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2017 NCAA Tournament: Time for Purdue to Seize Its Opportunity

It is no secret Purdue has some baggage in the NCAA Tournament. It’s time to lose it.

Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The #narrative right now is that Purdue is a one and done NCAA Tournament team. Sure, in the last 30 years Purdue is 17-4 in first round games (including 14 in a row), but since we have lost the last two games in horrific, eye-melting fashion we have to uphold a narrative here.

The truth is that the last three NCAA Tournament games involving Purdue have not only been losses, but extremely painful ones:

2012: Kansas 63, Purdue 60 (Second Round)

Fresh off of our 14th straight First Round win (this time over St. Mary’s) No. 10 seed Purdue was the better team against No. 2 seed Kansas for roughly 39 of 40 minutes. Purdue led 36-30 at halftime thanks to a huge first half of 22 points from Robbie Hummel. Purdue led by as much as 10 at 42-32 at the first media timeout, but was outscored 31-18 over the last 16 minutes.

With 1:02 left Purdue led 60-59 and had the basketball. It had not trailed the entire game to this point, but after working the shot clock down Lewis Jackson turned the ball over, leading to a steal and basket by Elijah Johnson. Robbie had a great look at three with 8 seconds left, but missed, and Tyshawn Taylor got a dunk at the other end to seal it. Kansas led for all of 23 seconds, but it was enough to win. They went on to the title game before losing Kentucky. Purdue would have actually been the higher seed over NC State in round 3.

2015: Cincinnati 66, Purdue 65 OT (First Round)

This was mostly a back and forth affair. Purdue led 29-26 at halftime, but as is expected in these 8/9 games there was not a lot of separation. Still, Jon Octeus made two free throws with 48 seconds left to put Purdue in front 56-49. It looked like it was over, but the Bearcats hit a three, vince Edwards turned the ball over one the inbounds, and Troy Caupain scored and was fouled. He hit the free throws and Purdue’s 7 point lead was down to 1 in the span of 5 seconds. Octeus would miss 2 of 3 free throws inside the final 25 seconds and Caupain would just barely beat the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

Purdue had its chances in overtime. Octeus missed a dunk. Rapheal Davis missed two free throws while down 1. Vince Edwards missed a three at the buzzer after Cincinnati had opened the door with its own missed FTs. While the Kansas loss was a slow burn against one of the top 10 teams in the nation, this game swung quickly on one play: Caupain’s steal, score, and foul on Edwards near the end of regulation. Eliminate that and Purdue has the ball, up 4, with 42 seconds left and a chance to work clock or hit FTs.

2016: Little Rock 85, Purdue 83 2OT (First Round)

I blame myself here. Leading 63-52 with 3:33 left at the final media timeout I went into my kitchen and said to my wife, "There is no way they'll blow this and if they do, I don't want to see it."

Well, I saw it alright.

Immediately out of the timeout the lead got even bigger as A.J. Hammons hit two free throws to make it 65-52. What happened over the next 45 minutes or so of real time, but 13 minutes and 33 seconds of game time, was a tortuous collapse. The first danger signs were with 2:05 left, when both AJ and Vince missed easy offensive putbacks that would have pushed the lead back to 9. Dakota Mathias seemed to deliver the dagger with 35 seconds left on a triple, but then Liz Soshi made one of the most bullshit 3-pointers you’ll ever see (and I am still not convinced he got his foot behind the line) on a shot that bounced 6 feet above the rim and dropped in. Even though Purdue still led by 1 at that point, you knew it was over from there. We just had two overitmes worth of torture to go before Johnny Hill turned it over driving for the winning basket down 1 with three seconds left in the second overtime.

This is what Purdue has to overcome tomorrow. In its last three tournament games it has had the basketball and the lead with less than 30 seconds left. It has come just about as close to winning all three of those games without actually winning. Shoot, against Cincinnati Purdue was technically leading as time expired, only Caupain’s layup was still in the air before dropping through the basket.

Regardless of what happens in the rest of the tournament, Purdue absolutely needs to beat Vermont just to slay these demons. Honestly, Purdue should beat Vermont. Even after these losses I am confident headed into tomorrow because we have a ton of advantages. Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan should be able to do whatever they want in the post. Purdue hit 18 three-pointers when they played this same team just 16 months ago, and most of both rosters are the same because Hammons didn’t even play in that game.

Finally, time and again this year Purdue has played with poise inside the final minute and come away victorious. Notre Dame. At Ohio State. At Maryland. At Penn State. At Indiana. At Northwestern. This is a tested Purdue team that has been much, much better in close game situations this year. It has rarely let big leads collapse and even trialing big, it has fought back like at Louisville and Maryland.

Still, there is going to be that doubt in the back of fans minds because we haven’t been perfect in the late game situations. At Iowa. At Nebraska. In overtime against Minnesota. Those games come to mind. Then there is the very last time we saw Purdue play. Once again, it was March and Purdue had the basketball, with the lead, and less than 30 seconds to play. We lost that game.

That is where the challenge lies. This Purdue team has to be different. We have seen it can be different. We saw it deliver at Maryland in a clutch situation and that eventually delivered a Big Ten championship. We have waited a year for this shot at redemption. You could argue we have waited five years if you go back to that Kansas game. I am going to be positive. All that pain of those three NCAA losses (and the recent Michigan loss) will be lifted. I think we comfortably beat a good Vermont team, pulling away late thanks to our size advantage. I then think that the in-season tests and triumphs will pay off in the later rounds.

The pieces are there. We have a physically imposing big man. We have a wealth of 3-point shooters. We have a human double-double who might be the best player in America. We have a coach that, despite his criticism of being the “same old Painter” has willingly and obviously changed his methods and adapted styles (just look at Purdue’s improved defense the second time vs, Michigan). We have fans rabid and hungry for success that will travel to support this team close to home.

That’s why I believe in this team. They have triumphed late, but they are also familiar with the sting of not coming through. It has made them hungry. You think they don’t know our history? EVERYONE knows our history. It is why some are even picking Vermont as a first round upset. Can you blame them? But the time is now. Everything has been working to this point since the Little Rock loss. Shoot, everything has been working to this point since the VCU loss, since this is Purdue’s best team since then. Maybe everything has been working to this point for 37 years. This team is good enough to erase that. it is good enough to shut the Painter haters up, who are frothing at the mouth hoping for a Vermont upset. It’s time to shutup those who think the Big Ten is trash this year and the only reason Purdue one it is because we were the best of a bunch of garbage teams. Regardless of what got us here and what chances have been missed, what we have is an opportunity to erase a lot of bad things. That is all you can ask for: a chance to get rid of all that baggage with a deep run.

1988 and the choke against Kansas State – gone.

1994 and Big Dog’s back injury before playing Duke – gone

1996 and nearly losing to a 16 seed before losing to Georgia – gone

1998 and losing to Stanford with Mark Madsen’s stinking armpits up in victory – gone

2000 and frigging Wisconsin – gone

2010 and Rob’s knee – gone

2011 and the VCU demolition – gone

2012 and Kansas – gone

2016 and Little Rock – gone

My bold prediction? For the fourth straight NCAA Tournament game Purdue will have the lead and this basketball inside the final minute. This time it wins.

This is your opportunity, Purdue. We’ve been waiting for this moment. Seize it.