Purdue Basketball: 2016-17 Season In Review

Brian Neubert, GoldandBlack.com staff
Gold and Black
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Tom Campbell

Purdue's 2016-17 season ended with some measure of shock against Kansas — in the way it all ended — but nothing about that game changed all that occurred prior, as the Boilermakers won 27 games, claimed the Big Ten championship outright and exorcised its postseason demons of the past two years by beating Vermont and Iowa State in Milwaukee to reach the Midwest Regional semifinal.

The Boilermakers obviously wanted to go further, but for a team that opened and closed the season 15th in the AP poll and finished the season 19th in the RPI and in the KenPom rankings, with a 4 seed to the Big Dance, there was a certain symmetry to its season ending in the Round of 16.

Below, GoldandBlack.com takes a look back at the season in super-fun superlative, bold-header format.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

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USA Today Sports

For a player who may win National Player-of-the-Year awards, everything else for Caleb Swanigan — a Naismith Trophy and Wooden Award finalist who's already been named Basketball Times Player-of-the-Year and a first-team All-American by everyone — is redundancy.

Simply put, the sophomore big man was amazing this season, one of the two or three most productive and consistent and influential players in the game, a player who improved twice over from a freshman season that by most any objective standard was really, really good.

Swanigan was the most dominant player in the Big Ten, the no-brainer Big Ten Player-of-the-Year, and the driving force behind a top-20 team that won its conference with cushion.

He led the Big Ten in scoring (in Big Ten games), nearly led the nation in rebounding (12.5) and made double-doubles his standards, recording a Big Ten-record 28 of them.

Beyond the sheer numbers, which are staggering, there are the moments.

Purdue won the Big Ten because it won difficult, close road games.

It started at Ohio State, which wasn't as good this season as it normally is, nor was there anyone in Value City Arena that night. Nevertheless, that game was won by a few of Swanigan's moment, like when he brilliantly kicked out of a double-team to P.J. Thompson for the biggest field goal of the game — a three-pointer that put Purdue up four with a minute-plus to go — then won the game at the foul line in the final seconds.

Then there was his 25-and-17 game at Michigan State (more on that later), his 26-and-10 at Maryland and his 16-and-14 at Indiana. Those were the games that won Purdue the Big Ten.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

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Tom Campbell

Exempting Swanigan here for the purpose of limiting redundancies, Dakota Mathias earns mention here.

Emboldened by a clear-cut starting role, guaranteed minutes and his own health, Mathias was more aggressive and more assertive on offense, paying important dividends for Purdue. He led the Boilermakers in assists with 133 and led the Big Ten's best three-point shooting team at 45 percent.

And, just as significantly if not more, Mathias transformed from defensive liability earlier in his career into the Boilermakers' best perimeter defender, earning a spot on the Big Ten's All-Defense team because of it.

Just a reminder: No one in college basketball improved more this season than Swanigan, but variety is the spice of life, so ...

PLAYS OF THE YEAR

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USA Today Sports

There are so many. Here are just some.

• There's no way to know how Purdue's NCAA Tournament win over Iowa State would have turned out without Swanigan's heroic effort to secure the offensive rebound of Mathias' missed free throw late in regulation. Purdue's thrilled it didn't have to find out.

• The win at Maryland might have been the one that set Purdue on the path toward a championship. Purdue led for less than a minute, winning it by getting Carsen Edwards downhill toward the rim in the final seconds. The freshman made a great decision to get all the way to the basket instead of settling for a tough pull-up and was rewarded with a foul. He made both free throws to win the game.

• In the final minute of a tight game at Indiana, Purdue slipped Swanigan out of a high screen and Mathias hit him rolling to the basket for an and-one that served as that game's biggest field goal.

• At Penn State, Purdue played one of its worst games of the season, let slip a lead in the final minutes of regulation, then seemed destined toward a brutal loss mid-title hunt before Ryan Cline saved the Boilermakers' bacon with back-to-back three-pointers in overtime, the second of which put Purdue up four with 52 seconds left in OT.

• With 1:19 to play at Ohio State in the Big Ten road opener and Purdue clinging to a one-point lead, Swanigan posted up, drew a double team, then kicked the ball out to P.J. Thompson for a three-pointer that put the Boilermakers up four in a game that would come down to the final second. Purdue doesn't win without that shot.

• Earlier at Maryland, Swanigan chased an offensive rebound, but couldn't corral it cleanly, so he batted it with two hands to Thompson for a three-pointer that took Purdue from down two to up one with 3:22 to play. It was a crucial play and an another example of Swanigan's dominant will and Thompson's penchant for making timely shots. It was the rare instance where a player records a rebound and an assist in the same sequence without ever having secured the ball.

Later, Swanigan made a three with 1:31 to play after the Terps had gone up four. That shot was even bigger.

