Boiler Up: Does Purdue Finally Have What It Takes to Win a National Championship?
This season marks the 124th in Purdue’s history, over which they’ve won 64.1% of their games (66.4% in the Matt Painter era).
The Boilermakers have won 24 regular-season conference championships and one conference tournament, appeared in 32 NCAA Tournaments, made it to two Final Fours, and spent more than seven collective calendar years in the AP rankings.
A storied history to be sure, but one that has never resulted in bringing home the hardware and sealing the deal as NCAA champions (though the 1931–32 team was retroactively named a “national champion” by the Helms Athletic Foundation and the Premo-Porretta Power Poll).
This year may change that.
This week, the Boilermakers find themselves atop the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in program history as well as first in this season’s initial NET Rankings, and the numbers indicate it’s no fluke.
TRACR (our Team Ratings Adjusted for Conference and Roster) ranks Purdue as the clear top offensive team and eighth-best defensive team in college basketball. The club also sits second in overall and looks poised to pass Houston for the top spot soon.
A little over two weeks ago, we touched on Purdue as an early riser in TRACR after a strong overall performance in taking down North Carolina and Villanova at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. The Boilermakers have kept things humming since, notching three straight wins against Omaha, Florida State and Iowa at Mackey arena by a 30.7 point average margin of victory.
Purdue is out for blood, embraces challenge, and isn’t afraid of anyone.
So you get the big picture – Purdue has been dominant through the first third of the season. But what is it about this roster and how it has gelled that has made it so special?
Jaden Ivey, the son of Notre Dame head women’s basketball coach, Niele Ivey, and a former No. 87-ranked recruit, is one of the most dynamic players in college basketball. He’s projected as a likely high-end lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
Let’s look at his early statistical jumps as compared to his freshman season:
Jaden Ivey Season Comparison
|Season||FG%||2P%||3P%||eFG%||PTS /75||PProd /36||REB%||AST%||STL%||WS/36|
(PProd stands for points produced. WS/36 stands for Win Shares per 36 minutes.)
This is the statistical profile of an All-American, Naismith Player of the Year candidate and a wing who can carry the burden of leading his team through a March Madness run.
Trevion Williams deserves a ton of credit for seamlessly transitioning to a sixth man role as a senior after starting 56 games over the previous three seasons.
He’s quite skilled as a finisher, offensive playmaker and defensive event creator, producing a statistical profile that’s reminiscent of some quirky collegiate star guards and wings who went on to carve out roles in the NBA.
NCAA DI Players With 60.0+ TS%, 25.0+ AST%, 3.0+ BLK%, 3.0+ STL%, Multiple Dunks
|2018-19||Sr.||6-5||John Konchar||Fort Wayne||62.3||30.0||3.0||3.3||14|
Williams is a special passer for a big man. He finds cutters as a high-post facilitator, draws doubles on the block and finds the open cross-corner skip pass to send defenses scrambling into rotations. He also makes some Jokić-esque no-look over-the-head passes that would make you think he has eyes in the back of his head.
Not even accounted for in this query is Williams’ dominance on the glass. He recently snagged a staggering 18 rebounds in just 24 minutes played in Purdue’s Big Ten opener against Iowa. Williams’ role is fascinating, uniquely difference-making, and unlocks a staggered-center rotation for Painter that may be the key to Purdue’s greatness.
Enter Zach Edey, a 7-foot-4, 295-pound sophomore center hailing from Ontario, Canada. Edey has been granted the starting center nod this season and has yet to share the court with Williams for a single minute, each big man accounting for approximately 88% of Purdue’s minutes that the other is off the court.
Edey is playing less than 20 minutes per game and his short spurts make it possible for him to absolutely dominate. Entering Wednesday, Edey ranked fourth in the nation in field goal percentage (72.3%), sixth in effective field goal percentage (72.3%), and 10th in true shooting percentage (75.1%).
He’s one of only three players to rank in the top ten in all three categories.
Players to Rank in Nation’s Top 10 in FG%, eFG% and TS% (2021-22)
Edey’s efficiency is driven by Purdue’s crisp ball movement. He uses his massive frame to make effective, timely, space-clearing seals to create easy lob passing angles for his teammates, allowing him to throw down easy dunks.
Over 38% of Edey’s field goals made on the season are, in fact, dunks. But Edey isn’t just a big lumbering stiff, he’s got touch – both around the basket and at the free throw line. If he’s able to maintain his 81.1 free throw percentage, he’ll join Lauri Markkanen as the only 7-foot-plus underclassmen to shoot 80.0% or better from the stripe over the past decade.
While the trio of Ivey, Williams and Edey stirs the drink, Purdue boasts a legitimate 10-man rotation of quality contributors playing 10-plus minutes per game.
Freshman forward Caleb Furst was the No. 62 recruit in his class, a Day 1 starter and is capable of flanking both Edey and Williams. Sasha Stefanovic and Brandon Newman are shooting a combined 43.5% on 11.6 3-point attempts per game and each bring positional size as 6-foot-5 guards.
Ethan Morton, an even bigger 6-foot-6, 215-pound guard and another former top-100 recruit, has grown into his role as a sophomore and provides a steady presence as a high-IQ role player. Isaiah Thompson fills a role as an ultra-efficient, low usage (12.0 USG%) starting guard.
Like Trevion Williams, 6-foot-4 senior guard Eric Hunter Jr. was a starter each of the past two seasons and has taken on a bench role for the betterment of the team. And finally, Mason Gillis scraps and battles as a strong, undersized forward who does all the little things. This is a DEEP, experienced group.
We’ve covered how Purdue ranks in TRACR, NET and the AP Poll. And we’ve broken down the Boilermakers’ star power and depth, but let’s run through some more specific team stats in which they rank among the best in college basketball:
Both via the eye test and a statistical deep dive, this team rules. There are very few holes in the Boilermakers’ early resume. If only to cherry pick, one could note a concern over a lack of a true point guard, which is typically paramount come March Madness.
Purdue’s facilitation is balanced throughout the rotation (eight of their 10 rotation players have a 10.0 or better assist percentage (AST%), but only two have a 20.0 or better AST% (Williams and Ivey). Sasha Stefanovic leads the team with 4.5 assists per game, but he’s more of a ball-mover than an on-ball advantage creator (19.1 usage rate).
Can Ivey step up even further and take the reins as more of an on-ball creator for others as the season progresses? How will Purdue fare against teams that bring chaotic full-court pressure after it struggled to crack Iowa’s trapping 2-2-1 press, committing five turnovers in less than six minutes and nearly blowing the game?
The answers to these questions remain to be seen but, for now, don’t bet against Purdue bringing home its first title.
Graphic design by Matt Sisneros.