The Purdue Boilermakers have had one of the oddest seasons in recent memory. Despite ranking 24th on KenPom, having a strength of schedule ranked in the top 10 nationally, and blowing out two teams that appeared in last year’s Final Four, Purdue enters the Big Ten Tournament well outside the NCAA Tournament in the vast majority of bracketology projections. But whether it’s unusual or not, it’s reality. Purdue desperately needs to score some wins this week to end up on the right side of the bubble.
So, can Purdue do enough to secure its NCAA bid? Let’s take a look.
As the 10 seed, Purdue will open things up on Thursday evening against 7th seeded Ohio State. Obviously, Boilermaker fans were hoping for a better seed a few weeks ago, but the bracket certainly provides for the chance to score some quality wins, if Purdue ends up being up to the task.
The B1G tourney field is set. pic.twitter.com/pV0b4p0nxl— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 9, 2020
Even if Purdue is better than its 16-15 overall record and its spot as the 10 seed in the Big Ten Tournament would suggest, it’s still clearly weaker than Ohio State this season. The Buckeyes are ranked 8th nationally on KenPom and have been on an absolute tear as of late, going 9-3 to close the regular season against a really challenging slate. As such, Purdue is going to have to come out with the energy is showed against teams like Michigan State and Virginia if it’s going to pull off the upset on Thursday night.
It might seem a little rudimentary, but the key for Purdue is going to be three-point shooting. When Purdue has looked its best this year, it’s been shooting the lights out from deep. It won’t be easy to do against a tough Ohio State defense, but that’s almost certainly the recipe for beating the Buckeyes. A lot is going to ride on Sasha Stefanovic. If he can have one of his “on” nights, Purdue has a chance.
-If They Advance
Should Purdue upset Ohio State on Thursday, it would then move on to face another red hot team in Michigan State. From an on-court perspective, the Spartans are clearly a better team than Purdue. Michigan State has been one of the nation’s best teams this season and are trending up right now. The Boilermakers would certainly be underdogs if the two teams did end up meeting on Friday.
However, there are a few reasons for hope. To start, Purdue already beat Michigan State this season, and that game wasn’t particularly close either. It’s unlikely Purdue can replicate a 71-42 win over the Spartans, but we can’t slot the game as a sure loss given that earlier result. If you did it once, there are at least some reasons to think you can do it again.
Additionally, Purdue would have the benefit of confidence and comfort, having played (and won) the day before. Michigan State will be coming into its Friday game ice cold after being off since Sunday. Playing back-to-back games will eventually wear you out, but it takes more than two games to do it. If Purdue can hit the ground running and get Michigan State down, perhaps they can sneak out the upset.
And if Purdue did manage to make it past the Buckeyes and Spartans, it would then likely face off against Maryland or Penn State. Unfortunately, Purdue went 0-2 against those opponents during the regular season. However, Maryland has shown some scabs lately and Penn State has been struggling significantly as well. Penn State went 1-5 over its last six games and ranked 81st in team efficiency during that stretch. Plus, if Purdue can beat Michigan State and Ohio State, things would have to be rolling at that point. In a title game, Purdue would likely seem somebody like Wisconsin or Illinois.
Regardless of your preferred bracketology site, Purdue enters this week on the outside looking in at the NCAA Tournament field. TRank currently projects the Boilermakers as the fourth team outside the field, and many others have it looking even worse than that. By any reasonable evaluation, Purdue is headed to the NIT unless it can surprise this week.
The question, of course, is how much Purdue has to do to make the field. Would one win be enough, or does the team need to get to Saturday to be on the right side of things?
A lot will depend on what happens with other bubble teams and auto bids, but I think Purdue is going to need two wins to have any hope of making the Big Dance. The team has good advanced metrics, but a 16-15 overall record is really underwhelming and the idea of going 1-1 and getting to 17-16 doesn’t seem a whole lot better. Perhaps other bubble teams suffer some tough losses in the meantime, but that seems like a recipe to get left out.
Unfortunately and as repeatedly noted above, getting two wins this week is going to be exceedingly difficult. The team is an underdog against Ohio State and would undeniably be an underdog against Michigan State on Friday as well. And unlike others in the bracket, both of those potential opponents are playing really good basketball right now. Purdue isn’t going to get the benefit of playing against a fading squad.
What this all means is that Purdue is likely going to find itself in the NIT this season barring something magical happening in Indy this week. That will certainly be disappointing for fans, but it’s important to keep things in perspective in the days ahead.
For the first time in several years, Purdue enters the Big Ten Tournament in dire straights. The team needs multiple wins, or it’s bound for the NIT. And while that goal doesn’t seem likely, it’s certainly achievable. And that should make for an exciting few days of basketball for Boilermaker fans this week.