For one, it’s a sign the season is about to get rolling. For another, it suggests excitement is warranted when the season does start.
“It’s a great feeling to have these expectations put on you. I think we’ve earned that right,” Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic said. “We have a lot of talent and a lot of great players on our team that can help us win a lot of games. With that being said, we obviously haven’t won a game yet.”
The Boilermakers will aim for a victory in their first try Tuesday as they host Bellarmine in the season opener.
Fans will be eager to see Purdue’s strong stable of returning talent, led by All-Big Ten forward Trevion Williams, who nearly averaged a double-double (15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds) a season ago.
Eric Hunter Jr. and Isaiah Thompson join Stefanovic in the backcourt, while the front line includes returning sophomores Mason Gillis and Zach Edey, who stands 7-foot-4.
Overall, the Boilermakers return all five starters and about 95 percent of their scoring. Their preseason ranking is tied for the highest under coach Matt Painter, who also was at the helm when the 2009-10 team entered the season at No. 7.
The same versatility and confidence the team touts now was sprouting last season, when the Boilermakers earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
A would-be run through March never gained flight, though, as 13th-seeded North Texas won 78-69 in overtime, scoring a first-round upset that ended Purdue’s season at 18-10.
“What we really talked about was learning from that and being better, even in a better position in next year’s NCAA Tournament, hopefully,” Painter said. “We’ve really tried to magnify some of the things we struggled with in that game, and hopefully that can make us a better team and a better program.”
Making its debut in NCAA Division I last season, Bellarmine finished 14-8, taking second place in the Atlantic Sun regular-season standings and earning a spot in the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament.
There, the Knights topped Army 77-67 before losing to eventual CBI champion Pepperdine 82-71 in the following round.
Coach Scott Davenport called the season “an unbelievable ride,” and with multiple returners back in the fold, Bellarmine expects to achieve big things this season also.
Perhaps not as monumental as Purdue, of course, but significant nonetheless.
Bellarmine has the benefit of targeting some problem areas after edging Division II Tiffin 90-87 in exhibition play on Oct. 28. Tiffin drilled 16-of-45 3-pointers, a 35.6 percent success rate, while the Knights hit just six treys.
“You get outscored by 30 at the 3-point line and still win, that’s almost mathematically impossible,” Davenport said. “We’ve got veteran guys who dug in, got necessary stops (down the stretch).”
Seniors Ethan Claycomb and Dylan Penn scored 19 points apiece for the Knights.
Penn is the program’s top returning scorer after averaging 12.9 points last season. CJ Fleming (12.2 points a game) and Claycomb (10.3) also averaged in double figures.
Tuesday will mark the first meeting between Purdue and Bellarmine.
–Field Level Media