As late as December 31, with about 8 minutes to go against Minnesota in the Big Ten opener, this team was dead. You could even argue as late as 10 seconds left against Penn State in Happy Valley the Boilers were dead. Since Kendall Stephens splashed that three to save our sorry asses at Penn State the Boilers are 11-4 and have a top 4 finish in a major conference to their credit. It is a stunning turnaround in the sense that I know what needed to be done, but the fact that we actually did it is incredible. Yes, we can say the following phrase with confidence on March 13:
As of the latest round of brackets at Bracket Matrix, which has 107 different bracketologists, Purdue was listed as "in" on 104 brackets and the composite had them even avoiding Dayton. ESPN even had the Boilers avoiding Dayton. We should feel comfortable because of the teams behind us, there aren't enough that can catch and pass us, plus there is zero chance of a "bad" loss left. All four of the "last four in" are already done, as are Oklahoma State (who doesn't deserve a bid at all), BYU, Miami, and Old Dominion. We just can't get caught now.
So let's turn our attention to more important matters. Who will Purdue play? The current consensus is that Purdue is somewhere on the 10/11 seed line, which is a good spot if you want to make a surprise run to the second weekend. If the Boilers win the Big Ten Tournament it may even be a bad thing, as getting into the 8/9 range means a No. 1 seed (and possibly Kentucky) in round 2. If the Boilers were to win the Big Ten Tournament we had better hope it raises us to a 6/7 seed so we can avoid a No.1 seed longer.
As an 11 seed the Boilers would face a 6 seed and have a game against an opponent it could beat. Here are the possible teams we can face:
Arkansas Razorbacks - Arkansas is the second best team in the SEC, but that is like being the second tallest midget in the world. We all know the SEC is Kentucky and 13 other teams. The Razorbacks are 25-7 headed into the SEC semifinals with decent non-conference wins over SMU, Iona, and Dayton, but a loss to Clemson. They are one of only two teams in the SEC in the top 50 of the RPI.
Butler Bulldogs - Can Purdue play in-state Butler, a team that has quite a win streak going against us? Butler is often projected as a 6 seed and they have done well with a 22-10 record. They have six top 50 wins and no losses to sub 100 teams. Wins over North Carolina and Georgetown in the Bahamas look really good, and they have pushed a possible No. 1 seed in Villanova. They are a solid team, as you would expect from the premier team in a basketball-mad state.
SMU Mustangs - What a difficult team to figure out. They lost big games early to Indiana, Gonzaga, and Arkansas, but are 24-6 going into the American semifinals. They have nothing even close to resembling a bad loss, so they could be quite a challenge. If Indiana can beat them certainly we can.
Providence Friars - The Friars are 22-11, but they are all over the map. They lost to Boston College and No. 247 Brown, but they beat a Notre Dame team that destroyed Purdue. They got a little beaten up in the Big East, but split with Butler and lost to Villanova, a potential No. 1 seed, three times.
San Diego State Aztecs - The team we might have faced in Maui could end up on the schedule anyway. SDSU s projected as a 7 seed and was runner-up in Maui. They are 24-7 before playing Colorado State late tonight. Their worst loss is to Fresno State, who is pretty bad. They, too, beat BYU in Maui.
West Virginia Mountaineers - It's Huggybear! West Virginia is 23-9 and the projected opponent of ESPN's bracketology. They had a lone loss outside of the Big 12, to LSU, which isn't bad. That is their only loss outside the top 50 and they are 7-8 vs. the top 50.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams - Dear God No! This is a terrible matchup and they are right in the 6-7 seed range. They might run us out of the gym again.
Where Will Purdue Play?
This is where things get interesting. There are eight first and second round sites where Purdue can go, and five are within a reasonable driving distance of West Lafayette:
It is entirely possible that Purdue could be placed very close to home and have a partisan crowd in its favor. Since the committee tries to protect the top four seeds with their pod system, it could benefit Purdue in the end with a "home" crowd as a lower seed early on. That means we want to keep an eye on who the potential 2 and 3 seeds are if we're a 10 or 11:
Potential 2 and 3 seeds:
Wisconsin, Virginia, Arizona, Gonzaga, Kansas, Maryland, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Notre Dame, Louisville.
Louisville cannot play in Louisville and Ohio State (a possible 8/9 team) cannot be placed in Columbus with a 1 seed. What would be interesting is if we get paired with Notre Dame in a potential 3/11 second round game. That might get us close to home, but against a team that destroyed us worse than anyone else all year.
Aside from that, there is a 37.5% chance Purdue could play in Omaha, Louisville, or Columbus, which would be the most beneficial for advancing to the second weekend.
All I really care about is this: Purdue has the longest active streak of NCAA Tournament appearances where it has won at least one game. Purdue has not lost its first NCAA Tournament game since Rhode Island beat Purdue (when current coach Matt Painter was a player) in 1993. In 14 straight appearances Purdue has won its first game, and I want to keep that streak alive. Anything more is gravy.
The 14 first round victims:
1994 Central Florida
1995 Wisconsin-Green Bay
1996 Western Carolina
1997 Rhode Island
2009 Northern Iowa
2011 St. Peter's
2012 St. Mary's