Matt Painter’s Boilermakers have been in this position before.

In 2019, they were within seconds of advancing to the Final Four — Purdue’s first since 1980 — when Virginia miraculously turned a backcourt tip into a 10-foot jumper in only 3 seconds left to tie at the buzzer, before winning in overtime in an Elite Eight thriller. In ’22, Purdue faced Cinderella Saint Peter’s in the Sweet 16, seemingly being dealt a greased pathway to at least the regional final, but couldn’t find a way to make the clock strike midnight on the Peacocks.

And those are only the most recent opportunities. Painter has advanced the Boilermakers to the Sweet 16 during 5 of the past 7 tournaments, laying waste to the inaccurate narrative that Purdue is a consistent first-weekend flameout. Until this season, when No. 1-seed Purdue vanquished 16-seed Grambling on Friday, double-digit seeds had been a problem, regardless of where it encountered them, with loses to North Texas, Saint Peter’s and FDU in consecutive seasons. But the Boilermakers are unlikely to lose to a double-digit seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament — only 1 remains in 11-seed NC State — and they hope to not lose at all. They might not, either. FanDuel lists the Boilers’ odds to win it all at +550, tied for the 2nd-best odds among the 16 teams left.

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Perhaps this season gives Purdue its best opportunity. Maybe it’s good that for the Boilermakers to reach the Final Four, they’ll do so against (mostly) Midwest Region chalk, facing 5-seed Gonzaga at 7:39 p.m. ET Friday night in Detroit, then either 2-seed Tennessee or 3-seed Creighton in the regional final. There won’t be a Mean Green or a Peacock or a Knight (or a Ram, like years ago when Purdue ran into Shaka Smart’s upstart VCU squad) to erect an unlikely roadblock.

No, Purdue knows what it’s up against. The Boilermakers are 7-0 against the Sweet 16 field this season, including Maui Invitational wins against the Zags and the Volunteers. But that was far back in November, and things have changed since then. Certainly, they have for the Bulldogs, who suffered through a mid-season malaise that saw them potentially on the brink of missing the tourney for the first time in two-and-a-half decades before they recovered at the end of the season. Gonzaga might not have the pros as in seasons past, but they have veterans — and a Hall of Fame coach in Mark Few — and won 8 straight games at the end of the regular-season (and 13 of 14) before falling to St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference Tournament finale. During the stretch, Gonzaga’s offense was one of the most efficient in the country while averaging about 90 points per game.

But the Boilermakers, who beat the ‘Zags 73-63 on Nov. 20, are different, too. The emergence of freshman Myles Colvin during the NCAA Tournament has added an element to the Boilermakers’ second unit that Purdue had lacked during much of the regular season. The slow burn of the dynamic scorer’s growth this season is paying off right now, as Colvin played 26 minutes of the bench in the Boilermakers’ 2 NCAA wins last weekend, grabbing 3 rebounds and 3 assists in the opening-round win over Grambling, then scoring 9 on 3 3-pointers in the 2nd-round victory over Utah St.

If there’s an X-factor for the Boilermakers in Detroit, then perhaps it’s Colvin. He has taken rotation minutes from veteran defender Ethan Morton, who was a starter a year ago but gave that role up to Lance Jones when he transferred in from Southern Illinois. But with Colvin, Purdue’s 2s, which usually play for a stretch midway through the 1st half then potentially again early in the 2nd, give the Boilermakers an almost completely different look than the starters. And it’s showing to be a winning combination.

Against Utah State, big man Zach Edey played only 27 minutes and scored only 2 of Purdue’s 47 2nd-half points, yet the Boilermakers pulled away. Why? Purdue got a scoring boost from starters Trey Kaufman-Renn and Fletcher Loyer, but the Jones-Colvin-Camden Heide group also spurred a run. The trio can match the athleticism of about anyone an opponent can put on the floor, a characteristic not many Purdue teams in the past have been able to claim.

This is the Boilermakers’ best chance at a Final Four, better even than in 2010 when Robbie Hummel’s knee injury in late February handicapped a deep NCAA run. It’s better than 2018, when then 2-seed Purdue lost center Isaac Haas to a “hook and hold” elbow injury in the opening-round. Better than a year later, when the Carsen Edwards-led 3rd-seeded Boilermakers came within a tenth-of-a-second from beating Virginia in one of the greatest Elite Eight games of all time. Better than when 3-seed Purdue lost to the Peacocks, and better than last season’s too-Edey-reliant No. 1 seed.

But nothing is a given, particularly in a Detroit region in which all 4 teams might feel like fate owes them one. Tennessee has never reached a Final Four, and Rick Barnes would love a return trip, after his only previous appearance with Texas in 2003. Few’s Gonzaga squads, once an NCAA Cinderella but now a mainstay, want another chance at a championship, after falling in the championship games in 2017 and ’21. A year ago, Greg McDermott’s Bluejays came within a couple points of beating San Diego State for a trip to their first-ever Final Four.

But the Boilermakers, after years of hardship (whether injury or upset), feels it’s their time. Maybe so.

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