12-Seed Purdue: How It Happened
The Boilermakers dropped six consecutive games heading into the B1G Tournament. This is not to say that Purdue was playing an especially encouraging brand of basketball before this unfortunate streak, but their conference record did at least sit at a respectable 5-7. Over a 3-game stretch in the midst of that soul-crushing losing streak, Purdue lost to conference champs Michigan, 77-76, in overtime, by seven at Iowa and by six at Wisconsin. Valiant efforts by coach Painter's squad. Unfortunately for the coach and his team, there isn't a column for "valiant efforts" or any trophies for participation. The Boilermakers efforts have saddled them with a 12-seed, standing at the base of exceptionally intimidating mountain - without any climbing gear.
The B1G Tournament does not abide the underdog, it euthanizes it. The lowest seeded team in the B1G Tournament - the 11-seed from 1998-2012; 12-seed thereafter - has a cumulative record of 3-15, good for a not-exactly-confidence-inducing .167 winning percentage (Note: Those 3 wins all came from #11 Illinois in 1999, who made a run to the B1G Championship game before being derailed by Michigan State). I don't think Painter will be bringing that particular stat up during the pre-game pep talk. This is the worst season Purdue has had with Painter at the helm since his inaugural campaign, when the Boilermakers went 9-19, finishing dead last in conference play. Only 6-seeded Iowa in 2001 has been able to gut out a four-day tournament run and win a B1G tournament title. Runs like that take a combination of getting hot at the right time (Iowa did), and a little bit of help from "friends" (1-seed Illinois and 2-seed Michigan State both did, and both were punished with a second-round exit).
This face screams "confidence"
Road to the Championship
3/13 Opening Rd. versus 5-seed Ohio State: Ohio State swept the season series. The first matchup on New Years Eve was a battle, with OSU coming out on top, 78-69. The second meeting, on Feb. 8, was not; OSU kept their foot firmly pressed on Purdue's jugular, dominating all the way through, 67-49. If the Boilermakers have any chance of keeping this game close they need to be efficient on both ends. Aaron Craft and Ohio State want to take the ball away. They can, and they will. It's kind of their thing. Purdue had 27 total turnovers in the two games, OSU had 13. The Boilermakers are not good enough to play mistake-filled basketball and live to tell about it. I'd keep an especially close eye on how two under-the-radar guys play: Errick Peck and Raphael Davis. Both do yeoman's work under the glass, especially on the offensive end, and Purdue is going to need every opportunity it can garner to put points on the board. Purdue has one key advantage over the Buckeyes; rebounding. That ball is a steak and they're all a bunch of hungry rottweilers. Exploit that and the Boilermakers give themselves a puncher's chance.
3/14 Quarterfinals versus 4-seed Nebraska: The season series was a split, but that comes with a bit of a caveat. The Cornhuskers team Purdue beat, 70-64, back on Jan. 12, is a far cry from the Nebraska team that steamrolled the Boilermakers, 76-57, on Feb. 23. It seems unfair to Purdue to throw that game out the window, but the reality is this a different Nebraska team. Painter needs to dare anyone on Nebraska not named Walter Pitchford to hit outside shots. The Cornhuskers shot a putrid 32.9% from behind the arc during conference play - everyone besides Pitchford was well below 34.4% - but they can be coaxed into heaving up a healthy amount of them (perfect example: Nebraska shot 4-16 on three-point attempts in the loss to Purdue). That starts with keeping A.J. Hammons off the bench and in the paint, protecting the rim. The Sagarin ratings set Nebraska 3.6 point favorites, which seems a bit low, but presents the Boilermakers and their fans with some optimism in the event this matchup actually occurs.
3/15 Semifinals: If, and this is a huge if, Purdue can sneak by - perhaps with some "Angels in the Outfield" kind of help - they have a potential matchup with either Michigan, Indiana or Illinois. Look, if they make it here, all bets are off. In the wondrous chaos that is Big Ten basketball anything is possible. In a somewhat comical bit of serendipity, Purdue has a phenomenal track record against each of these teams. Purdue took down the Illini, 66-58, back on Jan. 15, laid a shellacking on the Hoosiers, 82-64, on Feb. 15, and lost to Michigan in overtime by one point on Feb. 26. If the Boilermakers are still playing on March 15, logic no longer applies.
It is very likely that loyal Boilermaker supporters are going to be drinking a lot of beer come tournament time - not the celebratory kind. This has been a trying season for Painter and company. Purdue started the season as the 30th ranked team in the nation according to KenPom. Painter watched as his team - and that rating - avalanched precipitously down the mountain. It's not all bad in West Lafayette, though. 247Sports has Purdue's incoming recruiting class ranked 30th in the nation and 3rd in the Big Ten. None of that is going to help them come this Thursday, but Purdue fans need something to cling their beers together for.