For the first time in seven years Purdue is playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This year has been about ending several streaks:
· First Big Ten title in seven years
· First outright Big Ten title in 21 years
· First NCAA tournament win in five years
· First Sweet 16 in seven years
So what about a few more? What about our first Elite eight in 17 years and first Final Four in 37 years? Those are the next two big ones. Before the season most people felt that a Big Ten title and a Sweet 16 appearance were reasonable goals for this team. It had the talent. It had the schedule strength to get a decent seed in March. Here we are, 34 games later, and those goals have been achieved.
That does not mean we’re satisfied.
There has been A LOT of Painter hate the last two days from Purdue fans, mostly because of the blown 19 point lead against Iowa State. Yes, that was extremely frustrating. We still won the game though. Painter still had a great overall game plan that led to said win. The biggest knock on Painter is that he “can’t win the big one”. Well, in 12 seasons this is only his third chance at “the big one”. In 2009 a talented, but young Purdue team fell in the Sweet 16 to No. 1 seed UConn in a hard fought game. In 2010 Purdue was back, but the Hummel injury cast a pall over everything. Purdue pushed No. 1 seed Duke, but the truth is that had Hummel never gotten hurt Purdue would have been a No. 1 seed instead of playing one in the Sweet 16.
Painter is better than 95% of coaches out there because he is at least going to give you a chance at a run every season, and that is all you can really ask because it is damn hard to consistently win in the NCAA Tournament (unless you happen to be like the program we are facing next). Every season Purdue comes in knowing that 22-24 wins and an NCAA appearance are the bare minimum expectations. Maybe 20 programs out of 351 can say that. You have to first get to the tournament to make a run, and Painter clearly can do that.
Once in the tournament it is about matchups. In 7 of 9 tournaments Painter’s teams have won at least one game (and the two losses were in overtime). In 3 of 9 they have won two. That’s not fantastic, but it is far from a horrid “He can’t win in march” track record (because his 10-8 overall NCAA tournament record at Purdue says that yes, he can).
This game against Kansas represents one thing: a chance. If the legacy about Painter is that he cannot get past a Sweet 16 he literally cannot do a single thing about it until he gets there. Well, we’re here. We’re playing an extremely good Kansas team that has some matchup problems for us, but we have some matchup problems for them. Painter is not instantly going to be sainted as a coach if we win, nor should he be excoriated with a loss. What we have now is a chance to move on and knock off one more streak.
From: Lawrence, Kansas
Date: Thursday, March 23, 2017
Tip Time: 9:39pm ET
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
Arena: Sprint Center (18,972)
Online: March Madness On Demand
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: Kansas by 5
2015-16 Record: 32-5, 15-3 Big 12 (Big 12 Champion), lost to Villanova 64-59 in Elite 8
2016-17 Record: 30-4, 16-2 Big 12 (Big 12 Champion)
Opponent Blog: Rock Chalk Talk
Series with Purdue: Kansas leads 3-2 (2-1 vs. Purdue in NCAA Tournament)
Last Kansas Win: 63-60 on 3/18/2012 in Omaha, NE (NCAA Tournament)
Last Purdue Win: 83-78 on 3/24/1994 in Knoxville, TN (NCAA Tournament)
NCAA Tournament History: 46 appearances (28 consecutive), 1952, 1988, 2008 NCAA Champions
Kansas is Kansas.
That is really the easiest way to say it. When you look at the true bluebloods of college basketball they are there every single year. Purdue has the expectation of making the NCAA Tournament each season. Kansas is expected to win the Big 12 and make the Sweet 16 at bare minimum. More often than not, they do that. They have been to 14 Final Fours, 22 Elite Eights, and this is their 30th Sweet 16. While Purdue might be pretty good, Kansas is one of those programs like a Duke, North Carolina, or Kentucky that is truly elite. If you beat them even in a regular season game you have done something, because they don’t lose very much at all. It has been 17 years since they have even been seeded lower than a 4 seed, so that is 17 consecutive seasons where they were among the top 16 in the nation entering the tournament. This is their eighth straight season of being a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
The Jayhawks have lost only four times this season, but Purdue has an association with all four teams:
· They lost their season opener 103-99 in overtime to Indiana out in Hawaii. This is back when Indiana was a good team, as James Blackmon Jr. had 26 and freshman Curtis Jones (who was riding the bench by the end of the year) had 15. Purdue beat Indiana twice in Big Ten play.
· On January 14th West Virginia beat them in Morgantown 85-69. Purdue had its secret scrimmage against West Virginia before the start of the season because Matt Painter wanted to test his team against the press.
· On February 4th Iowa State walked into Allen Fieldhouse and snapped their 51-game home winning streak 92-89. The Cyclones hit 18 threes in the game, seven coming from Deonte Burton and generally played like a team possessed. As you know, Purdue just defeated Iowa State in our last game.
· In the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals TCU beat Kansas 85-82 with Desmond Bane hitting three free throws for the win with 2.5 seconds left. Last season Purdue lightly recruited Bane out of Seton Catholic here in Indiana, but never made an offer. (He is averaging 6.9 points per game for TCU).
