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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Purdue guard P.J. Thompson, right, and teammate Dakota Mathiascelebrate last season. The Boilermakers will look to the seniors duo for backcourt leadership this season.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 1:00 am

World Games give Boilers a head start

JEFF WASHBURN | For The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – For the Purdue men's basketball team, it certainly isn't the typical late-September beginning to preseason practice, which are scheduled to start Friday.

That's because the reigning Big Ten champion Boilermakers (27-8) played 11 World University Games, including three exhibitions, in Carmel, Lafayette and then Taipei, Taiwan, in August after practicing multiple times in West Lafayette.

According to senior guard Dakota Mathias, who averaged 11.9 points during the World Games, Purdue played essentially a third of its regular-season schedule in the summer, which puts the Boilermakers ahead of most Division-I schools at the end of September.

Mathias said the competition was very much like the Big Ten schedule. The Boilermakers came away from Taiwan realizing that they must improve they're rebounding and defense if they hope to challenge for back-to-back Big Ten crowns.

“It gives us a head start,” Mathias said. “It was great competition. There were a few games where the teams weren't as good, but once you get into the medal round, those are grown men you are playing against. They are very skilled, tough and physical. They know how to play the game.”

Including the exhibitions, Purdue was 10-1, losing only to Lithuania in the championship game (85-74).

“I like the way we played overall,” Mathias said. “Obviously, we wanted to win the gold over there, but we came up a little short. It was a great trip, especially for the young guys to get acclimated to how we do things. It was a good chemistry builder for everybody.”

Here are five things to watch for as Purdue prepares for 2017-2018:

• Who will replace Big Ten Player of the Year and Homestead graduate Caleb Swanigan as the Boilermakers' go-to guy?

Based on what took place in Taiwan, senior forward Vince Edwards and sophomore guard Carsen Edwards are the likely candidates.

Vince Edwards averaged 19.3 points, and Carsen Edwards averaged 17.4 points, helping the Boilermakers average 102.8 points.

• Among the five first-year players, who likely will stand out?

Freshman point guard Nojel Eastern and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms should be able to earn early playing time, especially if 7-2 senior center Isaac Haas continues to be plagued by foul trouble.

With senior P.J. Thompson the only other true point guard on the roster, the lanky Eastern should be on the court for multiple minutes.

• How much will redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and Fort Wayne Dwenger product Grady Eifert assist at the forward position, where only 6-8 Vince Edwards is established?

While Taylor's career has been plagued by foot and ankle injuries and Eifert was a relative unknown until the summer, each has developed nicely and played well in the World Games.

• Does Purdue have enough perimeter shooting to prevent opponents from packing their defenses inside on Haas and Vince Edwards?

With 3-point specialists Mathias, Carsen Edwards and junior Ryan Cline, it would appear there is enough, especially when considering Vince Edwards and Thompson also are capable from long range.

• Who is the most likely freshman to be redshirted?

It would make sense for coach Matt Painter to redshirt shooting guard Sasha Stefanovic, a 6-4 graduate of Crown Point High School. An excellent shooter, Stefanovic has a way to go to before fully comprehending the Purdue defensive system.