Purdue basketball news is the order of the day, and as usual, it all starts with forward/center Caleb Swanigan. Purdue Sports reports that Swanigan was just named Lute Olson National Player of the Week for the second time this season.
During that stretch, Swanigan averaged 25 points and 13 rebounds per game in wins over then-No. 25 Northwestern and then-No. 17 Maryland. Swanigan was not only productive, but very efficient, hitting 53 percent of his shots from the floor, 50 percent of his three-point attempts, and 87 percent of his free throws.
Caleb Swanigan leads the nation in double-doubles this season with 21, and he is second in rebounding with a 12.8 per-game average. However, Swanigan’s accomplishments don’t end on the basketball court, as he was also just named to the region’s Academic All-District Team. Caleb Swanigan aspires to be a teacher one day, and he currently holds a 3.30 GPA in general education/education studies at Purdue.
Caleb Swanigan may be the Boilermakers’ superstar, but Dakota Mathias has become a very important supporting player for Purdue this season. When Mathias came to Purdue, he was primarily known as a shooter and a clever passer, but now the junior guard/forward has evolved into Purdue’s best perimeter defender — and arguably the best in the Big Ten Conference.
SB Nation details Mathias’ contributions on the defensive end of the floor, in fact, there are now rumblings that Mathias is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year honors in the Big Ten. Mathias is routinely assigned to guard the opponent’s best perimeter player, and he has consistently risen to the task. The buzz is that the DPOY award could come down to Mathias and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, which is a testament to Dakota Mathias’ work ethic and drive to become a more complete player than he was when he came to West Lafayette as a freshman.
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The Boilermakers recently faced a stiff road test in games against then-No. 17 Maryland and Indiana, but Purdue showed grit and poise on their way to a pair of victories, as described by the Indianapolis Star. In a very hostile environment at Maryland, the Boilermakers battled back from a 12-point deficit, and no one exemplified the team’s mental toughness more than freshman guard Carsen Edwards, who stepped up to hit two free throws with 2.1 seconds left on the clock to give Purdue a 73-72 win.
The Boilers followed that key road victory with another hard-fought battle against the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington. The Hoosiers played hard and played well for much of the contest, but Purdue survived Thomas Bryant’s 23 points and held on for a 69-64 win over archrival Indiana. This was a very important game for the Hoosiers, not only because Purdue was the opponent, but due to the fact that Indiana is squarely on the bubble in terms of an NCAA Tournament bid.
Speaking of the Big Dance, the latest projections from ESPN have the Boilermakers slotted as the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region. Seven Big Ten teams are currently expected to receive tournament bids, but interestingly, no Big Ten team was listed in the selection committee’s overall top 16 (Big Ten-leading Wisconsin was also omitted from the list). With a 20-5 overall record and a 9-3 mark in Big Ten play, the Boilers appear to be a lock to make the tournament, but if they want to secure a top-four seed, there is plenty more work to be done.
Coming up on Tuesday, Purdue will face a classic “trap game” at home against last-place Rutgers. This is a different kind of test than facing quality teams on the road, but great teams don’t slip up against inferior competition, so this game will require the Boilermakers to maintain their focus and avoid a letdown after huge wins over the Terrapins and the Hoosiers. Stay tuned, as March Madness is right around the corner.
[Featured Image by Darron Cummings/AP Images]