So what have we accomplished? Purdue is 13 games into its season and will not play another non-Big Ten team until the NCAA Tournament. Fans wanted a more challenging non-conference schedule and they got it. Purdue has played a pair of top 10 teams. It has played three other major conference teams that rate from “pretty good” to “bottom half of their conference”. We had a couple of mid-major wins that might bear some fruit as teams that win their conference. Let’s take a look at what has come out of the non-conference, first on a team basis.
No Bad Losses
In fact, you could argue that they were more missed opportunities than losses. Villanova is the undisputed No. 1 team in America right now. If not for foul and turnover trouble Purdue beats them in Mackey Arena. As it was, Purdue got two looks at a three-pointer to tie in the closing seconds. It was also one of those games where you felt like if Purdue could get a second half lead the Mackey Magic would have propelled it, but the Boilers just couldn’t get over the hump. Purdue had the ball four times down only 1 inside the last 10 minutes. It missed a layup, missed the front of a 1-and-1, and turned the ball over twice.
Louisville just knocked off Kentucky and has only a loss to Baylor, who is a top 5 team. Purdue played just a terrible first half and still managed to crawl back into the game in the final minutes. I think we can all agree that the first half at Louisville is the worst half of basketball Purdue has played all season. A good half probably turns this game around, too.
In the end, two losses by 10 points to a pair of teams in the top 10 are not bad at all. If Purdue gets one of those games it is likely in the top 10 nationally and a projected 2 seed. If it gets both Purdue is in line for a No. 1 seed and might even be ranked No. 1 itself. They aren’t bad losses and Purdue can still get a really good tournament seed out of them as long as it dominates the Big Ten. If Purdue goes on something absurd like a 16-2 run through the Big Ten the Boilers will be right there for No. 1 seed consideration, but these games still feel like missed chances. I’d feel a lot better if Purdue had won one of these “Elite 8” type games since making a Final Four is all that matters in March.
A Solid Neutral Court Win
With the vitriol that was being spewed at Matt Painter at halftime in our open thread you would have thought he had taken a dump on Neil’s statue. After that second half, Purdue had a win in a “Sweet 16” type of game over a top 25 team. I used the terms “Elite 8” and “Sweet 16” because Purdue is going to have to beat a team like Notre Dame probably in a round like the Sweet 16. It would also have to beat a Villanova or Louisville-type team in the Elite 8.
I think the Notre Dame win, and the second half comeback with it, really reassured the fanbase. The Fighting Irish are No. 24 in the KenPom and right now the only teams that rate higher on Purdue’s remaining schedule are Indiana at No. 15 (twice) and Wisconsin at No. 10. Purdue gets two of those three games at home, too. If you can hold serve at home in those games you really have to like Purdue’s chances in the Big Ten.
Purdue Dominated its Other Major Conference Teams
Is Auburn an NCAA team? They look like a bubble team right now. They are 9-2 overall with losses to Purdue and a 1-point loss at the buzzer to Boston College. That BC loss hurts, but they just got a surprise mid-year five-star enrollee that has played the last two games for them. They beat Oklahoma last night and play at UConn tomorrow. They have a decent chance at being an NCAA team and they would be like a second round opponent. Purdue stomped them by 25.
Then there is Arizona State. The Sun Devils are probably not going to the NCAA Tournament, but they are feisty enough to spring some upsets and at least be a respectable win. Purdue completely dominated them by 33. By virtue of just being in a major conference their RPI and KenPom numbers will hover around 100, so that will help too.
Purdue Beat Some Smaller Conference Contenders
Georgia State – The Panthers have a strong RPI of 66 (technically Purdue’s third best win there) and they could be the Sun Belt favorite. They have the highest RPI in their conference and the third highest KenPom number in the Sun Belt. Also, being from the Sun Belt and knowing Purdue’s Little Rock history from that conference, it was refreshing to have a reverse Little Rock with our own comeback.
NJIT – The Highlanders would almost be a 16 seed, but they should be right there for the Atlantic Sun title. They are 5-8 right now, but have played five top 100 opponents and played many of them tough. They lost to Purdue by 11, Temple by 5, and Minnesota by 6. In an 8-team conference they could easily win it.
Utah State – The Aggies are always competitive in the Mountain West, so even though they are just 7-5 overall they should be in the race.
Purdue Absolutely CRUSHED Its Cupcakes
I know many readers will not be satisfied until Purdue schedules all 13 non-conference games as true road games against the top 13 teams in America, but the reality of college basketball is everyone plays 5-7 teams in the non-conference season that they have absolutely no excuse to lose to. It is just what happens. It always will happen, so deal with it. Purdue had five such games (McNeese State, Morehead State, Cleveland State, Norfolk State, and Western Illinois) and it destroyed all five teams. It won by 44, 34, 24, 32, and 46 in those games.
That’s what you want to see in these games. Purdue didn’t even let them hang around and THINK of an upset. Now, let’s look at some of the other top teams in America:
Villanova – Only beat 3-8 Western Michigan by 11 in a game where WMU had the ball down 59-56 with 5:30 left. WMU is almost 300 in the RPI.
Xavier – Xavier barely survived a just awful Missouri team by one.
Duke – They trailed Elon at halftime last night and even Penn State gave them a bit of a game.
Louisville – Grand Canyon, a team that wasn’t even in Division I five years ago, played them to a nine point game.
Creighton – The Bluejays are undefeated and have wins over Wisconsin, Ole Miss, and NC State. Missouri-Kansas City only lost to them by 7. Wisconsin lost to them by 12.
So yes, Purdue beat up some bad teams, but that is what everyone does. In those five games there wasn’t a single reason to question if Purdue was going to win. You can’t say that about several other teams.