Purdue 'opens' practice with questions, but more answers than usual

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

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Technically, Friday is the first day of "official" practice for Purdue in advance of the 2017-18 season.

Really, though, it's something like Day 60.

Purdue's already played a non-conference schedule worth of games and conducted an entire preseason worth of practices, thanks to the World University Games.

Matt Painter estimates that his team has already been through as many as 30 practices and played in a half dozen or so "quality" games.

So Friday, in a traditional sense, is a bit anticlimactic.

Purdue should open practice far beyond where it would otherwise be.

"It's big-time just because we can start at a higher point than we would have if we had to introduce a lot of things to the new guys," point guard and co-captain P.J. Thompson said. "A great thing about our team is we have a great mix of guys who have been to the Sweet 16 and won the Big Ten, but we have those guys that are young and hungry and ready to learn. They were able to experience what we go through in practices this summer. They got to understand our lingo and how we communicate offensively and defensively and I think it makes us a lot more advanced than where other teams are that are just getting started this weekend practicing."

Purdue will be advanced in its preparations for the season. It would have been even if it weren't for its atypical summer. The Boilermakers will rely heavily on a four-man senior class that comprises one of the most experienced groups in college basketball.

But in addition to that experience, actual court time this summer was constructive.

Purdue's gotten its newcomers acclimated quickly, with freshman guard Nojel Eastern — likely to be the Boilermakers' No. 2 point guard — being particularly important.

The Boilermakers are well aware that rebounding is a make-or-break issue this season after it cost them a gold medal, basically, in Taipei, and they've actually seen where development is needed on defense.

"Our defense has a long way to go," Coach Matt Painter said. "Our inability to contain the dribble is a concern. We have to do a better job, especially the older guys, of containing dribblers and then executing overall team defense. I think we can work towards that and spend a lot of practice time on it to make sure we are staying on the same page defensively."

This Purdue team will return so much, but also look so different from last season's Big Ten championship-winning form after losing All-American Caleb Swanigan to the NBA.

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The Boilermakers will be smaller, and faster, intending to play at an even quicker pace than they did last season, when they led the Big Ten in scoring.

"I feel that we are well equipped (to play fast)," said guard Carsen Edwards, a central piece to that intent. "We can get up, we have shooters that get up and down the floor a lot, we have a lot of people who can handle the ball as well."

Purdue returns the bulk of one of the most potent three-point shooting corps in the game last season along with one of its most impactful big men in Isaac Haas.

But it's Edwards and Edwards — Vincent and Carsen — that really figure to make Purdue a more dynamic offensive team.

If Purdue's going to have a "featured" player — balance will be a strength, so it may not — Vincent Edwards would seem like the likeliest candidate. He played like a star in the NCAA Tournament, showed flashes of dominance prior and may have been the best player at the World University Games.

Consistency is his aim, but his ability to score and produce in a variety of ways offensively should make him a high All-Big Ten sort of producer.

And now, he moves back to the 4 position, where he's always excelled in his college career, often benefiting from matchups against bigger or slower or less athletic opponents.

"(The matchups) do swing in my favor," Edwards said, "but … I've spent the whole off-season developing my skills so that I can always be that mismatch, even if I'm going against someone just as quick, just as versatile as me."

Purdue will face questions at the defensive end and maybe on the glass post-Swanigan, but it would seem to have the pieces in place to be an outstanding offensive team once again.

"We need to continue to work on being a great decision-making team," Painter said. "If we can be that, I think we can do some special things."

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