Purdue has played roughly a third of its 31 regular season games. It has played 10 of its 13 non-conference games and already sits atop the Big Ten with Michigan State and Ohio State at 2-0 in league play. Barring a complete and unforeseen collapse the Boilermakers will play in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season and 29th time overall. Is it too early to talk about seeding?
Yes, but we’re going to do it anyway.
One of the biggest problems Purdue has faced under Matt Painter is getting quality a seed. The last time Purdue was at least a 2 seed was 1998, when it was upset by Stanford in the Sweet 16. In the 12 appearances since then Purdue has been better than a 4 seed only once, and that was in 2011 when VCU got hot and went on a historic run just wrecking major conference team after major conference team.
In those 12 appearances Purdue has been in the 4/5 seed pod four times. It has also been in the 8/9 game, meaning it has to face a No. 1 seed in round 2, an additional three times. You want to avoid a No. 1 seed as long as possible for two reasons: First, they are really, really good teams and likely to beat you. Second, it makes it more likely someone else can knock them out. A 16 has never done it, and playing a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16 is sometimes more difficult than in the round of 32 or the Elite 8 because they have an entire week to prepare instead of just two days.
Look at what has happened to Purdue the three times it was in the 8/9 game. Once it lost (to Cinicinnati in 2015). Twice it won and pushed a No. 1 seed hard before losing (Texas in 2003 and Florida in 2007).
What about those 4/5 pod appearances? The good news is Matt Painter has made three Sweet 16s out of the 4/5 slot. The only time he did it was the infamous and brutal collapse vs. Little Rock. The bad news is Purdue ran into a top seed in round three and lost each time. A very young Purdue team fell by 12 to Connecticut in 2009. A depleted team without Robbie Hummel pushed eventual champion Duke before losing by 13 the next year. Then you had last year, where Purdue trailed by only 2 early in the second half before Kansas played 15 minutes of flawless basketball.
Purdue’s best bet for advancement seems to be to get in the 2/3 seed range, and this year could be that year. With the non-conference wins over Arizona, Louisville, and Marquette powering us we have some sufficient schedule strength. Our KenPom numbers are really strong (in the top 10) and our RPI is coming along nicely at 23. Yes, the Big Ten is down, but as long as Purdue can finish he league strong at something like 15-3 it should be right there for a top 3 seed. Assuming a win over Butler tomorrow (another very good win)a 15-3 Big Ten mark would likely have Purdue at 26-5 heading into the Big Ten Tournament. That could be at least 28-6 coming out of it assuming a loss in the title game.
Some of the very, very early projections have Purdue as a top 3 seed too:
ESPN Joe Lunardi – This came out yesterday and it had Purdue as a 3 seed playing in the South. A rematch with Tennessee in Round 2 could be fun, while Xavier in the Sweet 16 would be very good. The downside is Duke is a bad matchup in the Elite 8, but let’s get there before worrying about them. Florida State is a spoiler there as a 5 seed anyway.
Bracket Matrix – This is always a good resource, as it gathers virtually every bracket out there and puts them together in a consensus list. It has Purdue as the highest 4 seed right now, averaging a seed of 3.92 on 24 released brackets. A handful of them have Purdue even as a 2 seed, while some (that have not released a version Since December 3rd) have Purdue as low as a 7.
With roughly 33% of the season in the books Purdue is in good shape. We can really only be docked for what happened in the Bahamas, and thanks to a resurgent Arizona, we’re going to get a boost from it anyway. The best case scenario would have been winning the tournament over Tennessee, Villanova, and then Arizona, but that didn’t happen. Assuming none of the other result change but us winning it we would have beaten Northern Iowa in the final (currently 8-2 with only losses to North Carolina and Villanova, so basically replace Villanova with us) after beating a very, very good Villanova team. If we’re undefeated right now we’re probably a 1 seed. If we’re 11-1 with a loss to Tennessee, but wins over Western Kentucky and SMU we’re likely a 2 seed and in the top 10 of the polls. If we’re 11-1 with a win over Tennessee, loss to Villanova, and a win over NC State we’re about the same: a 2 seed.
That’s why it is so hard to contemplate that WKU loss. SMU is good, but Arizona is probably going to be better in the end. It may even be better than beating SMU and WKU combined. Also, had we held on against Tennessee we cannot discount the strength of that win in its own right.
The good news is that we salvaged something out of it. That Arizona win will look great later on, and it is going to lift up Purdue. Tennessee is doing its part and should get in the tournament comfortably. That just leaves WKU. As long as Purdue takes care of business in the Big Ten it will be passed off as a bad game in a ballroom.