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2011 NCAA Tournament: Who Will Purdue Play?

The show must go on, and that means a return to real content away from the battles raging behind the scenes. With all the smaller conference tournaments going on I wanted to look at possible first round opponents for our Boilers. The general consensus seems to be that we will be a two or a three seed. That gives us a good idea of who we can expect in round one. It will be a mid- to low-major conference tournament opponent. We're not going to get a 1 seed, so that eliminates the SWAC, MEAC, and other really low conferences. It also means we won't be getting any surprise conference tournament winner that gets in with a losing record. The only time I can remember a major conference team being this low was Georgia as a 14 seed in 2008. That was an isolated incident, so I doubt we have to worry about it.

ESPN currently has us as a 3 seed playing MAC champ Kent State. Jerry Palm has us as a 2 seed playing Long Beach State. Rivals/Yahoo has us as a 3 seed with the MAAC champ, Indiana State, MAC champ, and Big West champ as the 14's. I don't think there is a huge difference in these first games, but you do get a slightly tougher opponent in a 14 than you do in a 15. A 15 has only beaten a two four times, while a 14 beat a 3 last year.

So let's so who we might play, beginning with a potential rematch:

Indiana State (20-13, 12-6) Missouri Valley Conference Champions

The Sycamores are secure in the knowledge they will be dancing. They have earned their fourth ever bid to the tournament and first in a decade. This is a team that can be dangerous 14 seed because they play great defense and try to get just enough offense in order to win. They played us to a 13 point game on a neutral floor back in December, so there is some familiarity there. In that game we mostly had JaJuan Johnson doing anything in the first half. He had 25 by halftime and finished with 31.

Dwayne Lathan hurt us for 15 points and nine rebounds. Carl Richard and Jake Kelly are capable scorers too. ISU played Notre Dame to a nine point game earlier this year, but they had some pretty bad losses to Wyoming, Eastern Kentucky, and Loyola (IL). These guys would concern me because they are good enough to be a difficult team to face.

St. Peter's (20-13, 11-7) Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Champions

The Peacocks will be making their first NCAA appearance in 16 years after winning the MAAC. They are projected in the 14-15 range, so it is a strong possibility we will see them. We even have a common opponent as they beat Alabama 50-49 in the last game of the Paradise Jam. They got to the tournament by upsetting top-seeded Fairfield in their conference tournament, then beating Iona (who has a win over Richmond).

St. Peter's is one of the lowest scoring teams in Division I at just 61 points per game. They do have four scorers in double figures led by Wesley Jenkins at 12.8 points per game. Size would be a major detriment though. Only Ryan Bacon at 6'7" could come anywhere close to stopping JJ.

Morehead State (24-9, 13-5) Ohio Valley Conference Champions

The Eagles could be dangerous because they have the best rebounder in the nation in Kenneth Faried. He averages 17.6 points per game and an astounding 14.5 rebounds. For his career he averages better than 13 boards per game. At 6'8" 225 pounds he has the size to make JJ work in the post. We have common opponents with them in Ohio State, Austin Peay, and Indiana State. They played Austin Peay three times and beat them twice, beat Indiana State, but lost big to OSU.

This is a solid team that had the benefit of Tennessee Tech upsetting Murray State. The Racers were the regular season champ and returned an experienced group that won an NCAA game last year. Demonte Harper will also be a tough player, as he scores 16 points per game.

Wofford (21-12, 14-4) Southern Conference Champions

So we meet again, Terriers? I think it is safe to say that Wofford during the 2007-08 season is the worst loss Purdue has suffered with JaJuan Johnson  and E`Twaun Moore. For the most part, Purdue has lost to either very good teams or other conference games. Even the Iowa game last week was on the road against a conference opponent. Wofford was a low mid-major that finished 16-16 that season, yet they came into Mackey Arena and handed the Boilers one of our only six losses in the past four years on Keady Court. JJ and Smooge have only 31 losses in their careers. The loss to Wofford is one of just two WTF losses, with the Iowa game being the other.  

That was three years ago, and this Wofford team is much better. They have earned their second consecutive NCAA bid (and second in school history). They gave Wisconsin all they could handle last year in round one before falling 53-49. They enter the tournament on an eight game winning streak and they won a conference tournament that had two other 20 win teams. We have a common opponent in Minnesota, whom they lost to by 14 in the season opener. We'll need to be wary of Noah Dahlman, a 6'6" senior forward who averages 20 points per game.

MAC Champion

I can't figure out the MAC. They regularly field a dangerous team or two in football with Big Ten leftovers, but it has been years since there has been a truly great representative in the basketball NCAA Tournament. By seed, this conference had the biggest upset of last year's tournament when 14 seed Ohio whipped 3 seed Georgetown. The Hoyas were vastly overrated, however. Ohio was a team not on the NCAA radar until getting hot and stealing the automatic bid.

Eight teams are left in the MAC Tournament, which gets underway in earnest tomorrow in Cleveland. Kent State (21-10, 12-4) and Western Michigan (19-11, 11-5) won their respective divisions with Miami (OH) (16-15, 11-5) and Ball State (18-12, 10-6) being the other two teams that did not have to play an opening round game in the tournament. I am hoping Ball State comes through here because I like seeing in-state teams make the tournament. This is  league that should regularly have at least one team threatening to be an at large selection, but it has been years since that was the case.

Big Sky Champion

This is a conference that is usually in the 13-15 range and this year appears to be no different. The championship game will be played tonight between Northern Colorado (20-10, 13-3) and Montana (21-9, 12-4) at UNC. Northern Colorado has never been to the NCAA Tournament, while Montana has eight appearances including last season. They won a game in 2006 and 1975 too. Last year the Grizzlies were a 14 seed before falling to New Mexico by five, so this is a tournament-experienced team. To me, those can be dangerous because they aren't as intimidated by the atmosphere the second time around.

Big West Champion

This tournament gets underway tomorrow in Anaheim and Long Beach State (20-10, 14-2) is the #1 seed and favorite. They won this league by four clear games, so it is a pretty weak conference. Our most recent experience with this league was against Cal State Northridge in last season's opener. They made the Dance in 2009, while LBSU has been to eight NCAA Tournaments, most recently in 2007 when they forgot to play defense in a 121-86 loss to Tennessee.

NEC Champion

This championship game will be played tonight between Long Island (26-5, 16-2) and Robert Morris (18-13, 12-6). You might remember Robert Morris from last season when they lost to #2 seed Villanova in overtime thanks to some generous assistance from the officials. They have been this conference's representative for two straight seasons, but a victory tonight could send them to a first four game. Long Island is probably good enough to get boosted to a 15 seed. They won the league by three games this year and have only lost to Iona, St. Peter's, Robert Morris, Northwestern, and St. Francis (PA). They have won 12 straight and 20 of 21. Their last NCAA appearance was in 1997.