So far Purdue has lived a charmed basketball existence. We are averaging more than 107 points per game at home and 102 overall. We’ve won our four games by an average over 39.25 points and even in our one real test, a road game at Marquette, we have generally been in firm control for 160 of 160 possible minutes this season.
Well, that will change on Tuesday.
Purdue is headed to the Battle 4 Atlantis, which might be the most challenging early season tournament in all of college basketball this season. It features three ranked teams (Arizona, Villanova, and Purdue), all of whom could be in the top 15 by the end of the day today. Purdue has a chance at playing two top 5 teams in the duelling Wildcats too. On the other side of the bracket SMU is receiving votes in the AP Poll. NC State is a solid ACC team. Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky are pretty good mid-majors. Purdue’s opening opponent, Tennessee, is at least a major conference foe.
It is going to be a great tournament, and it begins a brutal stretch of Purdue’s schedule where it potentially faces six straight major conference foes, four of which were in the preseason top 25 (Villanova, Arizona, Northwestern, and Louisville). This could also be the key to a deep run in March. A good run through this stretch not only shows Purdue can play with the best of the best, it lays the groundwork for a top seed in March.
For a program like Purdue getting a top seed is difficult because don’t automatically start near the top line. It must be earned. Getting some early season wins over Villanova, Louisville or Arizona would pay dividends down the road with the requisite KenPom and RPI boosts. That’s why this tournament is huge. If Purdue wins it, beating Villanova and Arizona along the way, it sets the stage for a potential No. 1 seed down the line. If Purdue is somehow still undefeated in 9 days after Louisville comes to West Lafayette there is no way it outside the top 5 nationally.
Wednesday, November 22
Purdue vs. Tennessee, Noon, ESPN2
Purdue is 2-1 all-time against the Volunteers, last beating them 73-72 in the Paradise Jam championship back in 2009 when Purdue was ranked 6th and the Vols were ranked 9th. So far this season they are 2-0 after blowing out Presbyterian and High Point. Against High Point they even had a 32-0 run out of a 7-7 tie that put the game away early. Admiral Schofield, a 6’5” junior, leads the team with 18 points per game. Grant Williams, a 6’7” forward, is averaging 11 points and 9.5 rebounds while James Daniel III is at 6 assists per game.
This is a balanced team right now. Four players are scoring in double figures, but it was against overmatched competition. Jordan Bowden is shooting 5 of 7 from threes to lead them from deep. Defensively they are giving up 53 points per game, but they have not faced anything remotely close to Purdue’s offense.
Thursday, November 23
Winner’s Bracket vs. Villanova or Western Kentucky, 12:30pm ESPN or ESPN2
Loser’s Bracket vs. Villanova or Western Kentucky, 7pm, WatchESPN Streaming
Western Kentucky is here because they had a top recruiting class anchored around 5-star center Mitchell Robinson, but he left the school before the season started. As a result, they are 2-1 with a loss to Missouri State and wins over Kentucky Wesleyan and Nicholls State. Purdue is 3-1 all-time vs. WKU, last beating them 72-65 in 1982 in the NIT. Of course, Gene Keady and Jeff Brohm came from there. They have strictly defined 8-man rotations and seven are currently averaging in double figured led by Dwight Coleby at 14.7 points.
Western Kentucky is not going to beat Villanova, so Purdue is only playing WKU if we lose to Tennessee.
As for Villanova, they are still one of the best teams in the country. Purdue is 0-3 against them all-time, which includes last season’s 79-76 loss in Mackey Arena. Thus far they have rolled over Columbia, Nicholls State, and Lafayette with the closest game being Columbia by 15. Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson are both over 17 points per game so far, and Brunson throws in nearly 5 assists per night.
Josh Hart killed Purdue last season with 24 points, but he is off to the NBA. They have had more turnover than we have from last year, but Brunson and Bridges are both really, really good players to build around.
Personally, I am really looking forward to this game after last season. That was a barn-burner of a game, and Purdue’s size gave them serious issues. Purdue’s guard play has improved and Matt Haarms provides and interesting wrinkle offensively. Purdue can be a little more versatile against them this time around. To me, this game is huge because first, it can give us a huge win to bank for our profile, and second, it gives us a shot at Arizona and another schedule boost.
