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2018 NCAA Tournament: Can Purdue Make A Final Four Run?

Can the Boilermakers make any noise in the Big Dance?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Michigan Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into this season, many expected the Purdue Boilermakers to drop off after losing Caleb Swanigan to the NBA Draft. Swanigan was easily Purdue’s best player and it was difficult to imagine the program avoiding a setback after he left town.

But as Purdue prepares for its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, it’s hard to complain much about how the team has performed this season. The Boilermakers may not have won the Big Ten (as they did with Swanigan), but the team is 28-6 overall and finds itself as a two seed in the East Region. F

Generally speaking, it’s been a great year for Purdue. But can it be more than great? Let’s take a look at what the Boilermakers need to do to finally make real noise in March.

Opening Round

As a two seed, Purdue will avoid a challenging matchup in the first round. The Boilemakers will get 15th seeded Cal State Fullerton on Friday in an afternoon game. Purdue will open up NCAA Tournament play in Detroit, Michigan.

Cal State Fullerton’s resume is decent, but not overly impressive. The Titans went 20-11 overall this season, but were 1-4 against top 100 teams. The team came in at 153rd on KenPom and will be nearly a 20-point underdog against Purdue this week.

We’ve all seen great upsets in March before and can remember Michigan State going down as a two seed just a few years back, but there’s nothing about this matchup that implies an upset is coming. Purdue is simply better than Cal State Fullerton and it isn’t all that close.

Perhaps the one thing to watch here will be Cal State Fullerton’s ability to get Purdue into foul trouble. The Titans are one of the better teams in the country at getting to the foul line and will hope to do that on Friday afternoon. As long as Purdue can keep its stars out of foul trouble, it should be in good shape.

If They Advance

Assuming Purdue takes care of business on Friday, it will be looking at a pretty intriguing matchup in the second round against Arkansas or Butler. Both teams put together solid seasons and will be hoping to play spoiler on Sunday afternoon.

On paper, it’s hard to determine who is the preferred opponent for Purdue. The advanced stats prefer Butler, but Arkansas has shown it can knock off quality opponents. The Razorbacks already have four wins over top 30 KenPom teams this season and just knocked off a tough Auburn team a few weeks ago. Purdue also took care of Butler pretty easily on a neutral court earlier this season.

Either way, though, Purdue will be favored in its second round game and expected to move on to the Sweet 16. Both Arkansas and Butler would be challenging opponents, but the odds certainly favor the Boilermakers.

Should Purdue make it past this weekend, it would then be looking at a likely matchup against either Texas Tech or Florida. The Red Raiders are the three seed in the East Region and clearly would be the most difficult potential opponent. Texas Tech is 12th on KenPom and has five wins against top 25 KenPom teams this season.

Florida doesn’t look as tough, but the Gators are 23rd on KenPom and have some nice wins on the resume, including wins over Auburn, Gonzaga, and Texas A&M. However, Florida does project to have a tough first round game. Don’t be surprised if the Gators go down.

If Purdue is able to get past that round, it would then be staring down a matchup against one seed Villanova. The four and five seeds at the top are, respectively, Wichita State and West Virginia. Nonetheless, Villanova certainly projects as the best team of that group.

There really isn’t much analysis needed regarding Villanova. The team is absolutely stacked and is favored by many to win the national championship. Defeating the Wildcats is possible, but it would take quite an effort from Purdue.

Overall

All things considered, it’s tough to complain too much about Purdue’s draw heading into next weekend. The Boilermakers have an easy first round game (on paper) and should be significant favorites to make the Sweet 16. Additionally, Purdue looks better than any of its potential Sweet 16 opponents.

Unfortunately, the manageable opening round games also means that things will get far tougher as the East Region extends into the second weekend. Villanova is absolutely loaded and looks like a monster guarding that gate to the Final Four. Purdue has a path to the Final Four, but it will likely need to beat the Wildcats to get there.