With Wooden Award winner Zach Edey returning, the Purdue Boilermakers are hoping to follow in Virginia’s footsteps from losing to a 16 seed to winning the title.
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Purdue was oh-so-dangerous last year, and a popular pick to win it all, up until they weren’t. Their loss to Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round was so historic, it has its own Wikipedia page. The ultra-tall Boilermakers somehow lost to Tobin Anderson’s ultra-small Knights, who caught Purdue on the right night. Before that game, however, the Boilermakers were steamrolling, winning the Big Ten Tournament and occupying the no. 1 spot in the AP poll for weeks at a time.
Center Zach Edey was the main reason why, averaging 22.3 PPG and 12.9 RPG from the clouds at a listed height of 7’4. He’ll likely be 1 of 3 starters coming back who started every game for the Boilermakers, joined by sophomore guards Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. The other two starting spots are up for grabs, but they could be handled by transfer guard Lance Jones, a graduate of Coach Painter’s previous school, Southern Illinois, and a trio of possible forwards from the previous season, Mason Gillis, Caleb Furst, and Trey Kaufman-Renn. Furst (6-10) or Kaufman-Renn (6-9) will likely get that position, as the Boilermakers need height at the 4 to pair with Edey. (Gillis, who started 15 games last year, stands at 6-6 and wouldn’t be the right fit at the 4.)
The bench is almost identical to last year, as only two players left (Brandon Newman and David Jenkins Jr.), while only two players were brought in (the aforementioned Jones and freshman guard Myles Colvin, the no. 63-ranked recruit in the class of 2023). The odd men out of the forward spot, whatever combination of Kaufman-Renn, Furst, and Gillis that doesn’t start, will likely be “furst” off the bench for Purdue. (That wasn’t intentional wordplay, I made a typo and don’t feel like fixing it.) Colvin and senior guard Ethan Morton will be the first guards to get off the bench when Smith, Jones, or Loyer are out of the game.
The bench will be rounded out by a few redshirts, those being 7-2 center Will Berg, (the next Edey?) and 6-7 forwards Camden Heide and Brian Waddell. With the respective talent in front of that trio, they’d have to really show out in order to get valuable minutes.
Overall, this team is a cookie-cutter cutout of last year’s squad. Purdue is simply running it back, and it’s worth noting that the only other team to lose to a 16-seed (2018 Virginia) won the title the next year. So history is on the side of the Boilermakers, even if they had to make a little bad history of their own to do so.
Who can stop Zach Edey? That’ll be the question for every opposing defense the Boilermakers face this year, but if a team manages to do that, it’ll place the pressure on the backcourt. Smith and Loyer need to be dependable on the offensive side of the ball, and we saw what could happen in March if they aren’t.
From 1-8 on the depth chart, this team is experienced and ready for Power 6, March-April basketball. The (almost) exact same roster went 29-5 last year prior to the tournament, and there’s no reason to think they can’t do that again. All that’s left to do is exorcize the Purdue postseason demons. Easier said than done, but if a Purdue team can do it, it’s this one.
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Head coach: Matt Painter (20th season, 19th at Purdue)
2022-23 record: 29-6 (15-5)
2023 postseason finish: Lost to Fairleigh Dickinson, 63-58, in first round of NCAA Tournament
Notable departures: Brandon Newman (Transferred to Western Kentucky), David Jenkins Jr. (Graduated)
Notable non-conference games: vs. Xavier (Nov. 13), vs. Gonzaga (Nov. 20, in Maui), Maui Invitational (Nov. 21-22), vs. Alabama (Dec. 9, in Toronto), vs. Arizona (Dec. 16, in Indianapolis)
PG: Braden Smith (6-0, 175, So.)
2022-23 stats: 9.7 PPG, 4.4 APG, 4.2 RPG, 37.6 3P%
SG: Lance Jones (6-1, 200, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 13.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.6 SPG (Southern Illinois)
G: Fletcher Loyer (6-4, 180, S0.)
2022-23 stats: 11.0 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.7 RPG
PF: Caleb Furst (6-10, 225, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 5.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.7 APG
C: Zach Edey (7-4, 300, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 22.3 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 2.1 BPG
6: Mason Gillis (6-6, 225, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 6.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.3 APG
7: Trey Kaufman-Renn (6-9, 230, So.)
