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Matchup to Watch: #4 Purdue Boilermakers vs. #1 Kansas Jayhawks

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Caleb Swanigan vs. Frank Mason: whoever gets more out of their top player will move on to the Elite Eight.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Purdue vs Iowa State Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the game’s best players will be on the same floor on Thursday — Purdue’s double-double machine Caleb Swanigan versus Kansas’ senior leader Frank Mason. While they won’t be directly going up against each other, this is still the matchup to watch between the Boilermakers and Jayhawks.

Both Swanigan and Mason have been dominant all season long and I’m sure you’re already aware of this. I’m also going to assume you know both of these guys are part of a short list of elite guys who are finalists for National Player of the Year. The argument can be made for each of these guys, and it’s pretty clear that whoever has a better game on Thursday will lead his team to the Elite Eight.

But Swanigan is big man who’ll spend most of his game in the post while Mason is a guard who will be mostly on the perimeter so how is this the matchup to watch? It’s simple: whoever gets a better game out of their best player will win this game.

If you’re a regular reader of BT Powerhouse then you’re well aware of how great Swanigan has been this year, but I’ll again share those numbers with you. Swanigan won the Big Ten Player of the Year award and enters this Sweet 16 matchup averaging a double-double on the year (18.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per game). Speaking of double-doubles, Swanigan has 28 double-doubles this season, which is the most of any player in the entire country. Purdue is 24-4 in the 28 games where he has a double-double so as Biggie goes so do the Boilermakers.

On the opposite bench is Mason, who isn’t a double-double machine like Swanigan, but more of a scoring machine. Mason averages 20.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game, and has reached double figures in points in all but one game this year. Like Swanigan, Mason also won player of the year for his conference.

Both of these guys are great and will put up decent numbers on Thursday, and as I mentioned earlier they won’t be directly matched up with each other. Swanigan is a forward listed as 6-foot-9 while Mason is a 5-foot-11 guard. So obviously we won’t be seeing much of Swanigan posting up on Mason, or at least we shouldn’t. However, there is one aspect of the game where we will see these two facing each other — when Mason drives to the rack.

Mason does it all for the Jayhawks — shoots from outside, makes great passes and even brings down his share of rebounds — but possibly his best trait is his ability to drive to the rim. Normally when this happens Mason either makes the layup or draws contact and heads to the charity stripe. He averaged nearly seven free throw attempts per game this season, and was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line against Michigan State in the second round last weekend.

Purdue plays stout defense and has some big rim protectors, including Swanigan. So if Swanigan and the rest of the Boilermakers are able to take away this part of Mason’s game then the odds of Purdue winning certainly increases. This is an area of the game where Swanigan could truly make an impact and throw off Mason’s game.

There’s more to this game that’ll determine the final outcome, but in my opinion the biggest factor is seeing who’ll get more out of their best player. The team that does that will be the winner.

You can try to dive into all of the stats and search for each team’s weaknesses to get an edge, but in the end it’ll come down to each team’s top strength. If Purdue gets an elite performance out of Swanigan — both offensively and defensively — then they’ll have a chance. But if Purdue can’t contain Mason then Kansas will be too much. So what will it be? Who would you prefer to have on your team: Swanigan or Mason? Whoever gets more out of their top dog will be the ones playing for a trip to the Final Four on Saturday.