That explosion you just heard was the top of my head blowing off. I don’t know how I can deal with any more stress. This collegiate basketball season is shaping up to be a banner and very stressful season for IU and Purdue fans, yet again.
IU fans will get an early indication of what to expect with Kansas first on the docket. The Hoosiers are looking very strong in returning two players tabbed as preseason All-Americans. Sophomore center Thomas Bryant (Blue Ribbon Basketball Magazine and CBSSports.com) and sophomore guard OG Anunoby (Sporting News) were selected for this honor. Bryant made the All Big Ten Freshman Team and was selected 3rd team All Big Ten last season. He averaged 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds, all the while shooting an IU-record 68.3 percent from the field. Anunoby played in 34 games and averaged 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in those games. These two guys are going to be fun to watch because of their athleticism and pure hoops talent.
Also returning, healthy and ready to hopefully lead (and pass the ball every once in a while, oh and defend) is junior guard James Blackmon, who averaged 15.8 points and 4.2 rebounds last season before injury took him out of the lineup. Complementing Blackmon is junior guard Robert Johnson, a 22-game starter for coach Tom Crean who averaged just over 8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Look for 6-8 sophomore forward Juwan Morgan, who saw limited play in just 16 games last season, to be a big help defensively and have a breakout season. Along with Morgan, newcomer and highly touted perimeter shooter freshman Grant Gelon should also come in and make an immediate contribution. Last season Gelon shot 41.8 percent from behind the arc so he should have a green light whenever he gets the ball in the open.
The Boilers are a very scary team this season. Its core starters are solid, but behind those players, the cupboard is rather empty and untested. The season will pivot around 7-2 junior center Isaac Haas. With the departure of A.J. Hammons, Haas is now the big man on campus, which is a little frightening. If he can accept his new expanded role and produce the points and rebounds, all the while protecting the rim on defense and staying out of foul trouble, then the Boilers should have a great season. But if he’s inconsistent, then here come the stress and potential losses.
Sophomore power forward Caleb Swanigan needs to improve his overall game to increase his NBA draft status this season. He has already been placed on the Naismith list for the best college basketball player of the year. Swanigan needs to be consistent in his scoring, shooting decisions, and leadership for this team to make it far in the Big Ten and NCAA tourneys. His talent is there, and this will be his last year at Purdue.
P.J. Thompson, the Boilers’ oft-maligned point guard, is just too good to not start. He is 27-10 as a starting point guard, and last season had zero turnovers in 22 of Purdue’s 35 games. Astonishing, actually. Assisting him will be freshman shooting guard Carson Edwards from Atascocita, Texas, who has already impressed fans by averaging 16.8 points per contest in Purdue’s trip to Spain earlier this year.
But the breakout star of the season is going to be Vince Edwards. He will be the motor that runs the offense. His sophomore season was nothing if not spectacular, and his junior season has a giant upside. If he reaches his full potential, he will be NBA-bound also. He was Purdue’s only player to start all 35 games last season, and scored in double figures 19 times.
Because of all the unbelievable events that have changed history recently, I feel secure in saying that Purdue and IU will meet in two championship games this year and they will split. I just don’t know which university will win the Big Ten and which will hang the banner of “national champion.”