Purdue is No. 1 for first time, but Boilermakers must stay focused on March
Baylor won the national championship last season.
Many remember that — most in Waco probably do — but a majority of people, even the most ardent sports fans, probably cannot name the No. 1 team in the AP Poll in the first week of last December. It’s a near guarantee they can’t from 2 years ago. Because while it mattered in those moments — Gonzaga was No. 1 on Dec. 7, 2020, and Louisville was Dec. 2 the year before — it wasn’t very relevant months later.
And so Purdue will try to keep that in mind now, as the Boilermakers ascend to the top of the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history. Yes, it should be celebrated.
Although a storied basketball history, from Joe Barry Carroll and the Big Dog and the Three Amigos and the Baby Boilers (John Wooden’s Era came before the AP Poll), with a Big Ten-best 24 conference regular-season titles, Purdue has never risen to the top of the Associated Press poll.
But it’s this nickname-less group, led by Trevion Williams, Jaden Ivey, Zach Edey and their teammates on a deep, talented roster that has Purdue at the pinnacle, and it can’t be disputed; all 61 AP voters agreed the Boilermakers are No. 1.
Purdue has come close before. The most recent might be in February of 2010, when the Boilermakers, led by Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, were rolling through the Big Ten. But disaster struck in The Barn, when Hummel tore his ACL on a drive down the lane. No. 3 Purdue, somehow, held on to win the game. A few days later, the Boilermakers hosted Michigan State, with the door to No. 1 the next day wide open, but without Hummel, Purdue fell at home to the Spartans. And, of course, Purdue wasn’t the same team without Hummel, as its dreams for a Final Four were squashed.
Purdue, rightfully, has its sights set there once again.
The Boilermakers have been fantastic through their first 8 games, building the best NCAA résumé through the first month of the season — the Net rankings, released for the first time this season on Monday, also had Purdue as the best team in the country — with big-time wins vs. Villanova and North Carolina and quality ones vs. Florida State and Iowa.
Purdue is loaded offensively, averaging 90.5 points per game, the 5th-best mark in the NCAA but only .8 less than No. 1 Arizona.
Shooting was expected to be a concern, after they atypically were off last year. But Purdue is hitting its 3-pointers at a near-44% clip, the 2nd-best in the country behind only South Dakota State. And it’s not as if Purdue has only a couple offensive weapons; instead the Boilermakers have 7 players averaging at least 7 points, and each is hitting better than 40% of their 3-point attempts.
It’s beautiful basketball.
However, it’s not flawless basketball.
Iowa, which pushed Purdue late on Friday night in Mackey Arena, drawing to within 2 late before losing by 7, exposed a couple of weaknesses. Purdue is susceptible to pressure, as the Hawkeyes pressed the Boilermakers in the backcourt, creating multiple turnovers and helping them to get back into the game. Purdue committed a concerning 17 turnovers.
Not everyone can press like Iowa, because not everyone practices it like the Hawkeyes. But those who do might be able to replicate that success unless the Boilermakers can find better ways to break the pressure.
And the other danger to Purdue, at least right now, might be boredom. The Boilermakers have gotten a little careless at times with leads, as they did vs. Iowa and Florida State the game before, being “too cute,” as Matt Painter put it, with the basketball in trying to make too-difficult passes to teammates. It helped Iowa get back into the game before the Boilermakers recovered late.
These are the things, along with cleaning up defensive lapses, that Painter will harp on, probably repeatedly, between now and March.
But it’s good to do so from on top. And the Boilermakers are there, the No. 1 team in the country … finally.