Coach Painter is going to rotate his guards and wings around when the teams get better throughout the season. Purdue will likely start with the same five they showed for the two exhibition games which likely means Lance Jones will start on Garrett Hicks while TKR will start on Jermaine Marshall. The only way that doesn’t happen is if Marshall is pushed to the SF position which would likely mean Jones would defend him while Braden Smith or Fletcher Loyer would defend Hicks as he is just 6’ and 170 pounds.
I think this could present good opportunities for that next grouping of players in Colvin, Heide, Waddell, and Morton to sort out the pecking order, so to say. All four are bigger body wings who have good athletic ability to defend on the perimeter at high levels but the effort and focus needs to consistently be at a high level. Heide appears to have the confidence of Matt Painter as he has been the first off the bench in the two previous exhibition games. Look to Heide to come in early to replace Loyer if the defense is an issue to place him on Marshall while Jones rotates to Hicks.
3 | Getting Colvin Going
It’s no secret for Purdue that it is going to need, not want, Myles Colvin to be a legitimate scoring threat this season. A player of his caliber and ceiling coming off the bench for Purdue bodes well against any team in the country and there may be two or three other teams that can bring a player of his caliber off the bench at the ninth or tenth spot onto the floor. The big key is that Colvin has the ability to, in those short bursts of time he is going to get this season, explode for 6 to 10 points.
Colvin struggled in the two exhibition games but he is a player that if they get confident and the shots go down, he could get 10-15 points in a limited amount of minutes. Purdue will want to get him out in transition where he is most effective as a scorer but needs to work inside out given he will be coming off the bench. He has a wonderful midrange game and his ability to elevate above the rim has been noted in multiple dunk contests.
And 1 | Where Does Ethan Morton Fit?
Ethan Morton appears to be the consummate teammate and he is definitely a player that Matt Painter trusts as a vocal leader and defender. The issue is he just hasn’t been able to put the entirety of his ability together for Purdue. He continues to be a liability on offense while giving up buckets on defense (even when he is in good position). The issue this season is there are just better players ahead of him on the roster who need to have more minutes. Where does that leave Morton though?
More than likely Morton ends up being a player who gets a bit left behind with the exception of when a defensive stopper is needed for a few minutes in each half. I am sure there were thoughts of transferring out for Morton but he and Edey are extremely close and as soon as Zach decided he was coming back, I’m sure that made Morton’s decision easy as well. Morton just doesn't have the offensive ability that Heide, Colvin, or even Waddell have and that likely means Morton is the first to see his role reduced.
Key Players for Samford (stats are from 2023 season):
Jermain Marshall | 6’6 220lb | Forward | 13.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 37.5% 3pt
As mentioned previously, Marshall is one of the two talented players that Samford will feature this season. Marshall originally began his career at Akron before transferring to Samford to be back closer to home. He is probably the go-to guy for this Bulldogs team.
Garrett Hicks | 6’0 170lb | Guard | 12.8 points, 4 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 1.7 assists, 40.3% 3pt
A transfer to Samford after four years at Alabama A&M, Hicks averaged at least 10 points per game throughout his college career. Hicks shoots the ball well on relatively high volume from behind the arc averaging 2 makes on 5 attempts per game last season.
This is an early season game where the score might be a little closer than we expected it to be in the first half and maybe even into about five minutes of the second half. Samford is a good team that is ranked 139th in Kenpom right now which places them in the company of a lot of very good mid-major programs. This is a team that likely places no worse than 2nd in their regular season conference standings and is a favorite to win the conference tourney. It would not surprise me to see this Samford team selected for the NCAA Tourney come march as a 14 or 15 seed.
Purdue will inevitably be too much for Samford as there is a massive drop off in ability after Hicks and Marshall while they just don’t have the bodies to defend Edey, TKR, and Furst on the interior. Edey grabs his first official double-double of the season early in the second half while Braden Smith makes a phenomenal pass off a fast break or pick and roll. Who gets the highlight reel dunk? My guess is on Cam Heide.