October 27, 2015

Matt Painter believes old-school basketball still works.

So the Purdue coach is ditching the small-ball trend and going all in with one of the biggest teams in the nation, hoping it will put them back in the title conversation.

''We want to win the Big Ten. We want to win the Big Ten Tournament. We want to make a run to the Final Four,'' sophomore forward Vince Edwards said. ''We want to win the national championship.''

It's not as crazy as it sounds.

The Boilermakers already have a 7-foot, all-conference center in A.J. Hammons and an improving 7-2 sophomore backup in Isaac Haas. If freshman Caleb Swanigan is cleared to play by the NCAA, they'll have a 6-9, 250-pound power forward, too.

Adding Swanigan, who initially committed to Michigan State, also allows Painter to move Edwards, a versatile 6-8 sophomore, to his more natural spot of small forward with the option of using 6-6 Rapheal Davis, an all-conference defensive player, 6-7 Kendall Stephens at shooting guard or small forward.

Fans will get their first real glimpse at this new look Nov. 13 against North Carolina A&T.

And these Boilermakers, unlike some of Painter's more recent teams, are working to prove that they can be better than people think.

''I was trying to stick to my defense, really, stick to what I'm very good at,'' Hammons said after Saturday's practice. ''But Caleb comes here and he likes to score. Vince likes to score. Raph likes to score. So they're pushing me to actually just trash talk for the ball, ask for the ball more and I've got to step up and not focus on defense all the time.''

That might run contrary to Painter's defense-first approach.

But given the circumstances and last season's surprising third-place finish, and it's understandable why the Boilermakers are thinking big.

''My sophomore year we were last (in the Big Ten). That's something I will never forget,'' Davis said. ''I've told the guys before I leave, I want to win a Big Ten championship and do bigger things than that.''

Here are some other things to watch this season:

SWANIGAN'S STATUS: The Boilermakers are waiting to hear from the NCAA's clearinghouse on Swanigan's eligibility. What's the hold up? Former Purdue football star Roosevelt Barnes became Swanigan's adoptive father in 2011. And after Swanigan switched his commitment from Michigan State, some speculated that Barnes may have Indiana's reigning Mr. Basketball to his alma mater.

MAKING A POINT: Last season, the Boilermakers got a big break when grad student Jon Octeus enrolled in the fall and won the starting point guard job. This year, Painter is hoping for a repeat. Though sophomore P.J. Thompson, Octeus' backup, could win the starting job, the more likely winner might be 6-3 Johnny Hill, who played two seasons at Illinois State and last season at Texas-Arlington.

FREEBIES: Painter knows the key area to improve is free-throw shooting. Last season, the Boilermakers finished 10th in the Big Ten, making 68.3 percent of their free throws. With a full offseason to work on it, Purdue should improve.

THREE FOR THE SHOW: Purdue's most glaring deficiency last season was its inability to make 3-pointers. While only three Big Ten teams made fewer 3s than the Boilermakers (195), only one player, Stephens (73), made more than 40 3s. The addition of freshman Ryan Cline should help. But they need a better perimeter game this season.

ATTENDANCE: The most shocking stat from last season might be this: Purdue finished 10th in the Big Ten in home attendance. That's in Indiana, where basketball is still treated as royalty - and during a season in which the Boilermakers outperformed expectations. Don't expect a repeat.

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