A BS Roundtable – What If Swanigan Returned?
So let's have some fun....Caleb Swanigan declared for the draft but won't hire an agent, leaving open the possibility (no matter how small) of his coming back next year.
Let's say for April content-filling purposes that he does return.
1. What is Purdue's national ranking and Big Ten projection at the start of the season? Remember, I'm asking what the media will do with them, not where we as biased Purdue fans think they should be.
2. What becomes the "expectation" for next year in your mind? Presumably, an ass-whipping in the S16 would be a disappointment. Would a FF be almost expected? Could dreaming of a national title be somewhat reasonable?
Please share your thoughts.
Oh, you probably want words.
1. Computers generally put Purdue right about where they finished: as a Sweet 16 team that was maybe or maybe not good enough to make it that far, somewhere between 14 and 19. Given the blowout loss to Kansas, humans will do something along the same lines, give them a slight bump* for returning the vast majority of their minutes, and then dock them because they still aren't a Kansas or a UNC or a Kentucky. So, probably right about where they are now. There will be a handful of voters who put them significantly higher and are derided for being homers, even though none of them will be coach or media from this area.
Computers will likely boost them significantly. I wouldn't be surprised if they were more like 9-12 in preseason systems, depending on how much a system adjusts for returning players. (Some systems may not actually change anything until games begin.)
Their Big Tenteen projection will be to repeat as conference champs. Wisconsin had 4 seniors and Ethan Happ wasn't one of them. With Melo Trimble gone, Maryland will sink. Minnesota won't get any better unless they both find players to complement Nate Mason and also lower his usage. Michigan will be pretty good - never count Beilein out - but losing Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton will mean that if the Wolverines are contenders, it'll be during the CT and not the regular season. (If Wilson and/or Wagner leave, drop UM farther.) etc. etc.
2. My expectation is that they would play like a Final Four contender: kenpom top 10 throughout the season, decimations of weak teams, strong games at home every time, and threats to win on the road every night. I'd be disappointed if Biggie comes back and the pretty-much-intact team doesn't make the Final Four, but then you put 10-12 contenders in a hat and draw four out every year, so not every team that "belongs" there will make it anyway. (Also, if the officiating is anything like it was in this tournament, all bets are off. I don't know what the NCAA does with the billions they make, but they sure don't invest it in making sure games are officiated well.)
Dreaming of a national title would absolutely be reasonable. Purdue's experience would be roughly what Iowa State's was this season. (Oddly, the Cyclones have remained relatively consistent in that category for 2-3 seasons ...) If you look at Purdue's kenpom profile, there is yellow (for national rankings) all over that page. Add a little depth to the mix, and I think you get something kind of like 1987-88, when Purdue returned four of five starters, all of whom averaged double figures and three of which were starting for the third straight season. The Sweet 16 game was not what we wanted, but the 32 games before that went just fine, didn't they? If you offered me 16-2 and 29-4, I would take that in a heartbeat.
'94 wasn't the same for me because of '88 (remember, I was in Pontiac for that loss to Kansas State), but I'm sure for others '94 is the standard by which they measure seasons: a year when for the first time, you really, really think this might be it. (I'm old enough to have followed basketball in 1980, but I had no reason to be a Purdue fan then. It's OK, I went through detox.)
It's too bad the '18 regionals aren't very close: Omaha is probably where a 1-seeded Purdue would land. Pittsburgh or Detroit for the first two rounds, then Omaha (or maybe Atlanta if the Big lessthan12 goes to Omaha), then San Antonio. Where was Purdue's first bowl win under Joe Tiller? Coincidence - I THINK NOT.
If Swanigan returned? We'd have a different POTUS, Pittsburgh would be sunny and a love 73 degrees all year around, the Colts wouldn't be a mismanaged joke of a franchise, the Pacers wouldn't disappoint me every single year, my bosses would let me graduate with my PhD right now because we found a way for kids to avoid aortic aneurysms, and the world becomes a generally happy and peaceful place.
Oh, and to answer your questions:
1) Purdue would be a top 5 team if Swanigan, Edwards, and Haas all returned. I see what is being said about the "slight bump since they aren't Kentucky or UNC", but remember that the closest comparison for this fake scenario is before the 2010-2011 season. Purdue was a top 3 team in 2010, lost a key player, still finished as a top 15 team, and was returning everyone. All of the pre-October 16 preseason polls (before the second ACL tear) had Purdue top 5; Athlon (#2), Lindy's (#2), Sporting News (#3), Fox Sports (#2), CBS Sports (#3), and Blue Ribbon (#5) didn't seem to care that Purdue is outside the "blue-blood" designation, as most people who really think about this are smarter than we typically give credit.
Purdue would bring back the NPOY Runner-Up, two other potential NBA draft picks, ideal complementary players, a dynamic point guard, and a very solid role-playing incoming class. Swanigan is name-brand now, Purdue is a nationally-known school, writers love Matt Painter, and people love the "continuity" talking point, so I really think Purdue would be a consensus top 5 pick alongside Kansas, Duke, UNC, and Louisville.
