With a pair of potential All-Americans in the lineup, Purdue basketball is eyeing its best season in recent memory.
Riley’s Ranking: 7th
Chances are, even if you’re a casual college basketball fan, you’ve read something about Jaden Ivey this offseason. The Purdue basketball sophomore guard finished last season on a tear and followed that up with quality play in the FIBA U19 World Cup. Both factors sent his stock “to the moon,” as the kids say, and now, you can’t avoid him. NBA Draft gurus like Jonathan Givony and Sam Vecenie posted glowing reviews on him. Both CBS Sports and The Athletic named him a preseason All-American. Even we at Heat Check CBB have gotten in on the action, selecting him as the No. 1 breakout player in our preseason magazine.
Now, I’m not saying Ivey won’t be awesome this season. But I wonder if his hype has overshadowed the other components that have landed Purdue basketball in every preseason top 10.
For one, Matt Painter has quietly been one of the best coaches in the country over the last five years. On offense, the head coach draws up gorgeous halfcourt sets that his teams execute with focus and poise — stagger screens, dribble-hand-offs, pin-downs, and more characterize his motion scheme that crafts open shots. The Boilermakers also play solid defense, protecting the paint, cleaning the glass, and, most impressively, neutralizing the 3-point line. In four of the last five seasons, Purdue has ranked in the top 80 nationally in defensive 3-point percentage. Two years ago, Painter came within .7 seconds of the Final Four; his breakthrough could come this March.
Secondly, Ivey might not even be the best player on his team — senior Trevion Williams currently holds that title. As a freshman, Williams garnered praise for his ferocious rebounding and revved-up motor. But over the last two seasons, the big man has developed an extensive repertoire of offensive skills. In particular, Williams shines as a facilitator out of the post, flashing outstanding velocity and accuracy on his passes. Last season, he ranked 12th in the B1G in assist rate.
Moreover, when seeking to score, Williams looks equally as great with his back to the basket as he does facing up. He shows off an automatic hook shot and also swishes jumpers in the mid-post (48.2 percent on 2-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math).
Notably, he does all of this while maintaining those stellar rebounding numbers that first earned him playing time.
Okay, with all that covered, now we can talk about Ivey.
The 6-4 guard got off to a slow start during his freshman year. A foot injury compounded by an already-shortened nonconference schedule led to inconsistent playing time throughout December. However, the first time Painter gave him more than 25 minutes — a January contest at Ohio State — he hit the game-winner. After that, he entered the starting lineup and emerged as the live wire the backcourt craved.
Ivey flashes the extent of his powers on offense, especially as a PnR ballhandler. He’s not a point guard, but he still makes smart passes out of ball screens, providing secondary playmaking. Plus, he senses when to reject a screen, scrambling defenders like they’re (mid)Western omelets:
On defense, he uses his length to smother opposing guards, sparring as soon as they cross halfcourt. Moreover, this dogged tenacity also translates to his shot-blocking prowess. Yes, you read that right. This Twitter thread highlights Ivey’s defensive instincts and recovery speed that yield eye-popping rim protection.
If his 3-point shot progresses, Ivey could easily make good on those All-American predictions. (And Williams has a great shot to join him.)
But Purdue isn’t just a two-man show. Painter has surrounded his stud duo with an ideal supporting cast. For instance, note senior Sasha Stefanovic roaming the perimeter. Like Ryan Cline before him, Stefanovic stars in catch-and-shoot opportunities. Whether he’s in transition, in the corner, or curling off a screen, the vet incinerates any defender that gets in the way.
Redshirt sophomores Brandon Newman and Mason Gillis also occupy key roles in the starting lineup. Newman, a 6-5 wing, capably shoots on the move and attacks closeouts. Gillis, a burly 6-6 forward, creates extra possessions with offensive boards and provides floor spacing as a pick-and-pop threat. Both could experience nice sophomore leaps.
Senior point guard Eric Hunter ties it all together. A willing passer, Hunter rarely hunts for his shot, and with this roster composition, he doesn’t really need to anyways. Perhaps most significantly, he plays stout defense at the point of attack, setting the tone for the rest of the team.
Finally, the Boilermakers boast a bevy of impactful bench pieces. For example, junior Isaiah Thompson gives a solid 5-10 minutes as a point guard off the pine. And more interestingly, Purdue possesses insane frontcourt depth. Zach Edey is my pick for Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year as a game-altering interior defender at 7-3. The sophomore excels in drop coverage, obliterating shots around the basket. Per Hoop-Explorer, opponents attempted just 24.3 percent of their shots at the rim when he was on the court in 2021. On offense, he draws a ton of fouls and showcases exquisite coordination finishing through contact.
But beyond Edey, Purdue also welcomes in two top-65 freshman bigs in Trey Kaufman-Renn and Caleb Furst. Kaufman-Renn, the higher rated of the two, exhibits a versatile game. He’s able to slash off a couple of dribbles, and his 3-point shot appears projectable. Furst, on the other hand, displays more of a power-based skillset. He likely contributes most as a glass eater in Year 1 (sort of like Williams did, as earlier stated).
Could this be the season Purdue basketball breaks its 40-year Final Four drought? With a spectacular sophomore class joining a program cornerstone, the rainwaters of postseason glory may finally arrive on fertile ground. As life emerges from the soil, it looks an awful lot like … Ivey.
Projected starters: G – Eric Hunter (Sr.); G – Jaden Ivey (So.); G – Brandon Newman (R-So.); F – Mason Gillis (R-So.); C – Trevion Williams (Sr.)
Projected bench: C – Zach Edey (So.); G – Isaiah Thompson (Jr.); F – Trey Kaufman-Renn (Fr.); F – Caleb Furst (Fr.)
Strengths: Shooting/spacing, offensive rebounding, 3-point defense
Weaknesses: None that are glaring
Best player: Williams
Breakout player: Ivey