What a difference two weeks can make. On February 5th, after an embarrassing home loss to Indiana, people were jumping ship and saying the dream of the NCAA Tournament was done. Matt Painter couldn't coach or recruit, we had players that weren't even Division II talent, and we might as well relegate ourselves tot he Summit League. In some eyes, we were done.
After a near upset of Ohio State in Columbus and consecutive wins over the Illinois schools things have turned around. The RPI, once south of 60, is now north of 50 and is steaming closer to 40. We're above the halfway mark in the conference and we still have an outside shot at a top 4 finish, meaning a first round bye in Indianapolis. The offense is clicking with D.J. Byrd on fire and Terone Johnson playing a quiet, underrated role (6 dimes and no turnovers last night!). Best of all, Robbie Hummel found his jump shot.
This final point cannot be undersold. Last night for the first time in weeks I saw confidence in Rob's shot. He looks like the Rob of old instead of the creaky one that leans away from his usual shooting motion. With practice he is coming around, and so is Lewis Jackson.
So with five games left we're looking a lot better in the NCAA discussion. Let's take a look at the overall profile and what we have left.
What's done so far:
Top 50 wins - These are the lifeblood of any NCAA profile, and right now we look pretty good. Another one or two in the final five would be even better, and we get at least three chances. Our current RPI is at 46, and we have four victories against the top 50. The best is Temple at No. 17, which will stay solid all year. Next is Miami at No. 42, followed by Northwestern at No. 43, which counts twice.
We still have a chance against Michigan State (4), at Michigan (15), and at Indiana (14). While a loss in all three of those games wouldn't de devastating, at least one victory against those three would instantly become our best win. We still should be okay as long as we beat Nebraska (No. 127) and Penn State (131).
Next you have Iona, Minnesota, and Illinois. Iona is just barely outside the top 50 and they host a pretty good Nevada team this weekend in the BracketBusters. Win that, and they get back into the top 50. Illinois has been a top 50 win until last night. They are now at 59 and falling. This is the Big Ten, so if they somehow turn things around they can still improve their profile and they start counting double like Northwestern.
Minnesota is sitting there at No. 66, but they are another team in the at large discussion. Our win came on the road against them, so it will look better if they can get on the good side of the Bubble.
Not bad losses - Six of our nine losses (Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Alabama) have come against the current top 40. Xavier at 54 doesn't sting too much, but as I have said, we don't want to be on the Bubble with them given their victory head-to-head.
The two bad losses, Butler and Penn State, are holding steady. Butler has a chance to climb into the top 100 with a strong finish. They are currently at No. 119, but if they win their final three regular season games and the Horizon league Tourney (very possible) the "bad" stigma can go away by climbing into the top 100. Penn State has a chance to dot he same, but it is much less likely.
A special note about Alabama is their current suspension situation. It remains to be seen if JaMychal green and Co. will return, but since we played the Crimson Tide at full strength we won't be dinged if their profile falls.
What's Left To Do:
Rooting Interests - Since we're now 5-0 against the Big Ten Bubble of Illinois, Minnesota, and Northwestern we want these guys to win in every remaining Big Ten game. The more they win, the better we look. Minnesota is at Northwestern this weekend, and we probably want the Wildcats to win (remember, two wins over a team are better than one. After that, Minnesota gets Michigan State and Indiana at home before going to Wisconsin. All of those are great opportunities for the Golden Gophers before finishing against Nebraska at home.
As our best conference win, we want Northwestern to break their NCAA Tournament hex. They have the RPI to do it, but they need to win. Now. At 5-8 in the league they likely need to win four of their final five to get there, but Minnesota, Iowa, and Penn State give them the very good opportunity for three of them. The other two games are golden opportunities at home against Michigan and Ohio State. They whiffed at home against Illinois and at Michigan in overtime. Northwestern wimply has to get one of those games.
