Purdue meets Vermont in round one of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. More recently, Purdue has had a checkered March Madness history.
The Boilermakers didn’t make the tournament in 2014 and lost in the first round in 2015 and 2016. 2016 was especially egregious, losing to Little Rock in double overtime.
The Catamounts haven’t lost since December 29th, 21 straight wins. None of those teams were higher than 127th in KenPom’s rankings and outside of Bulter, Vermont hasn’t played a Purdue-quality opponent. So, we ought to pump the breaks a bit on that nation leading winning streak.
Still, Vermont can play and could push Purdue, particularly considering the Boilermakers recent tournament demons. Let’s take a look at a couple key match ups in the game.
Caleb Swanigan vs. Anybody on Vermont
Swanigan worked so hard in the off season to get himself into incredible shape and reaped the rewards all the way to becoming Big Ten Player of the Year. He was tremendous this year and a match up nightmare for much of the conference.
Put a bigger guy on him and he’ll step to the three point line. Match up a smaller defender on him and he immediately plants on the low block.
Overall, Purdue has an effective height advantage, much like they’ve had in almost every game. But, the unique skill set of Swanigan will tip the scales in Purdue’s favor. Just a freshman last year, Swanigan only scored six points in the loss to Arkansas Little Rock. He’ll play a bigger role this year.
Purdue is more than just Swanigan; they have good wing depth with Carsen Edwards and Vince Edwards. But Swanigan can exploit mismatches and bend the defense like no one else on the roster.
Purdue’s Defense vs. Vermont’s Offense
The Boilermakers struggle against teams that go small and spread them out. Michigan, for example, had success in the Big Ten Tournament largely because the Wolverines could space the floor with four shooters and play off Derrick Walton Jr.’s drive and kick game. Once the ball started moving, Purdue struggled to keep pace, and eventually an open three is available.
How might Vermont exploit Purdue’s size? Unfortunately, the Catamounts don’t shoot the three well enough. But, I’ll be curious to see how they attack a stingy Purdue defense ranked sixteenth in the country by KenPom.
Not that threes are the be-all-end-all, but Vermont doesn’t shoot a ton of them. However, they have capable shooters who could spread out Purdue and find shooters, mainly to get the bigs moving on defense.
The key point is Vermont’s frontcourt needs to be dynamic and get Issac Haas and Swanigan guarding on the perimeter. That’ll be where the Catamounts can exploit an advantage. Josh Hearlihy and Payton Henson are two bigs who can shoot a bit as both are over 30 percent on the season from outside. They’re undersized, especially compared to Swanigan and Haas, but that can play to their advantage on offense.
Right now, Purdue’s favored by 8.5 points, per Covers. That line is a bit terrifying, just considering the Boilermakers’ recent struggles in the tournament and Vermont as a popular Cinderella pick.
If Swanigan has a larger impact this year and Purdue’s defense plays to its potential, Purdue should get to round two.