The Purdue Boilermakers put together a 14-4 conference record to finish the season at 25-6 overall. Being led by unanimous conference player of the year Caleb Swanigan certainly helps their chances at making a push in the conference tournament as well, but the path is far from easy for the #1 seed.
Safely locked into the NCAA Tournament, the Boilermakers will be hoping to improve their tournament seeding this coming week in Washington, D.C. and will face enough stiff competition to do so, as long as they keep winning.
Purdue, as one of the top four seeds, will receive the double-bye and will not open play until Friday afternoon. Let’s take a look at some of the potential match-ups and how the Boilers might see their tournament schedule shake out.
As was mentioned, the Boilermakers will not open up their tournament until Friday afternoon as the #1 seed. However, that seems to be about the only upside for Purdue as they look at their possible match-ups throughout the tournament. They will face the winner of the 8-9 game that will be played on Thursday between Michigan and Illinois.
Despite Illinois being beaten by Rutgers at the end of the year, they are a team that can be very dangerous. They’ve got versatility on offense and have been a hot team coming down the stretch this year.
The one clear advantage that Purdue has over Illinois is the same advantage they have over most teams. Their towering front line dominated the Illini in the first matchup, with Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan combining for 46 points and 16 rebounds. If Purdue can exploit that strength once again should they face Illinois, they should be able to handle this Illinois team.
Purdue fans will remember the nightmare that unfolded in Ann Arbor just a few weeks ago, with Moritz Wagner totally dominating their front line in the first half. Wagner scored 22 points in the first half of that game and Michigan was hot offensively as the Boilers struggled to guard the pick and roll or the pick and pop.
Derrick Walton Jr. has the ability at the point guard spot for Michigan to dominate the flow of the game and keep the tempo where they want it, and if Michigan gets hot offensively, they’re really hard to beat.
As hot as Illinois has been, Michigan has also been playing well and it seems most Purdue fans would rather see the Fighting Illini than the Wolverines.
If They Advance
Should the Boilermakers manage to live up to their expectations and get past the Friday game, things don’t get much easier at all. On Saturday, the Boilermakers would get the winner of a presumed Minnesota-Michigan State game that would take place on Friday.
Minnesota handed Purdue their only home loss of the conference season, winning in West Lafayette 91-82 in overtime on January 1st. Purdue struggled to make shots in that game and Minnesota point guard Nate Mason had an incredible afternoon, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds.
Minnesota could certainly cause problems with their ability to push the ball up the floor and having a big time shot blocker like Reggie Lynch never hurts when going up against Haas and Swanigan.
While the Boilermakers beat Michigan State in both meetings this season, they always say it’s very difficult to beat the same team three times in the same year. That’s exactly what the Boilermakers would have to do to get the Sunday championship game should they advance and meet Michigan State.
While Nick Ward has had a nice season for the Spartans as a freshman, the depleted depth of the front court for Michigan State would be a huge key to that game as it was at Mackey Arena on February 18th.
If seeding plays out, the Boilers would face the likely winner of Maryland and Wisconsin in the potential championship game in Washington, D.C.
The Boilermakers won the regular season title, and for that they were given a very difficult road to the Sunday championship game. While the road is difficult, that means they would have a few chances to pad some nice wins onto their resume right before Selection Sunday.
The Boilermakers enter the Big Ten Tournament with the highest odds to win at 8/5, but the road will be far from easy. Purdue is certainly capable of putting together three nice wins to finish off as regular season and tournament champions, so settle into your chair this weekend and prepare to watch high quality basketball.