It has been quite some time since I have talked about Purdue's NCAA Tournament resume in regards to the non-conference strength of schedule. In truth, there was not a whole lot to talk about until Purdue won six of its past eight games to crawl two games above .500.
In short, the road to the NCAA Tournament is still a very long one, but it is possible thanks to a back-loaded schedule that includes eight games (out of 13) against top 50 RPI teams and 12 against top 100 teams. Purdue's current RPI of 114 will rise quite a bit with wins as a result.
The Boilers are also helped by many of the teams it has lost to having at least respectable seasons. Only two losses, Oregon State and Eastern Michigan, came against teams rated below the 100 line. Reverse those two and Purdue's profile looks A LOT better, but it is still not impossible because of the strength here at the end.
For Purdue to have a chance it cannot lose at Penn State, who is the lowest rated team left at No. 181. Beating No. 87 Northwestern twice and No. 60 Iowa twice would also be a very good idea, but depending on how the other games go Purdue might have enough leeway to drop one of those two on the road. A sweep of Iowa would benefit for bubble purposes.
From there, there difficult part comes in the eight games against top 50 teams. Four of them (Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan, and Minnesota) all come at home and they are all rated No. 16 or better. If Purdue gets the five non-top 50 games, splits those four at home, and wins at Illinois it would at least be in the NCAA discussion heading to Chicago for the Big Ten Tournament because it would be impossible to not have a huge RPI lift that way. Somehow stealing a road game at Michigan, Wisconsin, or Indiana, though very unlikely, would be huge.
As you can see, it is a longshot, but there is still a chance. Let's see how the rest of the schedule is helping us.
Bucknell - 15-3, 3-0 Patriot League - RPI: 48 - One team cheering for us every week is Bucknell, whose next game is the first round of a three-round deathmatch with Lehigh for Patriot League dominance. The Bison have the better overall profile and have a small chance at an at large bid if they fall to Lehigh in the Patriot Tournament. Unfortunately, they came up two points short of upsetting Missouri at Missouri and lost by three at Penn State. They have a decent win over LaSalle, but their at large hops rest very largely on Purdue closing strong. Conversely, this was a missed opportunity game for Purdue.
Hofstra - 5-13, 2-3 CAA - RPI: 296 - As expected, the win over the Dutchmen is not helping matters much. At one point Hofstra lost eight in a row before beating Georgia State and William & Mary in CAA play. Right now they are only ahead of William & Mary and Old Dominion in their conference.
Villanova - 11-7, 2-3 Big East - RPI: 69 - Bo Borowski's thievery of the win over Villanova not only denied Purdue a major conference pelt, but a game against RPI No. 61 Alabama as opposed to 149 Oregon State. The Wildcats were hot and reached 11-4 before dropping three in a row to Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Providence. They are much like Purdue in that they have one really bad loss (Columbia) but a dearth of decent wins.
Oregon State - 10-8, 0-5 Pac-12 - RPI: 149 - It was thought that the Beavers might break through and have a decent season in the Pac-12, but an 0-5 start has ruined that. The worst was a loss at USC by a point. Oregon State also has a bad loss (Towson) by a point. Their best win is over No. 95 New Mexico State, but they have played some good teams like Kansas close.
UNC-Wilmington - 7-10, 2-3 CAA - RPI: 271 - The second of three CAA teams Purdue played this year, the Seahawks are not helping the profile much. Their best win (and only plus 200 win) was over league favorite George Mason. The only top 100 team they have played is Richmond, who blasted them by 43 points.
Clemson - 10-7, 2-3 ACC - RPI: 121 - As one of the few non-conference games Purdue won against a major conference opponent the Boilers need Clemson to do well. Losing to teams like Coastal Carolina by 23 is not doing well. Clemson's best win came against UTEP. They have come close against NC State, Arizona, and Gonzaga, but couldn't get over the hump. A decent ACC finish could propel them into the top 100, which is what we want.
Xavier - 11-6, 4-0 Atlantic 10 - RPI: 77 - This was the second big missed opportunity for Purdue. If D.J. Byrd had simply been able to hit anything Purdue has a win over a team leading one of the nation's better conferences. The Musketeers have a non-conference win over Butler (the game was set up before Butler switched conferences) but lost to Wofford. Close losses to Vanderbilt and Pacific also hurt.
Lamar - 2-16, 0-6 Southland - RPI: 314 - Purdue had no trouble with Pat Knight's team and with good reason. Lamar has only beaten IUPUI and LIU-Brooklyn, who are rated No. 283 and No. 266, respectively. They may not win a game the rest of this year.
Eastern Michigan - 6-9, 2-2 - RPI: 215 - Do you get the feeling that if Purdue played Eastern Michigan tomorrow the Boilers would blow them out by 30? That loss on the road had to be the low point of this group. There was no excuse for it other than playing like complete and utter crap for 40 minutes. On the plus side, the Eagles have at least won two in a row now over Central Michigan and Miami (OH).
Notre Dame - 15-4, 3-3 Big East - RPI: 53 - The Fighting Irish are slipping after losing three of four to UConn, St. John's, and Georgetown. They avoided a bad home loss by beating Rutgers by three, but something is clearly off with them after a 14-1 start. They have South Florida, Villanova, and DePaul coming up.
Ball State - 6-9, 1-3 MAC - RPI 231 - I don't know if beating the Cardinals is what turned the season around, but it was a game that was slipping away because of Jesse Berry only to have Purdue finally get better when it mattered. Since then, Purdue has looked a lot better. The same team that lost to Eastern Michigan and Notre Dame (looking awful in the process) would not have won six of the past eight starting with this one against Ball State. As for the Cards, their lone win in MAC play was 60-58 at... Eastern Michigan.
William & Mary - 7-10, 1-5 CAA - RPI: 302 - The Tribe is at least a little better than Lamar, but not much. Their best win is over Radford, who is at 292 in the RPI. Yikes! William & Mary has also lost to Hofstra and is currently on a seven game losing streak that started in West Lafayette.
West Virginia - 8-9, 1-3 Big 12 - RPI: 88 - West Virginia is 0-6 against the top 50 in the RPI and still has nine games against top 50 teams. They close with a brutal stretch of six in a row. If they get hot this can become a very, very good win. Unfortunately, the best win they have is over Eastern Kentucky. The Mountaineers have now lost four of their last five.
Teams to cheer for:
Clemson (road victory has more value)
West Virginia (Major conference opponent)
Bucknell (It doesn't look bad if they make the NCAAs)
Oregon State (For the love of God, win a damn league game!)
Anchors: Eastern Michigan, Oregon State
Best wins: West Virginia, at Clemson
Best Conference wins: Illinois (No. 29), at Nebraska (No. 59)