• Against Iowa State, it was a big, big deal in the big picture that Mathias closed the first half with back-to-back threes as Purdue successfully 2-for-1'd the end of the half. There was some measure of luck involved. Carsen Edwards tripped with the ball before dishing to Mathias for the second of the two shots, but they were big, giving Purdue a 44-31 halftime lead. As you know, that cushion won Purdue the game.

• Purdue went on to lose in overtime to Michigan in its Big Ten Tournament opener, but it might not have gotten that far without Thompson's halfcourt heave at the halftime buzzer, which brought the Boilermakers to within one at the break after Michigan had turned the game on its side with a run. It was Thompson's second such shot of the season, the first coming against Villanova.

BIGGEST WIN

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USA Today Sports

There are all sorts of candidates — Notre Dame, Wisconsin, at Michigan State, at Northwestern, Iowa State, etc.

But in a broad context, this was Maryland, not just because of the importance of the game, but because of what it meant.

First off, that game was the one that may have set Purdue on the path toward a Big Ten title. The Terps were 20-2 at the time and living off winning close games. Purdue was still proving itself in those situations.

Purdue flat-out stole that game, keeping its composure in the final minutes and while Maryland made runs earlier in the game. The Boilermakers were down double-figures in the second half, but didn't lose their mind. They might have in years past and compounded matters.

Maryland is one of the most difficult places to play in the Big Ten. Purdue didn't even play particularly well that game and managed to find a way to win. That set the tone for a number of wins to come and ultimately won the Boilermakers a championship.

Notre Dame, you can make a case. Purdue rallied from 17 down in the first half to finally win in the Crossroads Classic. Iowa State, the Boilermakers dominated for 25 minutes, got dominated for about eight, saw a big lead slip, then won anyway. That was big-time.

And there's no overstating what Purdue did at home to Wisconsin in a marquee matchup, what it did to Michigan State in East Lansing in the most treacherous of environments or the impressiveness it displayed winning at Northwestern to end the regular season when it didn't have to. That was one of the biggest games in Northwestern school history.

But the Maryland win gets the nod here.

WORST LOSS

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USA Today Sports

Does it count as a bad loss if it changes the trajectory of a season for the better?

Regardless, Purdue left Nebraska a 83-80 loser seemingly envious of Wisconsin's then-ability to win games in which it didn't play particularly well, no matter what. Funny how that turned out, because the Boilermakers got hot from there and the Badgers later fell apart.

Purdue lost some Big Ten games it shouldn't have this season because it lapsed on defense, seemingly a matter of details and whatnot. Maybe that Nebraska game, one that felt crippling at the moment, was worth it in the big picture, because things changed thereafter.

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE

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Tom Campbell

There were a lot of great ones but this is a no-brainer.

What Swanigan did at Michigan State in the face of the vitriole he faced at the school he was once briefly committed to was remarkable.

Finding a poise previously unseen from him amidst the taunts coming his way in what was as hostile an environment toward an individual as Purdue's ever seen, Swanigan scored 25 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. He made threes early and big plays late and even smiled when it was all over.

Special mention here goes to Vincent Edwards' 26-point game on 8-of-11 shooting at Indiana. Playing like that in Assembly Hall is a good way to get remembered around Purdue for a long, long time.

Some others that bear noting.

• Carsen Edwards' 21-point eruption on 7-of-11 shooting against Auburn in Cancun. Edwards played the game the Auburn way that day and beat them, badly, at their own game, a sort of "star is born" sort of moment.

• Northwestern was an NCAA Tournament team this season. Vincent Edwards went for 17 points in the first meeting between the two teams, 25 in the second.

• In the game that secured Purdue's Big Ten title, Dakota Mathias went berserk against Indiana, scoring 17 of his 19 in the first half.

• It wasn't Purdue's highest-profile win, but it's hard to do much better than the 26 points Isaac Haas scored on 9-of-10 shooting against Utah State in Cancun. People also seem to forget what Haas did to defending national champ Villanova once he got on the floor after dealing with early foul trouble. He scored 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting in just 20 minutes. If both he and Swanigan (20 points, eight rebounds) don't get in early foul trouble, Purdue wins that game, most likely.

• This wasn't Purdue's highest-profile win either, but the 32-and-20 Swanigan posted against Norfolk State was ludicrous. Against a more credible opponent, Swanigan went for 28 and 22 in 41 minutes in Purdue's OT loss to Minnesota.

• Both of Vincent Edwards' NCAA Tournament performances in Milwaukee bear mentioning. He scored 21 on 10-of-16 shooting against Vermont, shaking off three first-half turnovers. Against Iowa State, he made 9-of-14 shots, scored 21, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out four assists.

• Note: At least a quarter of Swanigan's games this season qualify for this list, but we have to draw the line somewhere.

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