Purdue back near the top of the Big Ten? Portal makes predictions difficult

Rutgers men's head coach Steve Pikiell speaks during Big Ten NCAA college basketball media days, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, in Minneapolis.  (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

Rutgers men’s head coach Steve Pikiell speaks during Big Ten NCAA college basketball media days, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

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The Purdue Boilermakers are coming off a 29-win season in which they’ve been ranked in the AP top 10 back and forth, including first place for a week in December, and grabbed a No. 3 seed. for the NCAA Tournament.

Still, they finished one game shy of first place in the conference, lost to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament Finals, and were upset by St. Peter’s in the Sweet 16. It didn’t sit well with the Coach Matt Painter or any other associated person. with the program.

“We thought we had a team that could do more damage than they did. As a coach, you take full responsibility for that,” Painter said Tuesday in Minneapolis at the Target Center, where the conference held its basketball media days this year. “I thought we should have won our championship. I thought we should have won our tournament. I thought we should have made it to the Final Four. We didn’t.”

While the Boilermakers have lost first-team All-Big Ten Jaden Ivey and stalwarts Trevion Williams and Sasha Stefanovic, they still have a team led by 7-foot-4 Zach Edey – one of three unanimous picks for the 11 players. preseason all-conference team — who should be able to challenge for the conference title again.

These days, with the transfer portal doing big business, picking favorites is even more of an inexact science. The Boilermakers were ranked fifth in the Big Ten preseason media poll.

“You have people who get picked in the top half, and 70-80 per cent of their guys didn’t play for them last year. Normally when that’s the case they don’t get picked in the top half. superior,” Painter said. “You’ve got a good chunk of some of these guys who’ve had really good careers so far, so it’s easier to assess, easier to say this guy got average 16 points in another major conference, he’s going to be successful here. experiencing success together is always important.

NEW START

Kevin Willard has returned to the Maryland program after 12 seasons at Seton Hall. A longtime resident of New York and New Jersey, Willard revealed some of the discoveries he’s made since moving up and down the Atlantic coast. The first thing that struck him was the quality of the rookies playing in the Terrapins’ backyard – including the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

“High school basketball, AAU basketball in the DMV is second to none by far,” Willard said. “It’s kind of cool to be there because you get the first dibs on a lot of kids that we obviously couldn’t get before.”

The first player Willard signed upon arriving at College Park was 6-foot-6 swingman Noah Batchelor, a native of Frederick, Maryland, who last year played at IMG Academy in Florida. He also landed a graduate transfer to guard Jahmir Young, a product of DeMatha Catholic High School in suburban DC who averaged 16.7 points per game over three seasons in Charlotte.

But Willard knows there is no such thing as building a fence around the state.

“You’re never going to keep all of your local kids home,” Willard said. “Fanbases love to say that. If you keep everyone at home, you won’t be able to play against everyone and everyone is going to get mad at you anyway.

His steepest learning curve might actually be in the dining room.

“You have to know how to eat crab cakes. I am learning to crack crabs and eat crabs. It’s new for me. Very tough,” Willard said with a laugh. “You have to split the middle, take the legs off, go through the whole process.”

THREE PEATS IN JERSEY?

Rutgers is aiming for a third consecutive NCAA Tournament finish, a streak the program has never accomplished before. Coach Steve Pikiell’s returning players accounted for 64% of the team’s minutes played last season. Key among those players is fifth-year goaltender Caleb McConnell, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

There is also a significant on-field advantage the Scarlet Knights have developed in recent years in the 8,000-seat building now known as Jersey Mike’s Arena, enough to merit attention in a conference with some of the largest gymnasiums in the country for visiting teams.

When Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson pondered the loudest road game scenes, they mentioned the usual suspects Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. But also:

“Rutgers are pretty enlightened,” Thompson said.

“Yeah, Rutgers is awesome,” Jackson-Davis said.

Pikiell praised the fanbase for the environment.

“I think they really like our guys and respect the way they play,” Pikiell said. “They play with a bit of Jersey courage, excitement and enthusiasm.”

dad jokes

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has two of his sons on the roster again, with sixth-year forward Connor McCaffery returning for another round in a reserve role and fourth-year forward Patrick McCaffery back in the starting lineup.

There are downsides to playing for dad, of course. Connor told himself he felt “a little more comfortable responding” to the coach than anyone in authority. Patrick cited the pressure that comes from the family name and the unfounded assumptions of nepotism around status in the team.

The good outweighs the bad, however, like being part of a real home environment. Then there’s the credibility that Connor has built over so much time on the program.

“We think the same way,” Connor said. “My suggestions and points are often on the same page. It gives me the freedom to play audible parts and call out parts.

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AP Sports Writer Dave Campbell contributed to this report.

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Naomi C. Amerson