With three of their top four scorers gone from last year, the Purdue Boilermakers are in a bit of a transition year. In typical Matt Painter fashion though, he will get the most of out his roster and have his team back in the NCAA Tournament.
As the lone senior on the squad, D.J. Byrd must emerge as the leader replacing the invaluable experience of Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson. Byrd has been a key role player the past couple of seasons, relying on his relentless hustle and three-point shooting to complement the upperclassmen around him, but now must show more assertiveness on the court.
Also needing to step up is junior shooting guard Terone Johnson, who made strides last season, but will need to become a go-to option for Purdue as one of the few play-makers off the dribble. He is surrounded by a young group of guards with sophomore Anthony Johnson likely to take over at the point. A third Johnson, Ronnie, comes in as a freshman and must be ready to contribute right away off the bench along with Raphael Davis.
There is more depth, but not a whole lot of skill, up front. Travis Carroll, Sandi Marcius, and Jacob Lawson all saw time in the starting lineup, but none of them were able to take control of the position alongside Hummel. The trio is rather offensively challenged as they combined to average more rebounds than points a year ago and Painter will need more production from them.
The Boliermakers get a huge addition - literally - with 7-0, 280-pound center A.J. Hammons. He arrives on campus already the team's most talented back to the basket scorer and with his size, should clog up the paint defensively. Redshirt freshman Donnie Hale and freshman Jay Simpson will try to earn minutes as well, and it will be interesting to see how the frontcourt works itself out as the season progresses. That could be the ultimate determining factor in how successful Purdue is this season.
There are a lot of new faces needing to step into major roles for the Boilermakers this season. With a top heavy Big Ten Conference featuring six preseason Top-25 teams, it's a safe prediction to pick Purdue to finish seventh, but never rule out Painter coaching his guys up to the maximum and making some unexpected noise.
Player to Watch: A.J. Hammons, C
Despite his size, Hammons was far from a dominating high school player, averaging just 7 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.0 blocks per game as a senior on an Oak Hill squad that finished as the top-ranked prep team in the nation. It has been a while since the Boilermakers have had someone with his size on their roster, and if he can be the intimidating inside presence that his size would suggest, it would provide Purdue with a major boost.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/15 vs. Villanova (2k Sports Classic)
11/16 vs. Alabama/Oregon State (2k Classic)
11/28 at Clemson (Big Ten/ACC Challenge)
12/1 vs. Xavier
12/1 vs. Notre Dame (Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis)