With a sub-par final season in the Summit League, the Mastodons look to surprise their new rivals in the Horizon League.
When it was announced that Purdue Fort Wayne was joining the Horizon League in August 2019, the sentiment with fans around the league was mixed. However the reaction, the Mastodons had established themselves as a competitive force under head coach Jon Coffman, a reputation bolstered by back-to-back wins against Indiana.
Purdue Fort Wayne’s final season in the Summit League, however, left many Mastodon fans wanting. By all accounts, it was a down year for PFW, notching a 14-19 record and bowing out in the semifinals of the Summit League Tournament.
With the sub-.500 year behind them and a new home to settle into, the Mastodons are looking to make an impression on their new Horizon League foes. However, there are several unknowns for Coffman and his Purdue Fort Wayne squad coming into the 2020-21 season.
The most glaring issue will be how Coffman will look to replace the departure of three of his key players from the 2019-20 campaign. PFW’s second-leading scorer from last year, Brian Patrick, is now a graduate transfer at DePaul. Third-leading scorer and starter Matt Holba graduated, as did Marcus DeBerry, who started 16 games for the Mastodons.
For the upcoming season, Coffman will have to rely on a combination of the three starters he returns, as well as some notable transfers will have the opportunity to fill the gaps left by the off-season roster changes.
Bobby Planutis – The 6-foot-8 grad transfer from St. Bonaventure looks like a strong candidate to start this year. He brings an outside shooting element to PFW’s game, knocking down almost half. of his 67 three-pointers as a freshman at Mount Saint Mary’s in 2018.
Ra Kpedi – Purdue Fort Wayne has never lacked size in the frontcourt, and that will only be bolstered by the Vermont transfer. The 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward sat out last year and will likely contend for a starting spot in 2021. Kpedi shot 57.5 percent from the field while starting six games for Vermont in 2019, averaging 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds per game.
Bryce Waterman – Three-point shooting has been Coffman’s signature with the Mastodons, but the accuracy beyond the arc was lacking in 2019-20. Looking to address that issue for 2020-21, Waterman is one of a pair of junior college sharpshooters Coffman brought on for 2021. The 6-6 wing shot 43.5 percent from three-point range at Pensacola JC.
Demetric Horton – The second JUCO shooter joining Purdue Fort Wayne, Horton is a 6-foot-5 wing who fired treys at a 42.6 percent clip during his time with Independence CC in Kansas. He led the team with 15.3 points per game last year.
With the swatch of transfers at Coffman’s disposal, it’s easy to forget the incoming freshmen. However, Justice Prentice, a 6-1 combo guard from Orangeville Prep in Toronto, has the potential both at the point and as a scoring option beyond the arc. Jarvis Walker, a 6-2 guard from Muskegon (MI) High School, could also see some minutes at the point guard position as well. And while the frontcourt may be well-covered, Jonathan DeJurnett, a 6-8 forward out of Tennesee’s Lausanne Collegiate HS, will vie for playing time.
Jalon Pipkins – The former Loyola Chicago guard could get a waiver and be in the mix in the backcourt rotation if the NCAA gives Purdue Fort Wayne a favorable ruling.
Jarred Godfrey – There is no dispute that the leader on this Mastodons squad is Godfrey, the leading scorer from last season. The 6-5 junior out of Atlanta average 15.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, as well as led the team in assists, dishing out 3.4 per contest. Godfrey’s likely goal for 2020-21 will be to improve upon his three-point shooting, which hovered around 31 percent last season, and his assist-to-turnover ratio, which was even throughout the year.
Deonte Billups – After splitting the starting role with DeBerry last season, the 6-foot-4 Billups will join Godfrey full-time in the backcourt this year. The sophomore from Moline, Illinois will likely boost his freshman-year scoring average of 8.8 points per game. He did, however, share the team lead in rebounds at 4.9 per game, and will likely expound upon that in the upcoming campaign.
Bryce Waterman – With Patrick gone, Waterman is the likely candidate for a spot at the 3. Waterman was a high-volume shooter from beyond the arc, connecting on 104 3-pointers for the year. His 44 percent conversion on those 3-pointers has to have Coach Coffman very encouraged that he’ll play a big role in solving the Mastadons’ shooting woes this year.
Bobby Planutis – Planutis started 25 games for Mount Saint Mary’s in the Northeast Conference before transferring to Saint Bonaventure. He posted solid production both in the NEC and the Atlantic 10, and he’ll likely be in a position to post even better numbers for Purdue Fort Wayne this year.
Dylan Carl – The sole returnee up front, will be the 6-11 senior. The redshirt senior from Alma College in Michigan started all 33 games for the Mastodons, and grabbed 4.9 boards per game, tying him with Billups. Coffman will be looking for Carl to chip in more this season, improving on his 22 minutes per game and 6.9 points per contest.
Depth will be a major factor as to whether or not Purdue Fort Wayne will be able to compete in the ever-volatile Horizon League. Coffman will rely on two key reserves, 6-0 senior DeMierre Black and 6-8 senior Cameron Benford to spot his starters, much as they did for the bulk of the 2019-20 season. Beyond that, where the Mastodons are situated in the conference standings will depend heavily on whether or not they can better their 31.6 percent shooting from three-point range from last season. Size, on the other hand, may be an advantage for PFW, with a swath of players over 6-8, a luxury as far as the Horizon League is concerned.
Ultimately, Purdue Fort Wayne’s success will boil down to how quickly the team that’s mixed between veterans, transfers and freshmen will jell together. Given the late start to the season and the delayed opening of practices, getting the entire team on the same page will be Coffman’s No. 1 priority.
The best-case scenario for the Mastodons in their debut season in the Horizon League, considering how the conference is situated, will be a finish in the middle of the pack. However, if they can’t improve their shooting and turnovers, they could stare down the barrel of a bottom-tier finish.
Prediction: 10th Place