There are some matchups that just seem overwhelming on paper when the season begins. One team comes in with everything stacked in their favor to the extent that the other fan base is just hoping to make a good show of it. There’s always the hope that your team will be able to somehow be able to snatch a result, but the reality is that sometimes the ask is just insurmountable. This Purdue-Xavier game is certainly one of them, as the bounced-in-the-first-round Purdue Boilermakers host your Sweet 16 attendee Xavier Musketeers.
In all seriousness, Purdue will come into this one pretty heavily favored. Before getting run off the floor as a one seed by a Fairleigh Dickinson team that didn’t play a single dude over 6’6”, they had a pretty good season. They went 29-5, won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, and won 22 of their first 23 games. With Zach Edey in the middle and three guys in the top 100 in offensive efficiency, they were pretty unstoppable right up until they crashed out of the first round. Xavier’s first two opponents were not good; Purdue is a step up by orders of magnitude.
Running the show is Matt Painter, an occasionally embattle figure who has nonetheless made Purdue a perennial second weekend contender. In the last 8 years, every one of his teams has had an offense in the top 50 and all but one has been 26th or better. Three-point shooting has come and gone, but they’ve all been generally really good from inside the arc and the line, really good on the offensive glass, and consistent with their assist rate. Built around a string of big men, these offenses have been really good at putting the biscuit in the basket.
During that same span of time, they’ve been comfortably in the top 40 in defensive efficiency each year except for landing 93rd in 2022. They’ve done a good job in rim protection and defending without fouling, and they’re generally very good on the defensive glass. They allow a high volume of threes, but teams rarely connect at a high rate, so I’m guessing that has more to do with not wanting to try to score over Zach Edey, Matt Haarms, and the conga line of other giants Purdue has had than any sort of strategic decision to concede the arc.
Guard Brandon Newman took his 6.0/3.1/1.1 and departed for the greener pastures of the bluegrass state when he transferred to WKU this summer. For reasons that will shortly become obvious, this was a good business decision for him. David Jenkins, Jr. graduated; he was a guard who got 3.9 PPG in somewhat limited action. Normally I wouldn’t even bother mentioning him in this section, but...
Everyone else who scored at least double-digit points returned. Not averaged double-digit points; scored double-digit points. Purdue scored 2,485 points last season. Newman and Jenkins combined for 342; the other 2,143 - including the 17 split between deep bench guys Carson Barrett, Brian Waddell, and Chase Martin - all come back. That’s pretty remarkable.
Of course you know Zach Edey. He’s
10 feet tall and killing for fun listed at 7’4”, 305 and averaged a cool 22.3/12.9/1.5 while dominating the glass at both ends and being an elite rim protector. He scores very efficiently around the rim and hits his free throws at an almost 75% clip. He also averaged almost 32 MPG last year, which is the kind of workload for a big man that ended up being the death of John Henry.
The backcourt is anchored around rising sophomores Fletcher Loyer (11.0/1.7/2.4) and Braden Smith (9.7/4.2/4.4). Loyer is a bit bigger at 6’4” and a bit more of a gunner; he was second on the team in field goal attempts and hucked 181 threes despite hitting less than a third of them. He doesn’t have much of a statistical footprint on defense or in ancillary offensive skills; he’s out there getting shots up. Smith is 6’0” and much more of a distributor. He shoots 38% from deep and 87% from the line and leads the team in assist rate. He also led in steals percentage for whatever you make of that.
Rising senior wing Mason Gillis has developed into an excellent glue guy. He’s a stout 6’6”, 230 and a menace on the offensive glass. He’s a career 63% shooter from inside the arc and 38% from beyond it; while he doesn’t hunt shots, he converts the ones that come to him.
Big man help comes from Caleb Furst (5.5/4.6/0.7) and Trey Kaufman-Renn (4.5/1.8/0.7). Furst is 6’10”, 230 and a bit of a more traditional big. He lives on the glass at both ends and scores well from the post. Kaufman-Renn is a 6’9” stretch four, though he scores more from 15 feet and in than he does from behind the arc. These guys combined to shoot 61 threes last year despite making just 16 of them.
Despite averaging just 3.8/2.9/2.4 last year, Ethan Morton started 29 of the team’s 35 games. A 6’7”, 215-pound rising senior, he has never put up big stats at Purdue, but he apparently has Painter’s trust. He also provides value as a dude who can soak up minutes and assignments without needing a lot of possessions on the offensive end.
As you might expect for a team that brings back so much firepower, this section isn’t going to be super exciting.
Grad transfer guard Lance Jones comes over from Southern Illinois. He’s a 6’1” combo who has shown the capacity to shoot well but was asked to carry a huge portion of the load for the Salukis and he didn’t do it very efficiently. He’s an athletic and active defender; if he can slot into a 3-and-D role, he’ll be an asset to this team.
Camden Heide is a 6’7”, 205-pound redshirt freshman. He missed most of his senior year of high school with a foot injury that also kept him out last year. He is - or was - an explosive athlete with a plus jump shot who chose Purdue over Arizona, Texas, Creighton, and other high-majors. If he’s healthy, he’ll find a place to slot in.
The other freshman on the roster is Myles Colvin, a 6’5”, 200-pound guard. He has excellent athleticism and a developing offensive game that had him hanging around the top 50 in most reputable recruiting rankings. He has the tools to be an excellent defender, but it’s not clear to me he’ll be able to find too much of a role right off the bat. I might be wrong, though; my last prediction regarding Purdue went horribly awry.
Purdue is a deep, veteran team with something to prove after an historic loss in the first round of last year’s tournament. They’ve got a guy in Zach Edey who is going to give defenses fits just due to how singular an assignment he is, and they once again have the tools around him to roll just about anyone. Last season didn’t end how they wanted it to; I assume they’ll be on the war path when they host Xavier this year.