In the first round against Vermont, they had to have a strong second half performance to put away a pesky Catamounts team that managed to stick around despite being drastically over-matched talent-wise.
In the round of 32, they watched a big lead evaporate before falling behind and eventually clawing their way back ahead of the Iowa State Cyclones behind huge performances from Vincent Edwards and Caleb Swanigan.
Now, the Sweet Sixteen is ahead of this team and we took a look at their opponent, the Kansas Jayhawks, while also thinking of what Purdue might have to do to slow them down.
1. The Kansas Jayhawks will rely on their guards
Kansas, without a doubt, boasts one of the best backcourts in the country with Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and Josh Jackson leading the Kansas offensive attack.
Mason was named one of the four finalists for the National Player of the Year award and will become the only player in the history of the Big 12 to average 20 points and 5 assists per game over an entire season.
Graham is one of the best three point shooters in the country, as his 39% from three doesn’t tell the story of how effective he can be from beyond the arc with his size and his stroke.
Josh Jackson, meanwhile, has gotten a lot of hype as one of the best freshmen in the country. Well, I’m a Big Ten guy, and I’m here to tell you if you somehow haven’t seen Kansas play this year, Jackson is one of the best players in the country. His offensive versatility will cause all kinds of problems for any team and Purdue will have to figure out what they’re willing to give to this backcourt, whether it be the three point shot or opportunities to get to the basket.
Look for Purdue, one of the best in the country at preventing dribble drives, to play their usual tight defense on the perimeter and trust the big bodies of Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas to at least influence the shots at the rim.
2. Kansas wants to play fast
There’s a generalization that surrounds the Big 12. The idea that the Big 12 plays a lot of offense and no defense. That idea stems mostly from the final scores of a lot of their games. That simply isn’t a good way to measure how a team plays on the defensive end, however, because this Kansas team simply plays fast.
Michigan State ended up getting in a track meet style game with Kansas in the round of 32. Against the Jayhawks that’s a fantastic way to find yourself down 20 like the Spartans did.
The Jayhawks come into this game ranked 41st in the country in pace of play, with an average possession lasting only 15.9 seconds. If this team can force turnovers or bad shots, they have the guards to get high percentage shots and get them quickly.
Purdue, however, has a point guard in P.J. Thompson that is second in the country in assist/turnover ratio at 4.25 assists to each turnover. While he hasn’t seen a defense as aggressive as the Jayhawks this season, Thompson has proven over his three years to be more than capable of taking care of the basketball.
3. If Kansas has one weakness, it’s in the paint
If you watched the Michigan State game on Sunday, it became obvious that the Jayhawks had nobody who could guard the big man Nick Ward for the Spartans one on one down low. They managed to handle Ward by getting him on the bench with foul trouble, but he was unstoppable when he was on the floor.
In his 20 minutes, Ward has 13 points and 4 rebounds while playing tentatively, fearing picking up more fouls.
If Kansas has a weakness, it is in their defense in the post. Landon Lucas is a fabulous defender, but he is forced to sometimes play tentatively in the post knowing they don’t have much depth. This will play directly to the biggest strength of Purdue in the interior with Haas and Swanigan. If both of them can play the way they did against Iowa State and have guys on the perimeter making shots, Purdue certainly has a legitimate chance at the upset.
Purdue will face an uphill battle against the Kansas Jayhawks in Kansas City on Thursday evening. However, if they can control the tempo and play to their strengths while forcing Kansas to hope for their best from their weakest points, the Boilermakers will have a great chance at the Elite Eight.
They can’t afford to get into a track meet with the Jayhawks, because that’s a battle they simply will not win.
This is a game featuring two of the four National Player of the Year finalists in Swanigan and Mason III and it will definitely be appointment television on Thursday night.