2) What are Purdue's expectations if Swanigan, Edwards, and Haas return? At very minimum it's Elite Eight or bust, with a National Title as the extremely-realistic goal. Swanigan becomes the preseason favorite for NPOY, and if we've learned anything from the last two Final Fours it's that continuity seems to trump constant roster churn (regardless of the incoming freshman talent). Only Louisville would return everyone from a top 15 2016-2017 team, so a B10 championship/third weekend March Madness run becomes the goal.
I miss Caleb Swanigan so much, and he's not even gone yet.
If Biggie returns, Purdue is a top-12 team. I think nationally Biggie has a great reputation but that reputation is not extended to his supporting cast. I don't think the comparison to 2010-11 is valid because that team had three superstars (defined as NBA players) and this team has one. Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas aren't on the Robbie Hummel / JaJuan Johnson / E'Twaun Moore level (they are at best fringe NBA guys at this point), so I don't think this team's ceiling moves too much. I like the incoming class, but there are some unknown quantities in that class (Ewing, Wheeler), a developmental guy who won't be ready next year (Haarms) and a specialist who plays a crowded position (Stefanovic). Eastern is a legit talent and will probably contribute as a freshmen, but he alone isn't enough to move the needle. I also think that Swanigan played to his ceiling this year; other than getting more efficient (read: less turnover-prone) there aren't many big jumps for him to make in his game.
If he were to return, I'd push expectations up just a tiny bit. That team should get to an Elite Eight, and I would be disappointed with anything less (to reiterate a point I've made before, I care way more about the NCAA Tournament than I do about anything to do with the Big 10.) But they are still missing a number of the major components that make up a National Title contender. With a little good luck (what's 'good luck'?) I think they could totally pull an upset or two and make the Final Four. But outside of Carsen Edwards and probably Nojel Eastern they don't have many guys who can score off the dribble, their shooters are inconsistent, and their bigs still struggle to guard athletic 4s and 5s. And then there's the mental side of the game (giving up big leads in the second half, playing tight in close games) that hasn't shown any signs of abating.
I really like this team, with or without Caleb Swanigan, but I'm not going to allow my expectations to run out of control, especially when I see some pretty clear signs that this team has some meaningful limitations.
First off, I think there is a bigger chance of the top of my head sprouting new hair growth as I look like a combo of JMoney and Jon Hamm...so this point or dream sequence will be made irrelevant in the near future.
That said, I wanna play along, so why not? [Is this guy a team player or what? – J]
If Swanigan returns, I believe Purdue will be a top-5 team in America. Swanigan became a bit of a media sweetheart during the tournament as his story finally began to be disseminated through different outlets...With it, his work ethic, talent and ability to defy odds and critics became evident. Many of the big names in college sports media glommed on to Biggie's story...so it would clearly be his team. More than Purdue, they'd regard it as The Purdue Swanigans...and because of that, Purdue would get some long-overdue pre-season respect.
The next question is, would that Purdue team live up to the respect? A pal of mine has reminded me that Purdue doesn't get blind respect in the media because the guys who take flyers on our Boilers end up looking like fools as they bow out in the round of 64 (which has happened a few times). Post season respect is earned...and Painter's Boilers getting to the Sweet 16 was a good step forward. I believe this team would take another step forward IF Swanigan returned. An Elite 8 or better would become an expectation of the Purdue faithful, I believe...and with the will of Swanigan setting a tone for that squad again, I think a Final Four would be their eventual stopping point.
Part of the reason they'd get there would be a 1 or 2 seed after winning or contending for a B1G title...and the reason they might get a high seed without a conference title would trace back to big wins in December on relatively large stages. Winning a game or two versus big name brands in Atlantis as well as beating Butler in Indy would make Purdue's stock soar.
All of this said, I don't think we need to put a ton of dream power into the scenario...He gone.
I'm with Michael on this (and in my daydreams).
Purdue did indeed crack the top 5 and had a bead on number 1 in the nation when Robbie's first knee buckle happened. Those arguing Purdue could find the top 5 will point to this. But it's important to remember that that squad had been building cred for a couple of years AND that was one of those years with no great teams. Purdue was going to luck into #1 in the nation as I believe they were #3 and the top two lost....and then Purdue played that lousy game vs MSU while they were mourning Robbie's injury.
This group has never been close to those heights and the traditional powers are....powerful right now. I think Purdue is around 10 to start the season and has a chance of course to get into the top 3 to 5 but only if they win every meaningful, visible game.
I also agree that fair or not, expectation becomes at least elite 8, probably final four. How many better cracks would Matt Painter have at it? We have to invent this hypothetical scenario to give him a chance. *sigh*
I put the chances of Biggie coming back at 10-15%. Let's gamble.