This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Read scouting reports on every team in the top 20 here, and find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.
During the Boilermakers’ summer tour of Spain, Caleb Swanigan went up for a dunk and cracked the backboard. It was yet another example of how the 6' 9″, 250-pound sophomore makes the remarkable look routine. “I didn’t know that happened,” coach Matt Painter says with a laugh. “It was just a regular dunk.”
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Last season Swanigan became just the second Purdue freshman (after Robbie Hummel in 2007–08) to have 300 points, 200 rebounds and 50 assists. With the departure of center A.J. Hammons, the ’15–16 Big Ten defensive player of the year, Swanigan will swing between two positions on a front line that will be among the nation’s best.
In one lineup Swanigan will be the four while 7' 2″, 290-pound junior Isaac Haas plays the five. As a backup last year Haas led the conference in points per 40 minutes with 27.4. In another configuration, 6' 8″ junior Vincent Edwards (11.3 points per game) will play power forward, and Swanigan will man the pivot, his natural position. “We can be one of the biggest front lines and cause people lots of problems with our size,” says Painter, “and then be able to move things around because Swanigan can shoot on the perimeter and drive and post.”
With guards P.J. Thompson (who had just 23 turnovers last season) and graduate transfer Spike Albrecht (3.9 assists in 2014–15 with Michigan), the Boilermakers should be able to win their first NCAA tournament game since 2012. With Swanigan, breakthroughs are always a distinct possibility.
He got lost when Purdue used a 10-man rotation early last season, but Dakota Mathias finished shooting 41.5% from beyond the arc in conference play. “He’s just a really smart basketball player,” says coach Matt Painter.
Coach’s Take: Matt Painter
“It’s too early to tell for anybody. Our guys are on edge. We put ourselves in position the last two years in the tournament, in a position to win games [and] we lose games in overtime. It leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Our guys are hungry to fight, get back and do better in conference play. We’ve gotten third in our league the past couple years. You’d like to have a couple games back where you’re in that last weekend of the season to win a Big 10 title. We got to be a little bit better. [But] I like our team. We have a very intelligent, skilled team. We have good size, have some combo forwards. We have guys that can shoot. We have a high basketball IQ. We’re excited, but we understand it’s a very competitive world. We know we’re going to have a non conference schedule that’s going to prepare us for Big 10 play.”