Don’t look now, but the Purdue Boilermakers could be primed for a return to the NCAA Tournament this year. At 13-8 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten, Purdue may just be able to sneak into the Big Dance after two years of missing the party.
Purdue is coming off a most-impressive win over no. 22 Indiana on Wednesday night when it whipped the Hoosiers by a score of 83-67. The Boilermakers were simply on fire, scorching the nets on 27-46 shooting from the field.
Although there have been bumps along the way, Purdue does have a solid resume in regards to its NCAA Tournament hopes. While it’s not a bulletproof resume, it does have some appeal.
The Boilermakers are coming off two-straight wins over ranked squads in Indiana and Iowa (which they beat last Saturday). With those wins, they now own three top-50 wins (including a win over BYU on a neutral site). Plus, they have an additional four top-100 wins with victories over Minnesota (56), N.C. State (57), Michigan (78) and Penn State (95).
According to KenPom.com, Purdue has an RPI rating of 63, which puts them squarely on the fringe of consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid. However, with a few impressive wins under its belt, it’s looking like Purdue will be knocking on the door all year for a bid.
There is work to be done, though. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi does not have Purdue included in his most recent projections. What is killing Purdue’s chances at the moment are devastating non-conference losses to North Florida (133 RPI) and Gardner-Webb (203 RPI). The Boilermakers will have to keep piling up some impressive wins to offset those bad losses. They still have big-time resume-building chances with games left against Ohio State (twice), Michigan State and a rematch at Indiana. Then, of course, there is the chance to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament.
Still, with Purdue tied for fourth in the Big Ten standings and starting to get it in gear heading into February, head coach Matt Painter and his team have exceeded expectations this year. After conjecture about his job security spread in the offseason, Painter is doing a good job of keeping his team motivated and focused on the task at hand. He is not letting any distractions throw his team off track.
This is a Boilermakers team that is the embodiment of balance. The difference between Purdue’s leading scorer and its sixth-leading scorer is 2.2 points per game. A.J. Hammons, Raphael Davis, Kendall Stephens, Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas and Jon Octeus all average between 8.5 (Octeus) and 10.7 (Hammons) points per game.
The Boilermakers are a big team, too. They boast two seven-footers in Hammons and Haas while playing some towering guards/forwards in Edwards, Davis, Stephens, Octeus and freshman Dakota Mathias. While not overly athletic, they are psychical. They average 36.4 rebounds per game (which ranks fifth in the conference) while allowing just 31.9 rebounds per game (third in the Big Ten).
Purdue also gets it done on defense, allowing teams to shoot just .40 percent from the field while, predictably, leading the Big Ten in blocks with 5.6 per game. Hammons in particular averages 2.7 blocks per game, which ranks 19th in the country.
While sometimes they don’t play pretty and are not a particularly aesthetic bunch, Purdue is still getting the job done. The Boilermakers are proving to be competitive once again after two-straight losing seasons. Sure, they are a flawed team, but they are a team getting stronger as the season goes on, which is something the selection committee rewards.
As a result, look for them to be squarely on the bubble watch for the next 6-8 weeks.
All RPI ratings are courtesy of KenPom.com