So that gives me a little hope. Purdue has at least faced (in some capacity) three of the four teams that defeated Kansas this season. I don’t know how much it can take from West Virginia since that was basically a controlled scrimmage (AND YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT SECRET SCRIMMAGE!!!!). By the time Purdue played Indiana the Hoosiers were a far different team from the one that won out in Hawaii. Iowa State gives us our best comparison, as they are similar teams and they split their regular season series.
As expected, the Jayhawks have two of the best players in all of college basketball. Frank Mason III is one of four Naismith Award finalists along with our own Caleb Swanigan. The 5’11” senior guard is, quite simply, fantastic. He averages 20.8 points and 5.2 assists per game. He can break anyone down of the dribble and he is shooting 47.2% from three. Guarding him will be extremely difficult to say the very least. He has had one game under 10 points this year (November 29th in a 91-61 win over Long Beach State). He hasn’t been under 15 points since a one point win at Texas Tech on February 11th. He is going to get to the line too, as he has shot more than 10 free throws in nine games this year.
Joining him in the back court is 6’8” freshman Josh Jackson, who is a Player of the Year candidate in his own right. He averages 16.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and shoots 38.6% from three. In the tournament here he is averaging 20 points per game and his size will be very difficult for Purdue to counteract on the perimeter. He doesn’t shoot the three as much as Mason, but he can be a terror getting into the lane.
Devonte’ Graham, a 6’2” junior, is the third guard averaging in double figures. When your third option averages 13.3 points and 4.3 assists per game you probably are going to be a pretty good basketball team. He is shooting 39.2% from three, and does most of his work out there (an average of 6 of his 10 attempts per game are from long range). Honestly, he might be the critical guy to stop. Mason and Jackson are going to get theirs. If Purdue can keep them around their averages while limiting Graham it will help a lot.
The Jayhawks, like Iowa State, will implement a “four out, one in” strategy with four guards. What is tricky is that they have really big guards. Jackson is 6’8” and so is Junior Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. He averages 9.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and is hitting 39.5% from three. Basically, they have two big guys that can shoot over us, one smaller quick guy (Graham) that can do a little bit of everything, and one guy (Mason) who is possibly the best player in America.
No problem, right?
This is where Purdue’s strengths come into play. Landen Lucas and Carlton Bragg Jr., both 6’10” forwards, are their only significant post players. They average 8.1 and 5.4 points per game, respectively, but they are no Swanigan and Isaac Haas. Lucas is a good rebounder at 8.6 rebounds per game, but going up against Swanigan will be trouble for him. If either of these guys get into foul trouble Swanigan and Haas should have an offensive field day.
And that is what makes this game so interesting. Mason and Jackson are terrifying to me on the perimeter, just like Burton and Monte Morris were for Iowa State. Burton and Morris were very good, but Mason and Jackson are better. On the other hand, I know that Kansas fans want no part of Haas and Swanigan in the middle. If we have both on the floor at the same time that is trouble for them when we have the basketball because they cannot double both. Haas and Swanigan should be able to score at will, and if they double the open shots will be there for Dakota Mathias, Ryan Cline, and Vince Edwards. That said, if we have both Haas and Swanigan on the floor that makes defending their four guards extremely difficult. Haas can handle Lucas or Bragg in the middle, but as we know, Swanigan will struggle to defend on the perimeter. That gives them an edge, and a big one. Basically, their guards are a lot better than ours (who are pretty good), while our inside game should be dominant against them.
That means it comes down to what Purdue’s other guys do. Vince Edwards has been excellent in the NCAA Tournament in his career. He is averaging 20 points, 9 rebounds, and nearly 4 assists per game in his four career NCAA Tournament games. Purdue does not win unless he keeps that trend up, and he will have to defend the perimeter. Dakota Mathias is going to have to continue his excellent defense and hit a few shots. Carsen Edwards will have to mix things up and push the tempo when he can. If Ryan Cline can have one of his “I am going to hit four open threes” games like he has every now and then it would be a great time to have one. The same is true for P.J. Thompson, who we know is going to be taking a big shot at some point in the game.
It’s going to be a good one. I have nothing but respect for Kansas as they are an excellent team. There is no shame in losing to them at this stage of the tournament because this is their time every year. Purdue has never defeated a No. 1 seed and the last time we beat a team that was ranked No. 1 at any point during the same season was 2011 (Ohio State). Beating Kansas would be the biggest win in years, maybe decades, for Purdue. They are the better team and probably should win.
That said, we at least have a chance. We have to avoid foul trouble. We have to have good Vince. We have to have Drago mode Haas. We need the usual Biggie (a 15 and 10) to morph into destroyer of worlds Biggie like he was against Iowa State (20-12-7). We need Mathias and Cline to hit open shots. We need Spike Albrecht and PJ to give us steady minutes at the point where they pick their spots like they always do. We need Carsen to do his fearless freshman act.
I know this can be done, too.