Things haven't been great in West Lafayette the last few seasons with the Boilermakers not making the NCAA Tournament since 2012. With some chatter on the internet about Matt Painter and the potential hot seat, there was mounting pressure to get back to the big dance in 2015. After a promising start early on, things took a turn for the worst as Purdue dropped games to lowly North Florida and Gardner-Webb. Here we go again was the thought process most Purdue fans had at the end of 2014.
So after two improbable comeback wins over Minnesota and Michigan to start the conference season, followed by two close losses to two of the best teams in the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Maryland), there was some curiosity pertaining to Purdue and what they could possibly do. After a four game win streak that involved knocking off teams like Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State...the Boilermakers suddenly were right back in the thick of things.
Now the question is where does Purdue stand and what they do need to do get to the tournament?
Quite a bit, actually. That four game win streak was huge for the Boilermakers, especially since it involved three wins over three likely NCAA Tournament teams (Iowa, Indiana, Ohio State), as well as a tough win on the road. After an early loss to Kansas State, Purdue also padded out their non-conference resume with several nice wins against BYU, Missouri and North Carolina State. Nothing game changing but definitely a bit more than a number of other bubble teams will likely have on their resume.
Even better for Purdue is there 8-4 record in the Big Ten. While the conference schedule does get considerably more difficult, Purdue's three home games they have remaining against Nebraska, Rutgers and Illinois should be winnable. If Purdue can take care of business at Mackey, it means they'd finish with an at worst record of 19-12 (11-7). That record isn't bad, potentially problematic thanks to their losses to North Florida and Gardner-Webb, but it'll be hard to deny a 11-7 Big Ten team, especially if they can win a game or two in Chicago during the conference tournament. Of course lets not forget that Purdue has three top 50 wins (tied for second out of teams from the Big Ten) and is tied with Wisconsin for most top 100 wins so far this season.
That Gardner-Webb and North Florida loss are both atrocious. It could hurt Purdue if they're a toss-up with another team or two and both losses are also huge blows to their RPI. If Purdue handles their business at home they could go 19-12 and 11-7 in the Big Ten. Flip those two games and a 21-10 (11-7) record would be a lock. Purdue's early season losses to Kansas State and Vanderbilt are also getting worse as the season wears on, with Purdue needing both teams to start picking up some wins.
So far in conference play there hasn't been anything backbreaking. The Illinois loss looked somewhat bad at the time, saving face mainly because it happened on the road, but the Illini have started to pick up some quality wins and the loss is suddenly much more manageable. Splitting with Minnesota isn't horrible, but the reality is they had every opportunity to win on the road versus the Gophers and blew it thanks to turnovers. As much as Purdue has been building their tournament resume, there are easily three games that should have been wins. If Purdue had taken care of business in these games, or even just two of the three, they'd be sitting very nicely right now. As is, though, work is left to do.
Work Left to Do
Beating Rutgers on the road was a necessity, but it still does little to move the needle. The same can be said for when Nebraska and Rutgers come to Mackey. While the schedule is set to ramp up for Purdue, that also means opportunities. The advantage of having a manageable home slate is if Purdue wins these games they're a bubble team that could possibly be in depending on how things play out. Add a win or two in the conference tournament and that makes things even more favorable for Matt Painter and company.
However, there are three remaining road games and they should all be challenging affairs:
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
While all of those games will be considerable challenges, they're all winnable. Purdue has already beaten two of the three teams and Michigan State has been a bit sporadic at times. Simply stealing one of those games on the road could put Purdue over the top. At the very worst it puts Purdue in position to decide their fate as they have the games remaining on the schedule to get themselves into the tournament.
It'll be interesting to see how the season plays out for Purdue. Simply taking care of the winnable games, assuming this leads to manageable games in the early rounds of the Big Ten Tournament, could be enough to get Purdue in. That being said, upsets do happen. At the same time Purdue's road schedule means they'll have several chances to get even more resume defining wins.
The reality is Purdue could end the season with 20 (or more) wins, four games above .500 in the Big Ten and have a laundry list of impressive Big Ten wins. For a team that has missed the tournament the last two seasons and dropped several problematic games in the first two months, the recent Boiler surge has put Purdue right back into the thick of things. Barring a potential collapse, Purdue is very alive in the bubble talk and could be one of the years most surprising teams if they can keep it going over the next month.