By Norm Elrod
(CBS DFW/CBS Local) — The Purdue Boilermakers, led by junior point guard Carsen Edwards, couldn’t secure the Big Ten regular-season title when they had the chance. Losing to a beatable Minnesota team in their penultimate game, left them in a three-way tie for the lead. Purdue then beat Northwestern to secure a share of the title. Edwards topped all scorers with 21 points, along with five rebounds and five assists.
The other two teams — Michigan and Michigan State –matched up the same day, with the Spartans downing the Wolverines. Purdue will probably see Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, and, if they advance, possibly Michigan State in the finals. All three teams are NCAA Tournament-bound, regardless of what happens this week. Still, seeding matters, so don’t expect Edwards, or the Boilermakers, to let up.
Purdue’s point guard currently leads the Big Ten in scoring and attempts. But few would’ve predicted a Player of the Year-caliber season for the junior three years ago.
Edwards grew up in Humble, Texas, not too far from Houston, and played his high school ball at Atascocita High School. He showed flashes of greatness his senior year, including a 50-point performance, in which he shot 13-15 from beyond the three-point line. The 6’0″ point guard ended up the 25th-ranked player at his position that year and was not heavily recruited outside of his home state. Purdue was the only Big Ten School to offer him a scholarship.
His freshman year proved that money to be well spent. Edwards averaged 10.3 points in his first season, playing 23.2 minutes per game, both as a starter and off the bench. His game was inconsistent, and playing alongside National Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan helped draw away some of the attention. The streaky scorer, who can get in the lane, find his shot and put up points in bunches, also showed a tendency to disappear. As head coach Matt Painter said at the time, “When he’s driving that basketball to score, he’s going to be a great player in this league. But he’s got to be ready to go at all times.”
Edwards’ production and consistency improved his sophomore year — with Swanigan gone — when he averaged 18.5 points per game (third in the Big Ten), with double-digit scoring in all but three games. That includes 40 in Purdue’s win over Illinois and 30 in their NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 loss to Texas Tech. His field goal percentage jumped to 45.8%, and his three-point percentage jumped to 40.6%. Making first-team All Big Ten, the sophomore declared for the NBA Draft, but ultimately returned to Purdue for his junior year.
Edwards’ game has continued to grow this season, as he attracts defensive schemes designed to limit his production. The Purdue point guard is shooting more and scoring more, leading the Big Ten in field goal attempts and points. His multiple games of 30+ points, includes a 40-point outburst against Texas and a 36-point eruption against Wisconsin. He went 13-28 from beyond the arc in those two games alone. Any early-career hesitance or tendency to disappear is long gone.
Edwards is a serious contender for Naismith Player of the Year, and the Boilermakers seems destined for no less than the three seed in the NCAA Tournament. A strong performance this weekend in the Big Ten Tournament could improve his standing as well as his team’s. Look for Edwards to step up.