Purdue And The 2014 NCAA Tournament: Northwestern Loss A Damaging Blow

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue now faces a very steep climb to make the NCAA Tournament.

A lot about last night's double overtime loss to Northwestern was very frustrating. Purdue had a definite advantage in the post, but A.J. Hammons continued to pass the ball out in overtime instead of grind to the basket. Terone Johnson had a terrible night, but continued to drive blindly into the lane. As a team, Purdue hit only two field goals in the final 22 minutes and 57 seconds of game time, which is on everyone. There was no foul called on Drew Crawford against Hammons on the final play of the first overtime. Finally, coach Painter deserves a ton of blame for not further taking advantage of the post problems for the Wildcats by keeping Jay Simpson and Errick Peck on the bench as Hammons wilted with fatigue late.

It was an awful night. Purdue shot a dismal 27% from the field and 69% from the line, missing several late key free throws that kept Northwestern alive. Everyone is at fault for this loss, and it is a seriously damaging blow to Purdue's NCAA Tournament hopes.

Purdue's RPI sank all the way to 99 with this loss against a team that shot so poorly at home they begged us to win. The Boilers now have another "bad loss" on their resume as Washington State and Northwestern are both above 100 in the RPI. Butler is approaching that mark as well. Worse yet, there is very little substance to offset those losses. Purdue best wins remains the 69-64 win over No. 44 Eastern Michigan, who is a MAC team that almost needs to run the table from here on out to have any chance at an at large bid. Non-conference wins over West Virginia and Boston College are not helping as both teams are out of NCAA consideration. Even within the Big Ten Nebraska and Penn State have a single conference win between them and Illinois is quickly falling.

There is a small measure of hope, however. Aside from the game at Penn State, four of the next five contests are against top 50 RPI teams. Purdue has to win at least three of those plus the Penn State game in order to offset the damage done by losing to Northwestern. A total of 10 victories in the Big Ten would still probably be enough to make the NCAA Tournament, especially since Purdue now needs another high profile win over someone not named Northwestern to get there.

In terms of the RPI, here is how the rest of the Big Ten schedule looks in terms of weakest to strongest:

Penn State - 137 - The Nittany Lions are the weakest team in the conference and the only winless club, yet Purdue needed a near miracle to beat them in Mackey Arena. The Boilers simply cannot afford to lose in Happy Valley next weekend.

Northwestern - 119 - At least with Northwestern clawing out ugly win after ugly win they are getting better, but Purdue has to beat them in West Lafayette on Senior Day now. If that March 8th game is not at least Purdue's 10th Big Ten victory the Boilers are done.

Nebraska - 74 - The Cornhuskers have played some good basketball and were rewarded Monday night with a win over Ohio State. If Purdue can clinch the sweep over them in Lincoln it might even be considered a good win, especially since it would be on the road.

Indiana - 72 - The way it looks right now the February 15 game against the Hoosiers could be an elimination game for the NCAAs, or both teams could be done by then.

Minnesota - 33 - The Golden Gophers already won a close one in Minneapolis, but like all these previous games, Purdue has to beat them. Fortunately, Purdue gets them in Mackey Arena, where the Boilers have at least only lost once. Salvaging a split against a team that, right now, would be in the tournament is imperative.

Michigan - 27 - This is the first opponent Purdue can probably afford a loss to, but avoiding a sweep by getting one of the two games would be a very good idea. The first game is next Thursday in Ann Arbor.

Iowa - 21 - Purdue only gets the Hawkeyes once and it is in Iowa City. That is not a likely win at all, but if enough work is done elsewhere the Boilers can afford a loss.

Ohio State - 16 - Even after four straight losses the Buckeyes are a strong, dangerous team. If Purdue couldn't get them in West Lafayette I don't expect to win in Columbus.

Michigan State - 6 - The Spartans are playing like one of the best teams in the country and getting better. Purdue only gets them once and even with it in West Lafayette it would be a major upset if we won.

Wisconsin - 4 - This is Purdue's best chance for a really high quality victory. The Badgers just have two victories in West Lafayette since 1972 and Purdue has won thereof the 12 Big Ten games Wisconsin has ever lost in the Kohl Center.

Of course, this means very little unless Purdue plays light years better than last night. For the fourth game in a row Northwestern somehow dragged a team down to an awful night shooting the basketball, so we're not alone. As we have seen, Purdue is capable of playing a lot better than it did in the second half of last night's game. The good news is that it is not really capable of playing much worse.

To have any hopes of getting to the Tournament Purdue cannot lose to Northwestern again, Penn State, Nebraska, Indiana, and probably Minnesota. That would get Purdue to eight Big Ten wins, and it would need two from Michigan (two games), Wisconsin (two games), Iowa, Ohio State, or Michigan State.

Can that happen? Yes, but Hammons must be world-beater Hammons, Purdue has to avoid extended periods of just awful offensive execution last night, and coach Painter, quite frankly, needs to get his head out of his ass and make some very hard lineup decisions (such as benching TJ when he can't he water after falling out of a boat). It is clear to everyone that the talent is there to beat anyone, and that is what is so frustrating. We've seen Purdue challenge Ohio State when they were No. 3 in the nation, undefeated, and playing well. We've also seen them nearly lose to a team that was in Division II two seasons ago.

As always, this team's inconsistency is its consistency.

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