Is there a better Big Ten player than Caleb Swanigan these days?
The short answer — no.
The long answer — heck, no.
A week before the start of Big Ten play and Purdue’s sophomore forward is playing as if he’s not long for the college ranks. He is scoring and rebounding at a rate not even Glenn Robinson could match — well, for a couple of games anyway.
Only four Power-5 Conference players have had a pair of such games in one season in the last 20 years — Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin, Michael Beasley and DeJuan Blair. Only three other Purdue players have done it — Bill Franklin in 1974, Dave Schellhase in 1964 and Terry Dischinger in 1960 and ’63.
Oh, only two other players in college basketball this season have recorded a 20-20 game.
“He has a knack to get the basketball and when you put a big-time effort behind it, you are going to get results,” coach Matt Painter said.
“It’s refreshing to see him make some of those improvements and some of those strides, but you also have to back it up by playing really hard and being productive. He has obviously done that.”
This isn’t a surprise. Swanigan began the season as a preseason All-Big Ten choice, then instantly make a statement with a 23-point, 20-rebound effort against McNeese State in the season opener, and if the Cowboys remind no one of, say, top-ranked Villanova, well, the Boilers played the Wildcats three days later, and Swanigan had 20 points and eight rebounds.
He has nine double-doubles this season, and 17 for his career. He tied a school record (set by Brad Miller, another northeastern Indiana product out of East Noble High School) with 15 defensive rebounds.
Swanigan has always rebounded at a high rate, including during his high school days at Homestead, when he led the Spartans to a state title and won Indiana Mr. Basketball honors. It hasn’t changed in college.
“It is the mindset of every game,” he said, “but some games the ball just bounces off your head or the other way. You’ve just got to go at it every time, and that is what I try to do every time.”
Swanigan, who on Monday won his second Big Ten player of the week award this season, leads the Big Ten in rebounding (11.9) and is among the conference leaders in scoring (17.2). The only glitch – he has more turnovers (a team-high 42) than assists (37).
Swanigan's closest competition in the early MVP race might be Iowa guard Peter Jok, who leads the Big Ten in scoring (23.2 points) and three-point baskets, and is among the conference leaders in rebounding (6.4) and free throw shooting (90.6). However, the Hawkeyes don't project as a conference title contender, which could hurt Jok's chances.
As for Purdue, add 7-2 center Isaac Haas and you have as formidable a 1-2 punch as the Big Ten has to offer.
“You can’t simulate size like me and Isaac,” Swanigan said. “Just battling against it for 40 minutes and when a team plays against us maybe the first five to 10 minutes are not as bad, but as the game wears on, it just wears on your body.”
Of course, there are teams such as Notre Dame, which can counter with smaller, athletic forwards to create mismatches in their favor. Painter can respond with the Boiler version of small ball, with Swanigan at center and 6-8 Vince Edwards at power forward.
It doesn’t hurt that Purdue leads the Big Ten in three-point shooting, or that point guard P.J. Thompson values the ball as if it was the Hope Diamond. In 12 games he has 40 assists and nine turnovers. In his last 47 games, he has 133 assists and 32 turnovers, which is the greatest ball security run in school history — by a ton.
Oh, Thompson has also made a three-pointer in 14 straight games, and in his last six games he’s averaging 9.2 points and 4.5 assists.
“He’s not turning the ball over, he keeps the ball moving and he’s just being steady,” Painter said.
Thompson is part of the overall balance that has enabled the No. 15 Boilers (10-2) to win five straight games by an average of 25.6 points. Next up — Norfolk State (3-9) Wednesday night at Mackey Arena in Purdue’s last non-conference game. It opens Big Ten play Dec. 28 against Iowa.
“We are definitely a versatile team,”Thompson said. “We can really shoot the ball, but then we have these two guys on the inside.
“We are not a team that we want to play through our offense. We want to stick to what we do on the defensive end and that is a recipe for success.”
UP NEXT: Norfolk State at Purdue
TIPOFF: 7 p.m., Wednesday
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