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Can The Boilermakers Get Over The Hump This Year?

What can the Boilermakers do in the Big Dance?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Minnesota David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Since the team’s resurgence onto the scene in 2015, it’s been a mixed bag for the Purdue Boilermakers. The program has been incredibly consistent and is now preparing for its fifth straight NCAA Tournament, but Purdue hasn’t quite been able to deliver on the hopes and expectations of fans in the postseason.

But can Purdue get the job done this time? Let’s take a look.

Opening Round

As a three seed in the South Region, Purdue projects to have a pretty manageable opening round matchup. The Boilermakers will face off against Old Dominion on Thursday night at 9:50 p.m. on TBS.in Hartford, Connecticut.

On paper, this looks like a pretty big mismatch. Purdue is 10th nationally on KenPom and won a share of the Big Ten regular season title. Meanwhile, Old Dominion sits at 113th on KenPom and has just two wins against top 100 opponents this season, which came before Christmas.

The strength of Old Dominion’s team lies on the defensive end of the floor. The Monarchs are 45th nationally in defensive efficiency and one of the best defensive squads inside the three-point line. Purdue is an elite offensive team, but the Boilermakers can get over reliant on difficult shots and Carsen Edwards. Old Dominion will have to hope it can force Purdue into those type of looks.

Along with playing quality defense, Old Dominion is also going to need seniors Ahmad Caver and BJ Stith to show up in this one. The two dominate the team’s offensive possessions. Caver is a great ball control guy and Stith is a pretty good perimeter shooter and rebounder.

The question, of course, is going to be about which Purdue team shows up to play on Thursday night. The Boilermakers have an elite national profile, but haven’t been dominant away from home this season. Purdue is 2-3 on neutral courts this season and hasn’t looked all that impressive in the team’s road games since beating Ohio State in late January.

It’s also important to note that Old Dominion has scored some quality wins so far this season. The Monarchs beat VCU and Syracuse in non-conference play and scored three wins against a decent Western Kentucky squad.

Still, Purdue is clearly the better team on paper heading into this matchup. The pressure will be on Carsen Edwards to deliver. The path is manageable moving forward and Purdue can’t afford to let this one slip by.

If They Advance

Should Purdue take care of business on Thursday evening against Old Dominion, it will face off against either Villanova or Saint Mary’s on Saturday. The Wildcats are minor favorites to advance to the Round of 32 and both teams are rated among the top 30 nationally on KenPom.

Like the first game, Purdue projects to be a solid favorite on paper against either of these teams. Villanova isn’t the team it was last year and Saint Mary’s is pretty weak on the defensive end of the floor. However, both teams enter with some momentum. Villanova won the Big East Tournament and Saint Mary’s won the West Coast Conference Tournament.

If it’s Villanova, Purdue needs to figure out a way to slow down Phil Booth. He’s one of the better guards in the nation and is the key to Villanova’s offense. The Boilermakers will have their hands full. And if it’s Saint Mary’s, Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts are the key players. Ford is the do-it-all guard that can hit from deep. Carsen Edwards will have to out duel him in this one. It won’t be easy.

After that, Purdue projects to face either Tennessee, Cincinnati, or Iowa in the Sweet 16. Given that Cincinnati and Iowa are rated outside the top 30 on KenPom, Boilermaker fans should be rooting for Tennessee to go down this weekend.

But assuming it is Tennessee, Purdue figures to have its hands full. The Vols are rated eighth nationally on KenPom and have a 29-5 overall record coming into the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee is also immensely balanced. The team has three major contributors with usage rates above 21.9 percent. There is no single player for Purdue to shut down for the Vols. It will take a group effort.

Tennessee has shown some vulnerability this season, though. The key for Purdue will be taking advantage of a good, but not great Tennessee defensive unit. The Vols have shown some weakness inside, so the Boilermakers will need to find a way into the paint.

Should Purdue advance to the Elite Eight, it would likely be playing Virginia, Kansas State, or Wisconsin. The Cavs are clearly the best team of the group and have a fantastic squad. However, Virginia has shown itself to be upset prone in March. Should Purdue avoid the Cavs, neither of the other teams look that daunting. No team in the top half of the region is rated above Purdue on KenPom, other than Virginia.

If the Boilermakers manage to make the Final Four, it’s anyone’s guess who would serve as potential opponents. Purdue is on the same side as the Midwest Region, so North Carolina or Kentucky project as the most likely Final Four opponent. Potential national championship opponents are Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan State, or Michigan.

Overall

Although Purdue enters the NCAA Tournament as a three seed, the Boilermakers could very well end up going very deep in this year’s Big Dance. The team projects to be favored in its first two games and as minor underdogs after that. And considering Tennessee’s potential Round of 32 matchup and Virginia’s recent history, there’s a reasonable likelihood that Purdue could make the Final Four without playing either opponent.

Still, Purdue has its own demons to conquer this season. And it will have to start on Thursday night against Old Dominion. We’ll see if this ends up being the year.