To get the lowdown on this year's Purdue squad, we talked to Conner Klotz, the sports editor over at the Purdue Exponent. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Purdue’s had kind of a weird season this year — the team dominated through its first four games, then suffered a pair of close losses to unranked Tennessee and Western Kentucky, then beat No. 2 Arizona and No. 17 Louisville. Why has the team been so inconsistent from game to game? Which version of the Boilermakers is the real one?
It's hard to explain why the Boilers have seemingly peaked and hit rock bottom just eight games into the season. But I think the real Boilermakers we saw in the most recent wins against Arizona and Louisville. Defeating Arizona in a run-and-gun high-scoring game, and Louisville in an ugly, grind-it-out style proved that Purdue is capable of winning in more than one way.
Caleb Swanigan is a pretty tough player to replace. How have the Boilermakers adjusted to life without their star forward?
Replacing the Big Ten Player of the Year is a tough task, and in some ways the Boilermakers are coping, and in others they definitely aren't. Purdue doesn't miss Swanigan's offense. This team can score in bunches and has had no trouble replacing his 18.5 points per game. The area where the Boilers miss him the most is on the boards. Purdue's inconsistency this season has been due to poor defensive rebounding, allowing too many second-chance opportunities for the opposition. They've yet to find a way to replace his 12.5 rebounds per game and will likely struggle all season in that respect.
Carsen Edwards struggled shooting as a freshman in 2016-17. This year as a sophomore, he’s looked more like the top recruit he was before coming to Purdue. How has he made the leap?
The thing about Carsen is that he's only wired one way: to score. He's a high-volume shooter who certainly struggled with efficiency last season, where he shot 38.2 percent from the floor. So far this season, he's shooting 46.4 percent, and I think most of that is experience. He was a true freshman who started 21 games last year. There were definitely growing pains, and there still are. If he gets his head up, watch out — he can take over a game. It's difficult to forget his performance in last year's road game at Maryland, in which he hit two free throws in the waning seconds to clinch the huge win.
Dakota Mathias has done a pretty impressive Steph Curry impression this season. Where has this hot shooting come from? Can he sustain it as the Boilermakers face more Big Ten opponents?
Dakota Mathias is one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten. End of story. His development over his time at Purdue has been second to none, and it's coming to a head in his senior season. He shot 47 percent from the floor and 45.3 percent from three-point range last year, so this year's performance isn't too surprising. He's got a quick release and a smooth shot, and if he finds a rhythm, he might never miss. I don't expect his current mark of 53.5 percent from deep to stay quite that high during conference play, but I wouldn't be shocked if he hovers around 50 percent.
Fill in the blank: Purdue will win this game if _______.
…it makes eight or more 3-pointers. Despite being one of the nation's better teams from deep last season, the Boilers have gone cold over the last few weeks. If they can get hot, I think they'll escape a hostile environment with the win.
Maryland will win this game if _______.
…it wins the rebounding battle, specifically on the offensive glass. With a team like Maryland that has so many shooters (looking at you, Kevin Huerter), offensive rebounds and second-chance kick-outs could help the Terps put Purdue away.