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Sweet Sixteen Preview: Despite the loss of Haas, Purdue has the Elite Eight within its grasp

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The Boilermakers will look to run up the score against Texas Tech’s stingy defense to earn the programs first trip to the Elite Eight since 2000

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional Practice Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten’s quest to hogtie and cattle rope the Lone Star state continues Friday evening as the Boilermakers and Red Raiders tango over the last bid to the Elite Eight.

And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the sports Gods have blessed us with yet another strength-verse-strength matchup with Purdue’s 2nd ranked offense going up against Texas Tech’s 4th ranked defense.

Yet for two uber talented programs going mano a mano, this game seems to be lacking the pizzazz and intrigue surrounding the other Sweet Sixteen match-ups.

Whether that has more to do with the chaos that’s erupted in other regionals or Purdue having seemingly been written off since the loss of Isaac Haas, there just hasn’t been much made of what, on paper, should be quite the contest.

-No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders vs No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers

  • Time/TV: 9:57PM ET - TBS
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue (-3)

Perhaps the reason this game is lacking in the intrigue department is due to the fact that the most interesting thing written about Purdue all week involves its engineering department.

Nerds and jocks haven’t come together like this since Nubie installed the Annexation of Puerto Rico into the Little Giants playbook way back in 1994. And while I wouldn’t bet on Isaac Haas being turned into Cable or the Winter Soldier, it at least gives the seniors status a little Ross-and-Rachel will-they-won’t-they appeal.

Still, I wouldn’t advocate any Indianans hold their breath waiting for his return. Even if Purdue’s nationally ranked engineering program comes through in the clutch, head coach Matt Painter has all but squashed the possibility of Haas being reinserted into the Boilermakers lineup.

The 13th year coach is probably making the correct call, as playing someone with a fractured shooting arm can only go poorly for both Haas and Purdue. Plus, his replacement, Matt Haarms, held his own against Butler last weekend —which is more than you can say about his highly chastised choice of hair products.

While Haarms’ line of seven points, six rebounds, and two blocks isn’t anything to rave about, his season high 29 minutes of playing time absolutely is. That’s because any concern that steamed from the European replacing Haas in the lineup had little to do with the freshmen’s talent, and more to do with his inability to stay out of foul trouble despite a rather low usage rate.

On 15 different occasions during the 2017-’18 season, Haarms picked up three or more fouls. Yet on Sunday, he managed to stay on the court, providing necessary minutes for a Purdue team suddenly lacking front court depth.

If Haarms can provide a similar level of production on Friday while Vincent Edwards, Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias, and P.J. Thompson light of the scoreboard, the Boilermakers would be in good shape to advance another round.

However, putting up points against Texas Tech, even for an offense as gifted as Purdue’s, is easier said than done.

For starters, the Red Raiders have held opponents to just 64.6 points per game while forcing an average of 15 turnovers per contest. Tech also utilizes its offense to control the tempo of the game, averaging only 66.6 possession per 40 minutes.

When Chris Beard’s team does look to score the basketball, it relies heavily on All-Big 12 first team guard Keenan Evans. The senior averages 17.8 points per game and went for 22 and 23, respectively, in the Red Raiders two games last weekend.

Evans also has a track record of showing up on the biggest stages, as he scored 32 points in a win over Nevada and 38 points in a defeat of Texas earlier this year.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, his vision and distribution led to my favorite play of the tournament so far when he found freshmen Zhaire Smith for the following jaw-dropping alley-opp:

What makes this a tough game to figure out, however, is that despite Purdue’s offensive accolades, its defensive proficiency isn’t that far off from the Red Raiders near-top ranked unit.

The Boilermakers allow an average of 65.4 points to opposing teams, which is less than a full point worse than Texas Tech. On top of that, Purdue does have a distinct advantage offensively, which gives them a point differential 5.1 points better than the Red Raiders.

But despite this stark statistical edge, any advantage with momentum has to be given to Chris Beard’s team. Even with a run to the Big Ten title and two wins last weekend, Purdue just hasn’t gotten everyone to click at the same time. Plus with Haas out and Haarms fouling track record, the Boilermakers margin for error is at its thinest point of the season.

And while I’ve never been someone who puts a ton of stock into momentum, there’s just a swagger about this Texas Tech team that’s tough to deny.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Texas Tech

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 27-20-1