2022-23 stats: 4.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.7 APG
8: Myles Colvin (6-5, 200, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 63 rated recruit
9: Ethan Morton (6-7, 215, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 3.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.4 APG
10: Brian Waddell (6-8, 190, So.)
2022-23 stats: 0.5 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 0.4 APG, 8.1 MPG
11: Camden Heide (6-7, 205, Rs.-Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 141 rated recruit (Class of 2022)
12: Will Berg (7-2, 255, Rs.-Fr.)
International Recruit via Sweden (Class of 2022)
Purdue Boilermakers MVP: Zach Edey
Edey isn’t just the MVP of the Purdue Boilermakers, he’s the MVP of college basketball, as evidenced by the Wooden Award. He’s 7 feet, 4 inches of finesse, and subtle touch, but his height alone is enough to break some teams. After averaging 22.3 PPG and 12.9 RPG last year, Purdue is wondering what this kid will do as an encore.
Edey’s game is a perfect fit for college basketball, so it didn’t make sense for him to try and jump to the NBA. His defense is solid, as one would expect out of a 7’4 center, and he averaged 2.1 BPG last year. He hasn’t really improved on defense from his freshman year to now, but his offense certainly has made huge strides every year, averaging 8.7 PPG as a freshman, 14.4 as a sophomore, and 22.3 last season. It’s insane to realize his offense actually took a bigger jump from sophomore to junior year rather than freshman to sophomore year.
Edey sits on top of too many statistical leaderboards to mention and his awards and accomplishments from last year are too numerous to name. But in short, he’s a very tall, almost always efficient, program cornerstone, who was clearly the best player in college basketball last year from a statistical standpoint. This Purdue team would not be sniffing a top-4 seed without Edey, and they likely wouldn’t be ranked without him. That’s not to put down the rest of the team, but rather to showcase just how vital Edey is to this program. Zach Edey is Purdue.
Purdue Boilermakers make-or-break player: Fletcher Loyer
As a freshman, Loyer started all 35 games for the Boilermakers last year. He was mostly very good for an inexperienced backcourt player competing in the Big Ten, but there’s room to improve, and room to improve means Edey getting to shoulder less of the workload than he had to last season.
Loyer took care of the ball (just a 10.1 turnover percentage) and averaged more APG against Big Ten opponents than non-conference opponents. The only issue was shooting. For a player shooting the most threes on the team (5.2 attempts per game), a percentage at least above 35.0% would be appreciated. Loyer didn’t come particularly close, shooting 32.6% from deep.
That hurt Purdue, allowing the defense to be able to focus mostly on the inside and Edey versus having to intently guard the perimeter in addition to Edey. If Loyer can make strides to improve his outside shooting, the offense can run that much smoother. If he, along with guards Lance Jones and Ethan Morton, (Braden Smith actually had a very impressive season from the perimeter) can consistently make their outside shots, it will allow Purdue to stretch the floor and use Edey even more valuably. Loyer is vital to the success of this team, but it is a need, not a want, for him to shoot more efficiently.
Key analytic: 3P%
Similar to the point above with Loyer and perimeter shooting, the three-point shooting of Purdue will either drastically raise or lower its ceiling. Last year, the Boilermakers shot just 32.2% from deep, good for just 291st in the country.
When was the last time a team won the championship shooting that percentage or worse from deep? Decades ago. The shooters from Purdue have to step up, and it starts in the backcourt, of course. Lance Jones is an interesting pickup in the portal but has regressed as a shooter after a 42.6% clip from deep three years ago. (He shot 28.0% from deep last year.) Braden Smith shot 37.6% from deep last year but was 4th in terms of attempts. Anytime the team’s best perimeter shooter isn’t first or second in terms of threes attempted, changes need to be made regarding the shot selection of others. Let Smith pull the trigger! He will make the shot.
If Jones struggles from deep, Mason Gillis could be inserted into the starting lineup again as a small-ball 3. He knocked down 35.6% of his shots from deep last year, and will likely produce at a similar clip this season. If Gillis and Smith continue to shoot the ball well from the perimeter and Loyer and Jones make needed improvements in their games, teams will be forced to put emphasis on guarding the perimeter, creating more space for Edey, and in turn more space for the Purdue offense, one that ranked 153rd in the nation last year in PPG.
Purdue Boilermakers 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 1st in the Big Ten
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament Champions