If you don't recall last year's game against Purdue, I can't help you. Xavier fell almost hopelessly behind, staring down the barrel of a 95% chance of defeat with ten minutes remaining in the game. Then Brad Redford hit a huge three, Big Kenny let the airplane fly, and the rally was on. By the time Tu was jarring back-to-back-to-back threes to seal the deal, the Boilermakers were dead and buried behind a staggering comeback for Xavier.
Fast forward a year(ish) and the return leg of this engagement looks like an entirely different game. You all know by now that Xavier has lost pretty much every meaningful player from last year's roster. Purdue was also led by senior players last season, leaving them with a different look than they featured a year ago. About the only things that have remained are the uniforms and the coaches. Speaking of which...
Coach Matt Painter's calling card at Purdue has been a smothering, ball-hawking defense that continually ranked in the top 20 in the nation. Last year's team underachieved in this regard, with drops in forcing TOs (from 88th to 203rd) and suppressing opponents' EFG% (fell from 36th to 215th) being the major culprits. Teams were also able to get more looks from deep than in the past against Purdue; all of this accounted for the team's AdjD rating coming in at a respectable number (88th in the nation) rather than a spectacular one (12th, 3rd, and 5th nationally in the previous three years). Look for a renewed commitment to defense from the Boilermakers this year.
Offensively, Purdue was the 8th most efficient team in the country last year. That owed in large part to only turning the ball over on 13.6% of their possessions while having an above-average EFG%. This is in large part due to players who will not be on the team this year (see below), but Painter has made a habit of impressing ball security on his teams, and there's no reason to think this year will be any different.
Basically, three of the team's four best players are gone. Robbie Hummel was Purdue's leader in just about everything, putting up 16.4/7.2/1.9 on .417/.383/.825 shooting and throwing in 42 blocks (more than double the tally of his next closest teammate) and almost a steal per game while turning the ball over on seven percent of his possessions used, a better rate than any other player in the nation.
Joining Hummel on the outgoing train was guard Lewis Jackson, whose 10.4/3.2/4.2 line came on .460/.214/.732 shooting and a better than 2:1 A:TO. Jackson also drew fouls and stole the ball at an elite rate last year, making him a big cog for Painter on both ends of the floor. Jump shooter Ryne Smith (16-34 inside the arc, 89-206 from beyond it) put up a line of 9.1/2.5/1.1, production in line with what Xavier fans should recognize as the best-case scenario for Brad Redford this year. Six-foot-five guard Kelsey Barlow was dismissed from the team after 26 games last year; he was averaging 8.3/3.7/1.7 at the time and will suit up for University Illinois-Chicago next season.
Rising junior Terone Johnson - a 6'2" guard - is the team's leading returning scorer. His line of 9.2/3.4/2.0 came with a steal per game; he shot .472/.310/.435(!) as a sophomore. He's a sub-50% free throw shooter on his career, which really hampers his ability to score efficiently. DJ Byrd boasted an ORtg 25 points higher than Johnson's last year, garnering his 8.9/2.3/0.9 per game on a .427/.430/.760 shooting line. Byrd can get to the bucket a little bit but thrives more when he doesn't have to create his own shot. Guard Anthony Johnson brings back 5.4 PPG despite a shooting line of .391/.280/.493. Six-foot-nine rising junior Travis Carroll's 2.6/2.9/0.5 earns him the distinction of being the leading returning rebounder for Purdue.
Painter and his staff landed a very good recruiting class this year, with three of the four players earning ESPN 100 honors. AJ Hammons, a 7', 275 pound center headlines that list. Hammons can score at and around the bucket with a variety of post moves and is solid both in creating rebounding space for himself and others and in rebounding out of his area with plus length and athletic ability. Six-foot-five guard Raphael Davis is a good shooter of the bounce with three-point range who can also score through contact at the rim. He is not a great athlete, but he makes the most of it with good effort on the glass and at the defensive end. Overzealous shot selection can be a problem for Davis.
Incoming guard Ronnie Johnson (Terone's brother) stands only 5'10" but has the quickness to score and distribute at the point position. His shot is inconsistent and he needs to add strength, but he comes in ready to contribute off the bench. Finally, 6'9", 235 pound power forward Jay Simpson rounds out the class for Painter. "Body maintenance" (i.e., not being fat) has been a problem for Simpson, but he has the athleticism to have run track in high school and is very aggressive on both ends of the floor. Can score out to 15' with a face-up game or finish through contact inside.
Purdue is a good team whose ultimate ceiling will be determined by how quickly their talented recruiting class comes along. If Johnson is converting from the line and Byrd is getting clean looks from outside, the Boilermakers will be tough to keep out of the tournament this year. Adding instant contributions from a couple of their incoming players will make them a team to watch in the second tier of the Big Ten. In more Xavier-related news, it should be noted that nobody on the Muskies' roster weighs in within about 40 pounds of AJ Hammons. If he's looking to make a statement early on, Xavier's front line will have its work cut out trying to stop him.