Now any program is expected to take a step back after having a big senior class graduate, but ideally a coach has recruited well enough that it is truly next man up. Back track to the 2012-13 Purdue basketball season all remnants of the Baby Boiler class were gone and the Boilermakers entered the dark ages even after, unfortunately for everyone, getting an extra year of Robbie Hummel. This year Matt Painter faced a similar scenario and the coach has delivered.
Preseason predictions did have Purdue in the top three or four of the Big Ten behind the performance of National Player of the Year candidate Carsen Edwards, but after a very rough non-conference slate everyone started to cool down expectations. Purdue was (8-5, 1-1) heading in to the bulk of conference play and, despite the win against ranked Maryland, lost to Virginia Tech, Florida State, blown out by Michigan, had a bad loss to Notre Dame and wasted a huge night from Edwards down at Texas.
The parts around Edwards weren’t doing enough behind Edwards no matter what he was doing, and heaven forbid he struggled. On a night honoring Tyler Trent Purdue upset a ranked Iowa team at home but then got blown out by the class of the conference at Michigan State. Something changed in that game. Trevion Williams joined the lineup and seemed to be the only player that showed up, leading the team with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Painter’s squad rattled off eight straight and 11 of their last 12.
This stretch of wins included the big one against Michigan State, the season sweep of Indiana and road wins at Wisconsin and Ohio State but something more important has happened. Purdue has figured out how to win even when Edwards struggles, and that is something that seemed impossible at the beginning of the season.
At home against Penn State Edwards put up 21 but the team had 23 turnovers to allow the Nittany Lions stick around after taking the Boilers to overtime just two weeks earlier, but they still pulled out a 76-64 win. All bets are off in rivalry games but no one would have predicted a 4-24 night from Edwards with only 9 points. It was ugly but Purdue fought and saw redemption for Haarms with the game wining tip. Ryan Cline was the leading scorer at IU and Haarms lead Purdue with 17 at Nebraska, a game where Edwards went 3-16 for 13 points. The Boilers still toughed out a 75-72 road win.
Of course no one is predicting a run in March or even a Big Ten title if Edwards keeps struggling, but who would have seen two straight road wins for Purdue with Edwards going a combined 7-40 for 22 points? At the beginning of the season Edwards could do whatever he wanted and the Boilers were still struggling to win against top competition, now the black and gold are winning in spite of their Player of the Year’s struggles.
Painter has done and excellent job coaching and putting his team together. Last time Purdue fans watched their premiere players graduate they entered the dark ages and quickly went to the cellar of the Big Ten, but not this time. The last four games for Painter’s squad are very manageable and Purdue could be looking at their 24th Big Ten championship. Seeing the players step up with Edwards struggles and a potential Big Ten championship has to have fans feeling confident that Painter will continue to put together successful seasons.