The chance for a bad loss is behind us. Even if Purdue somehow lost to Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament final, it wouldn't be a mad loss because the Cornhuskers would have had a significant RPI boost from beating Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan State, and Purdue on consecutive days. They would also be in the NCAA Tournament with an automatic bid. The Boilers might get one more loss before the tournament, but they also might get two wins. Beating Illinois and Michigan is not going to help as much as beating Iowa and Indiana would have, but a win over the Wolverines should at least provide some heft.
First, let's look at the relevant RPI and KenPom numbers:
Purdue RPI: 16
Top 50 RPI wins: at #40 Wisconsin, #40 Wisconsin, #13 Maryland, #15 Michigan State
51-100 RPI wins: #58 Florida (neutral court), at #53 Pittsburgh, #61 Vanderbilt, #59 Michigan, #73 Ohio State,
Purdue KenPom: 10
Top 50 KenPom wins: #3 Michigan State, #24 Maryland, #26 Vanderbilt, #32 Wisconsin, at #32 Wisconsin, #43 Florida (neutral court), at #45 Pittsburgh
51-100 KenPom wins: #52 Michigan, #65 Ohio State, #75 Northwestern, #96 Nebraska, at #96 Nebraska
Bad loss: Illinois (RPI 145, KenPom 126)
KenPom LOVES Purdue's schedule. It has Purdue higher and most of its opponents much higher. According to them, we have 7 wins over top 50 teams as opposed to four in the RPI. Purdue also has five wins over the 51-100 KenPom teams, as Northwestern and Nebraska are in the top 100 there (and Nebraska has a chance to still climb higher). That means almost half (12) of Purdue's victories are over top 100 teams.
Purdue also does not have a terribly damaging loss. Yeah, Illinois was bad, but it is not worse than some other teams in our own conference have. Maryland lost at Minnesota. Michigan State lost at home to Nebraska. Wisconsin is anchored with bad losses and is fine. Indiana has UNLV and Wake Forest as bad losses. It is not going to ding Purdue much, if at all, especially after blowing out the Illini today and winning by 17 on aggregate.
Now, let's look at some of the latest bracket projections:
ESPN Joe Lunardi - A 4 seed in Denver playing Northern Iowa.
CBS Jerry Palm - A 4 seed playing Stony Brook in Oklahoma City (with a devil matchup against Cuonzo Martin and Cal in the second round).
SB Nation Chris Dobbertean - A 5 seed playing Northern Iowa in Denver
Bracket Matrix - The second highest 4 seed averaged across over 100 brackets. Their 13 seeds are South Dakota State, Chattanooga, UNC-Wilmington, and Stony Brook.
With Purdue not having a shot at a bad loss it will be hard to see the Boilers dropping any even with a loss to Michigan. In fact, a Michigan victory would likely vault the Wolverines into the top 50 of both KenPom and RPI. That doesn't mean we want to lose though. It would set up a Wisconsin 2000 scenario where a fourth meeting in the NCAAs has us sweating.
If Purdue wins the Big Ten Tournament it will grab another top 60 win over Michigan (and maybe they crack the top 50 if the Wolverines drop a close one) and they would get a top 20 shot at Maryland or Michigan State in the final. Unfortunately, with the final ending just before the bracket is revealed there is debate every year on how much it affects the final bracket, especially in a case like a Purdue-Maryland or Purdue-Michigan State final would be in that both teams are solidly in the field.
There are a couple of other places where Purdue can get help in moving up to the 3 seed in addition to winning the last two games (and I don't think a 2 is possible at this point. Maybe if we had to go through Iowa and Indiana, but not Illinois and Michigan). Here is what can help:
Is Florida a Tournament team? - The Gators lost today against SEC champ Texas A&M to close their case. The computers love them, but they are just 19-14 with a 2-7 record against the top 50 and they were swept by fellow bubble team Vanderbilt.
Is Vanderbilt a Tournament team? - The Commodores were highly rated to start the year, but stumbled to 19-13 and were also 2-7 against the top 50. You have to think that with two wins over Florida they would be ahead of the Gators on merit. They have three losses in the 101-200 range and Florida only has one. Vandy did itself no favors in losing to lowly Tennessee yesterday, either.
Is Pittsburgh a Tournament team? - The Panthers are right there with Vandy and Florida. They are also 2-7 against the top 50 and are hurt by their early game against Gonzaga in Okinawa getting cancelled. They got a nice win over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament (and Syracuse is not a tournament team in my opinion), but couldn't get the pushover win over North Carolina. They have two sub-100 losses and are 21-11.
All three of Purdue's best non-conference wins are about as bubbly as you can get. Throw in Butler, and all four of those teams could easily end up in Dayton. Since they are all out of their respective tournaments now their fate rests in the hands of the committee. Will the committee value a Valpo or Monmouth, who were great all year but lost in the crapshoot of a conference tournament, or will they go for high major teams that were middling at best?
Here are a couple other things that can help Purdue:
Vermont - The Catamounts were blown out by Purdue 107-79 way back on November 15th. Now they are 21-12 and in the America East final tomorrow against Stony Brook. Stony Brook is a solid team that is No. 63 in the RPI and No. 93 in the KenPom. Vermont also beat them 73-62 on their home floor on February 27. The game is at Stony Brook again, so a Vermont win not only send the Catamounts to the dance and gives Purdue a definite nonconference win over an NCAA team, it might be just enough to push Vermont into the top 100 of the RPI.
Old Dominion - Purdue beat the Monarchs 61-39 on November 21 in Connecticut. They haven't done a whole lot in the regular season (0-6 vs. the top 100), but they are now 22-12 and have won seven in a row to reach the Conference USA final. They will play Middle Tennessee State with the automatic bid on the line tomorrow. ODU lost their only meeting 64-61 on January 16. The game is at 2:30pm on Fox Sports 1, and an ODU win can move them into the top 100 of the KenPom.
Nebraska - Because Purdue beat the Cornhuskers twice any win over them is doubled. They are still technically alive as of this writing, too. If they were to beat Maryland and also stun Michigan State again they would surely become a top 100 team. They already are according to KenPom, so two wins of that caliber would possibly move them into top 50 territory. RPI-wise top 100 is the best we can hope for, as they are at 163. Purdue also get a slight bonus since they won in Lincoln, too.
In summation, Purdue currently sits at a four seed. They are likely not going to below that, but jumping to a three has the benefit of an easier path to the second weekend and no No. 1 seed until the last possible moment. According to Bracket Matrix, here are the current 4 seeds:
Kentucky, Purdue, Duke, Texas A&M
Your 5 seeds (second round games):
Maryland, Arizona, California, Iowa State
And your three seeds Purdue is trying to catch:
West Virginia, Miami, Utah, Indiana
Indiana is done. West Virginia has Oklahoma and Miami has Virginia tonight, so both are looking to move up. Utah has Cal tonight and Cal is looking to move up. It is entirely possible that Purdue is moving this weekend to take Indiana's 3 seed, even though the Hoosiers have the better overall profile right now, a head-to-head win, and outright conference title.