Scouting Purdue's path in the NCAA Tournament
After Purdue hung on to win the Big Ten Tournament final on Sunday afternoon, there was little suspense left.
Purdue figured it was likely to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament or at worst the top 2nd seed, and the Boilermakers got the more favorable outcome when the Selection Committee placed them as the 4th No. 1 and placed them in the East Region. Not only did Purdue get a 1, but it’ll play its 1st 2 games in nearby Columbus, Ohio, before the regionals in New York City.
The Boilermakers will have to get to the Big Apple, of course, but they should be able to cruise through their 1st-round game, either against Texas Southern or Fairleigh Dickinson. A 2nd-round matchup could bring intrigue, as Purdue would face Anfernee Hardaway and the 8th-seeded Memphis Tigers or the 9th-seeded Florida Atlantic Owls, who own an impressive 31-3 record.
But Purdue has been solid much of the season, and particularly of late. The Boilermakers, who are 26-5, won the Big Ten’s regular-season and tournament titles, having swept through the latter with wins over Rutgers, Ohio State and Penn State this weekend. They’ve run their winning streak to 5 games, seemingly having overcome a malaise that had seen them lose 4 of 6 in February.
Here’s a look at Purdue’s road through the East Region and a prediction of how far the Boilermakers will advance in the NCAA Tournament.
Scouting the field
Purdue’s potential 1st-round opponents took unusual paths to the NCAA Tournament.
Fairleigh Dickinson was the 1st team to earn an automatic bid, doing so before playing in the Northeast Conference final because their opponent there — Merrimack — was not yet eligible for the NCAA Tournament as it transitions to full-fledged D-I status. As it turned out, Merrimack beat FDU by a point, but the Knights still stamped their ticket. Meanwhile, Texas Southern was only the 8th-seed in the SWAC tourney, but the Tigers won 3 games over higher-seeded teams to take the title and automatic bid despite having only a 14-20 record.
If a 1st-round win Friday is to be assumed — recall that top-seeded Purdue very nearly became the 1st NCAA 1-seed to lose to a 16 in 1996, when Western Carolina missed 2 shots in the final 11 seconds that could have tied or won the game — then it all starts to get more difficult.
The East Region features No. 2 seed Marquette, which Purdue beat in Mackey Arena in November, and 3rd-seeded Kansas State, but a matchup with either wouldn’t come until the regional final. The Boilermakers could have more immediate concerns in the regional semis in either 4-seed Tennessee and 5-seed Duke, which Purdue beat in the Phil Knight Legacy before Thanksgiving.
Let’s take a look at some of the superlatives in the region:
Potential pitfall: Purdue has its eyes set on the Final Four, but the path is never easy. And if the Boilermakers get into the 2nd weekend, they’ll likely face an opponent with which they have a history.
In one of the best games in the 2019 tournament, Purdue outlasted the Volunteers in the Sweet 16 when Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline seemed to hit miracle shot after miracle shot. Players don’t remain from the game, but certainly fans remember it as one of the all-time great games. Could a rematch be on the horizon?
Duke is also a potential Sweet 16 opponent. The Blue Devils might be under-seeded, as well — some bracketologists had them as high as a 3 seed — and they could be out to try to even the season series vs. the Boilermakers. A then-unranked Purdue team beat Duke in the Phil Knight Legacy before Thanksgiving, a win that propelled the Boilermakers into the national spotlight this season.
Underdog to watch: Florida Atlantic.
Anytime a team finishes its season with more than 30 victories, it should be on the radar. The Owls were great this season, winning 31 of their 34 games, including thumping UAB in the Conference USA championship game on Saturday for the league’s automatic berth. But even had FAU lost, the Owls very likely would have made the Field of 68 as an at-large. Florida Atlantic has a NET ranking of 13, with a 6-3 record this season vs. Quad 1 and 2 opponents.
Prediction sure to go wrong: No. 12-seed Oral Roberts, which is 30-4 this season after waltzing its way through the Summit League, will beat Duke and Tennessee to advance to the Sweet 16. There, Golden Eagles’ 7-foot-5 center Connor Vanover will face off with Purdue’s 7-4 big man Zach Edey.
Purdue’s 1st-round prediction: The Boilermakers will trounce woefully undersized Fairleigh Dickinson 90-63.
Beyond the opener
Purdue is dreaming of a Final Four.
It’s been too long since the last trip in 1980.
Generally, the Boilermakers seem to have gotten a favorable draw, with Purdue having already beaten the 2 seed (Marquette), the 5 seed (Duke) and the 7 seed (Michigan State, twice) earlier this season. A 3rd-round matchup against either Tennessee or Duke could potentially be the most challenging of the bracket, given that beating the Blue Devils twice in a season seems a tall task and the Volunteers have the length and athleticism to give the Boilermakers fits.
But this feels like the year that Purdue gets to the Final Four in Houston.