Purdue managed to exceed expectations this winter and would go on to win the Big Ten regular season title, as well as earn the top seed from the conference in the NCAA Tournament. Of course their performance this year has suddenly gone under the radar as most national pundits and fans have started focusing on Michigan and Wisconsin instead, but at the end of the day the Boilermakers are back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.
The consensus surrounding this Purdue team has been pretty consistent from pretty much everyone, with the thought being this Purdue team could be a legitimate Final Four contender if they play to their potential. This Purdue team also has a tendency to underachieve on any given night, though, and that Purdue team is entirely beatable.
Throughout the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’ve seen both sides of this Purdue team, with the Boilermakers underwhelming throughout a good majority of the Vermont game and of course the near collapse against Iowa State. Luckily for Purdue fans, though, the good Purdue managed to do just enough to hold on against Iowa State and pull away late against Vermont.
Last Saturday’s performance against Iowa State is particularly interesting considering it played pretty similar to how Purdue’s last outing against Kansas went, with the Boilermakers leading the entire way and then giving up the lead at the end of regulation. Unlike that Round of 32 game from 2012, Purdue found a way to overcome blowing a 19 point lead and ended up moving on to face the Jayhawks.
#4 Purdue vs. #1 Kansas
- Time/TV: 09:39 pm E.T. CBS
- Spread: Kansas (-5)
There’s a reason the Jayhawks are one of the top seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament, as they’ve only lost four games this season. Three of those losses came by a combined 10 points (two of which came in overtime), with the last loss (against TCU in the Big 12 Tournament) happening without standout Josh Jackson. Of course two of those losses came against Indiana and Iowa State, two teams Purdue has beat this year.
Just like the Iowa State game, this will once again be a pairing of teams with completely different identities. Purdue relies on their size and frontcourt, constantly feeding standout Caleb Swanigan inside time and time again. As for Kansas, they feature one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country and will rely on some of the nation’s best guards.
Caleb Swanigan is a player of the year contender, but so is Frank Mason III. The senior guard led the Jayhawks with 20.8 points and 5.2 assists per game, while also hitting on 47.2% of his three pointers. Not to be outdone is freshman Josh Jackson, who has averaged 16.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and is one of the top freshmen in the country this year. If the Boilermakers find a way to contain that duo, there’s still junior Devonte’ Graham, a 6’2” guard that hits just under 40% of his 6.7 three pointers a game. Oh, and that’s actually a drop from his first two seasons when he shot 44.1 and 42.5 percent from deep.
While Iowa State had the 11th best offense per KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency ratings, Kansas features the fifth most efficient offense. The Jayhawks rank 10th in the nation in field goal percentage (49.1%), fifth in three point percentage (40.6%) and 15th in scoring (83.4 points per game). That has everything to do with their backcourt.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Boilermakers, though. Just like Iowa State, Kansas will likely start a four guard lineup, anchored by 6’10” forward Landen Lucas. Lucas has held his own this season, averaging 8.1 points 8.6 rebounds per game, but he struggled defensively at times against Michigan State’s Nick Ward, who was limited as he found himself in foul trouble most of the game. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas both are coming off of impressive offensive performances and there’s little to suggest they shouldn’t be capable of taking advantage here once again.
So what we have here is a Kansas team with a decisive advantage in the backcourt squaring off against a Purdue team with a considerable frontcourt advantage. The end result is guys like Vincent Edwards and Dakota Mathias could make or break Purdue’s chances of winning tonight. Mathias, who gained a reputation this year for being one of the better perimeter defenders, will need to have a good night on the defensive side of the ball. Purdue was able to slow Iowa State’s guard for a half last weekend, but against Kansas they’ll need a more thorough performance throughout the entire game.
As for Vincent Edwards, he really has been the man for Purdue this tournament. Swanigan will get all the hype and attention, but Edwards has been just as important, if not actually outperforming Swanigan the last two games. Against Iowa State the junior hit 9 of 14 shots to score 21 points, while adding 10 rebounds and 4 assists. Edwards has been making plays all over the court, including on defense, and if he can maintain this level of play it will go a long way towards Purdue being able to land an upset.
The thing that has to scare Purdue fans is the inability to piece together a complete 40 minutes. If the Boilers repeat what they did against Iowa State, allowing the Cyclones to roar back into the game in the second half, they will lose to Kansas. And of course the fact that the last time these two teams met saw Purdue more or less follow that blueprint, it’s definitely lingering on the minds of Purdue fans.
With the Boilermakers having the size advantage, they should be able to score and stick with the Jayhawks. The question is if they can keep up with the sharpshooting guards Kansas will feature. One of the stories mentioned throughout the year was the improved shooting from Purdue’s own backcourt, and if Purdue’s guards can effectively hit from three, they should be able to land a win tonight.
The problem is Purdue has saw more poor shooting performances as the season went on compared to earlier in the year. If the long ball doesn’t fall, it’s going to be hard to keep pace with Kansas for the entire game.
While Purdue should provide a competitive and enjoyable game against Kansas, it’s hard to pick against Kansas. They simply have too many weapons on offense to see them not edge Purdue and move on to the Elite 8..
Pick Against the Spread: Kansas