A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed, but tonight's game with Western Carolina is a rematch of one of the closest games where a 16 almost pulled the epic upset. It was the 1996 NCAA Tournament, and a Purdue squad that won the Big Ten Championship was given the top seed in the West region. It was the last time Purdue was seeded so highly, and one would expect that we had little trouble int hat tournament. Instead, another chance to get Gene Keady to a Final Four was blown. Purdue only beat Western Carolina 73-71 in the first round, and the Catamounts had two good looks at a game-winning three in the final 10 seconds.
Instead of learning from the close call, Purdue fell 76-69 in round 2 to Georgia and was out of the tournament before the first weekend was over. Fourth seeded Syracuse would go on to benefit from our largesse to reach the Final Four, eventually losing to Kentucky in the championship game.
We've only played Western Carolina once since then, beating them 82-57 to open the 2006-07 season. Still, I have never forgotten that original game because our Boilermakers came dangerously close to becoming a footnote in basketball history. I don't think a 16 seed has come as close to losing since, either. We're still haunted by that game, as the top assistant coach on that Western Carolina team was none other than Ohio State's Thad Matta.
Tonight's stakes aren't nearly as high, but Purdue knows it needs a win after what happened on Saturday at Xavier. Last night on Twitter I stated it was kind of embarrassing that we have two losses already. Yes, they were to ranked teams, but they were to a team we had all but beaten and another that benefitted from very poor shooting by us. I can live with the Alabama loss because we got out played. I can't live with the Xavier loss, even though they are now No. 8, because we fell apart.
We're still starting to gain some national respect. ESPN's John Gasaway says we will be the next unranked team to emerge nationally, and would have already had we not blown the Xavier game. Of course, this same guy predicted Indiana would upset Kentucky this Saturday. If that happens I will walk to Bloomington so I can go tanning with Tom Crean.
We now have four games that we should win before conference play begins at Iowa in late December. Of those four, only Butler should be any kind of a challenge, and the Bulldogs are far from the same team that has made consecutive Final Fours. They are caught in a talent turnover where they will be good again in a season or two, but will struggle for now.
The other four games against Eastern Michigan, IPFW, and Western Carolina are, quite frankly, games that should be considered losses if we win by less than double digits. Western Carolina comes in tonight at 5-4 with losses to Northern Colorado, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and South Carolina. Each loss has been by at least 17 points. Their best win is over Presbyterian, who did upset a ranked Cincinnati team earlier this season.
Their leading scorer is 6'4" senior guard Harouna Mutombo, the nephew of former NBA star Dikembe "Who wants to sex" Mutombo. The younger Mutombo averages 14.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Brandon Boggs is a big 6'5" guard averaging 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. The third scorer in double figures is Trey Sumler with 10.8 points, 5 rebounds, and four assists at the point.
As you can tell, this is a team dominated by guard play. Keaton Cole is another guard averaging 9.7 points per game, so this team will play out on the perimeter most of the night. Tawaski King is the long post player of note at 6'8", but he only averages 6.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Freshman Kenny Hall plays about 13 minutes per game at 6'7", but the rest of the rotation is mostly guards.
This tells me tonight is an excellent change for Travis Carroll, Jacob Lawson, and Sandi Marcius not only to improve, but to dominate. This is the rare time where we have a size and experience advantage in the post. King may be on Robbie Hummel out of necessity, so that means we have a major mismatch in terms of size if Lawson, Marcius, and Carroll are in. We're never going to get a better opportunity to feed them the ball and let them gain confidence on offense.
This also should be a great chance to work on rebounding. Western Carolina shoots under 42% from the field and under 70% from the line. There are boards-o-plenty to be had.