Friday, November 24
Third Place: 2:30pm
Fifth Place: 9:30pm
Seventh Place: 7pm
All games on at least WatchESPN streaming.
Purdue will play either SMU, Northern Iowa, North Carolina State, or Arizona on Friday. Also, it would only play in that 7pm game if it lost both Thursday and Friday. Most likely it will play in either the third place game or the championship. Here is Purdue’s all-time record against each opponent:
Arizona: 6-5 (last win: 3/16/2007 72-63 in NCAA Tournament)
SMU: 3-1 (last win: 12/21/1979 85-60, lost 60-59 on 12/21/2003)
North Carolina State: 1-4 (last win: 66-64 on 12/2/2014)
Northern Iowa: 1-0 (last win: 61-56 on 3/19/2009 in NCAA Tournament)
Purdue would be most familiar with North Carolina State, as our current senior class beat them in the 2014 ACC/Big Ten Challenge when they were freshmen. Vince Edwards led that game with 16 points and 9 assists. Isaac Haas also had 13 off the bench while Dakota Mathias had 7 and PJ Thompson had 3. PJ also added four assists. They are 4-0 on the season so far, but if the tournament plays to form Purdue won’t be playing them because they drew Arizona to start and could be in the loser’s bracket while we’re in the winner’s bracket. Torin Dorn and Lennard Freeman have been prolific scorers so far, so they have a shot at the upset.
The dream matchup is against Arizona in the championship. Many thought they would be the preseason No. 1 team in the country. They have not been challenged at all by Northern Arizona, Maryland-Baltimore County, and Cal State Bakersfield. Allonzo Trier has been insane with 30 points per game too. The 6’5” scores from all over the floor and is shooting almost 60% from three. They also have the size to battle us with Dusan Ristic in the middle. This would be a tough game for Purdue, but just getting there raises the over schedule profile AND it would likely mean we got a nice win over Villanova.
A Purdue loss to Villanova puts us in the Third Place game against either SMU or Northern Iowa. SMU is 4-0 so far against a host of low majors. They were an impressive 30-4 last year before losing to USC in the tournament. That included 17-1 against the American conference. Shake Milton is leading them in scoring at 21.3 points per game, but they have almost no size. Their leading rebounder is 6’9” Ethan Chargois, and he averages 13 points and 7 rebounds per contest.
Northern Iowa might be the weakest team in this year’s field. They are 3-1, but they are coming off of a subpar 14-16 year. They opened with an 86-69 loss at North Carolina, but have beaten Alcorn State, Wartburg, and Chicago State. If you want to look at common opponents, they beat Chicago state by 38 while we crushed Chicago State by 69. Bennett Koch is leading them at 17 points per game as an old-school 6’10” center, so it might be kind of fun to see what Haas can do against him.
It seems like there are clear favorites here. Purdue, Villanova, SMU, and Arizona are expected to win on day one with Tennessee against Purdue and NC State against Arizona as the best games. SMU probably won’t have much trouble with UNI and Villanova should easily beat Western Kentucky.
That sets up a semifinal round of Purdue vs. Villanova and Arizona vs. SMU. The Purdue-Villanova could be an excellent game based on how the teams played against each other last year. SMU did win 30 games a season ago, but they lost virtually every game to a “real” opponent outside their conference. That included twice to USC, once to Michigan, and once to Boise State. Their only games against a ranked team were three in American play against Cincinnati, and they went 2 of 3.
I would pick a final of Arizona against Purdue because I think our size can still give Villanova fits and we’re a more versatile team from last year. I do think Arizona might be a little too good for us, however. I see Purdue coming out of this tournament 2-1, and anything less would be a huge blow because it means a loss to an unranked team unless we played Arizona in the third place game. We have to beat Tennessee and at least get a shot against Villanova. A loss to them and a win over SMU in the third place would be a solid result. A win over Villanova and loss to Arizona would be even better. If we somehow won the event by beating BOTH Villanova and Arizona expectations will skyrocket.