Despite mixed preseason expectations, the Purdue Boilermakers put together one heck of a season. After some early struggles, Purdue took off in Big Ten play and was able to grab a share of the Big Ten regular season title at season’s end. The Boilermakers now hope to build off that title in this week’s Big Ten Tournament.
But how far can Purdue go in Chicago? Let’s take a look.
As the two seed, Purdue earned a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and will tip-off its play on Friday evening in Chicago. The Boilermakers will face the winner of an intriguing matchup between Minnesota and Penn State. Despite the fact that Penn State is the lower seeded team, KenPom actually favors the Nittany Lions in the team’s opening round matchup.
Given the fact that the Boilermakers won the Big Ten’s regular season title and have only lost two games over the last two months, there’s no denying that Purdue is a better team than Minnesota and Penn State on paper. After all, there’s a reason why Gopher fans remain somewhat concerned about making the postseason and why Penn State has no shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.
Nonetheless, each team remains dangerous.
To start, Minnesota literally beat Purdue less than two weeks ago in Minneapolis. Obviously, given that win, the Gophers are more than capable of pulling off the upset. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that a team that’s already down something is fully capable of doing it again later in the season.
Additionally, Penn State has been red hot over the last month or so. In fact, if you look at the advanced stats since Penn State beat Northwestern on February 4th, they’re utterly jaw dropping. Per TRank, Penn State ranks eighth (!!!) nationally in team efficiency since beating the Wildcats for the team’s first Big Ten win. That’s above teams like Duke, Houston, Michigan State, and Tennessee.
If Purdue faces Penn State, it will have to figure out how to slow down Myles Dread, Lamar Stevens, and Jamari Wheeler. For Minnesota, it will need to stop Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy.
-If They Advance
Should Purdue take care of business on Friday, it will likely face Michigan on Saturday. Michigan is not only one of the better teams in the Big Ten, but is ranked in the top 10 nationally and perceived as one of the favorites in March. The Wolverines also beat Purdue in the only regular season matchup between the two teams.
However, Michigan has been relatively inconsistent at times. The Wolverines have not only lost two of the team’s last four games coming into the Big Ten Tournament, but also suffered some rough losses earlier in the year, including a loss to Penn State. It’s also worth mentioning that the matchup between Michigan and Purdue occurred in December. We’ve played quite a bit of basketball since then.
The key to beating Michigan for the Boilermakers will be getting quality play from the backcourt. Zavier Simpson is a superb defender and will be all over Purdue’s guards. As such, Purdue is going to need to be able to avoid turnovers and convert in pick and roll situations. Slowing down Ignas Brazdeikis on defense is also crucial.
Purdue’s other potential Saturday opponent will be Illinois or Iowa. The Boilermakers went 2-0 against those teams during the regular season. And while both have shown sparks, Purdue would certainly be a substantial favorite against either opponent.
After that, Purdue would likely be looking at either Michigan State or Wisconsin in a potential championship game. Those two teams are both ranked among the top 15 nationally on KenPom, so there’s no denying they would be tough matchups.
Coming into the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue has already accomplished quite a bit this season. The Boilermakers won the Big Ten regular season title and have already recorded some notable wins over teams like Indiana, Michigan State, and Wisconsin. As such, there isn’t a ton riding on the Big Ten Tournament for the Boilermakers.
However, fans are hoping this is the year Purdue can replicate its regular season success in the postseason. And that starts in Chicago. The Boilermakers have suffered some hiccups in recent postseasons and this is an opportunity to turn the page on those struggles.
Things won’t be easy, though. Minnesota and Penn State look like tough competition and Michigan awaits thereafter. And Michigan State and Wisconsin are good as well. It’s likely going to come down to Carsen Edwards. The Boilermakers will need him to be at the top of his game this weekend to have a shot at taking home the crown.