As for Illinois, it will take a miracle, but the schedule is there to save their sorry asses. Given previous victories over Michigan State and Ohio State they might be fine with three wins in the last five, but it will be tough. They are at Nebraska, at Ohio State, home for Iowa and Michigan, then at Wisconsin to close. If they somehow win four of those the strength of schedule and RPI will rise, and since they count double for us, we want that.
The Iowa Wild Card - Unexpectedly, the Iowa Hawkeyes are sitting there at 5-7 in the league right now. Their non-conference performance was so bad that an at large bid is probably out of the question, but look at the final five games after a game at Penn State tonight they need to win: Indiana, Wisconsin, at Illinois, at Nebraska, Northwestern. They already beat Wisconsin once, and Illinois, Nebraska, Northwestern isn't a bad finish. This is a team that likely won't make the tournament, but they can be a pain in the ass for teams trying to get in. Best of all, we already have two wins banked over them. It would be really nice if they can win four of the final six, cause some chaos, and get themselves into the top 100.
Non-Conference rooting interests - If you're looking for teams to keep an eye on outside the Big Ten, Temple, Miami, Iona, and Butler are the big four. Miami missed on a chance to get another signature win last night, but they have a favorable finishing schedule of three home games and trips to Maryland and NC State. The Hurricanes need to win four of these, with one being the home game with Florida State.
Iona is self-explanatory. We want the Gaels as strong as possible and in the dance through the MAAC Tournament. Temple is the only lock NCAA team we've beaten, but if they can win a good league like the Atlantic-10 it makes us look better.
Finally, we have Butler. If The Bulldogs are putting it together finally we need them to continue it so they get above the 100 line on RPI. They can still finish second in the Horizon League, which gives them a bye to the semifinals of the conference tournament, which will likely be played at Valparaiso.
The rest of our profile, quite frankly, sucks. The only other possible NCAA team we've beaten is Coppin State, who would be destined for the play-in games if they win the MEAC.
Big Ten Tournament - We're getting close enough to start thinking about match-ups here, and these could be key. Assuming wins over Nebraska and Penn State, a win in Indianapolis could be enough to lock us into the field, while two wins definitely would. The top 4 teams get a bye to Friday, and as of right now that looks unlikely. We're in 6th place all alone at the moment, tied with Indiana in the loss column. To get to Friday we likely need to win out and hope Michigan drops another game somewhere. Playing Indiana and Michigan still helps, but it would be a lot better if we had already beaten them at home.
We're likely looking at anywhere between a five and a seven seed. At 9-9 we're probably no worse than 7th, which would have us playing Thursday evening against the No. 10 seed. Right now that would be Minnesota, Illinois, or Northwestern, but Iowa could fall to here too.
Rising to the six seed is better, as it would likely have us against Nebraska or Penn State as the 11. Finishing fifth is the same, only it would be against the 12 seed on Thursday afternoon.
For the Friday session the five seed would have us against the four (likely Michigan, Wisconsin, or Indiana) for another chance at a quality win. The six would have us against the three (Michigan or Wisconsin right now), and the seven would be the two against Michigan State or Wisconsin.
Realistically, I want the five, and I think we need to go 10-8 with a win over Indiana to get there. I am not sure what the tiebreaker is if we get the split in Bloomington and tie at 10-8, but Indiana absolutely could lose at Minnesota and at home against Michigan State to give us a shot.
If fortune smiles and we beat Michigan State on Sunday then 11-7 is possible with a split between Indiana and Michigan. That might, might be enough to get to Friday on tiebreakers with Indiana or Michigan. I do know we lose any tiebreaker with Wisconsin since they won the only head-to-head meeting.
So there you have it, kids. It took over 1,600 words, but those are Purdue's prospects for the next few weeks. I want to be greedy. I want to defense home court the rest of the way and steal the game in Bloomington, mostly because it really chaps my ass we lost to them in Mackey. Two wins is probably enough, while three wins definitely is and four builds a higher seed in both tournaments. For now though, just beat Michigan State.