We're almost at the end of this crazy regular season and Purdue is a cozy 20-5 overall, 8-4 in the Big Ten. Aside from the loss to Illinois, that is not too bad. It is pretty much on par with what we expected, though the Iowa loss at home and the Illinois loss sting the most.
The good news is that, unlike last year, we know Purdue is going to the NCAA Tournament. Just about the only way Purdue doesn't make it is a 7-game losing streak that includes a first round exit from the Big Ten Tournament. That would mean an 8-10 Big Ten finish (and invoke the clause that no team with a losing conference record deserves an at large bid), at least two more losses to sub-100 teams, and, well, a 7-game losing streak at the end that never looks good.
So Purdue is playing for a seed in these last six games. They have a leg up on a top 4 B1G finish by owning the tiebreaker now with Michigan State and a chance to clinch it with Michigan this weekend. That doesn't mean things will be easy.
The Boilers have one game left against a top 50 RPI team (Maryland), three against potential NCAA teams (Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan), and two against dangerous NIT level teams. 6-0 clinches a top 4 finish in the Big Ten and double bye in Indianapolis, as well as puts Purdue in discussion for as high as a 2 seed depending on what else happens around the country. 5-1 is likely a comfortable 3 seed for both tournaments. If the Boilers go 4-2 that's where things start to slip.
Another interesting twist is that Purdue has already played four of its remaining six opponents, going 3-1 in those games. None of them will be easy, but let's try to rank them from easiest to hardest:
February 16 vs. Northwestern - The Wildcats have a gaudy overall record, but are a measly 1-8 against the top 100 RPI teams. The one victory is over Wisconsin, which the Badgers could really use right now. Aside from the overtime loss at Maryland, they have wilted in every challenging game this season. That includes a second half collapse last night at Ohio State. With Purdue playing at home they should win this game pretty easily.
March 1 at Nebraska - The Cornhuskers play pretty well at home and aren't completely terrible, but Purdue had little trouble in beating them by 15 in West Lafayette. They also had absolutely no answer for A.J. Hammons, who went for a career high 32 with 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and four blocks. Isaac Haas added 13 for 45 points from the center position. Can they magically figure out a way to stop Hammons that doesn't involve locking him in the hotel room in Lincoln?
March 5 vs. Wisconsin - On Senior Day Purdue should win, but it has been awhile since weekend out a 6 point win in Madison. The Badgers may not be as good as last year, but you don't blow them out. They have clawed their way back onto the NCAA bubble the hard way and winning in West Lafayette on the final day of the season would be a great final statement for their case. This one will be tough.
February 13 at Michigan - Purdue is a respectable 4-3 in true road games this season, losing at Maryland, Iowa, and Illinois. Michigan got absolutely pantsed at home in its last two games when it looked like they had a chance to jump into the Big Ten race. This is still an NCAA-worthy team, and they can shoot threes well enough to get hot and beat us.
February 27 vs. Maryland - The current No. 2 team in the country and, if not for a terrible day shooting from long range, Purdue probably beats them in their gym. Mackey Arena will be rocking for sure and, if both teams get a little help in the form of Iowa stumbling, a share of the Big Ten title could be at stake. This is going to be a fun one. Purdue more than held its own in College Park until being forced to foul late, pushing the final margin to 11. Purdue has a great opportunity here. Add a second top 10 victory and don't stumble in the other games and Purdue's NCAA Tournament profile will look really damn good.
February 20 at Indiana - I feel like this game will be a blowout either way. Either Indiana's guards will torch Purdue on the perimeter because they get the crowd behind them and start hitting everything or Hammons and Haas feast on the soft Thomas Bryant inside. This is a complete clash of styles here. If Purdue executes the slow down game and makes IU play halfcourt it wins easily. If Indiana gets out running it can win easily. There are just times where the Hoosiers can't miss and runs like the Michigan 28-0 run are terrifying. Then they can go and lose at Penn State, so who knows? Indiana's potential to just get scorching hot and their undefeated record at home scares me.