Sunday is going to be odd because it feels like the rare “non-conference conference game.” I say that because there is absolutely nothing to play for Purdue in terms of the Big Ten race. It’s been over 20 years since we can say that about a Big Ten game. We have locked up the regular season title outright. We’re going to be the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. We could lose by 70 and it will not take away our shiny new Big Ten trophy.
This is largely a game for postseason play, as it is a chance to give Purdue another top 50 RPI win. We are currently at 6 of those, but a seventh (and third in a true road environment) would do wonders for our NCAA profile. It most likely locks up at least a 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Depending on what happens in DC next week it keeps the door open for a 3 seed. Sure, it isn’t open that wide, but it is open. Purdue could potentially add three more top 50 RPI wins next week if it faces Michigan, Michigan State, and then either Maryland, Minnesota, or Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. That’s why this feels like a non-conference road game. Purdue is 5-4 this season in true road games, and a 6-4 mark would look very good in the eyes of the committee.
Then you have Northwestern. The Wildcats are coming off of, quite frankly, the biggest win in the history of their program. The Nathan Taphorn to Dererk Pardon basket on Wednesday very likely put them into the NCAA Tournament. ESPN has them as a lock this morning. Losing to Purdue at home will not hurt that. Even a first round loss in the Big Ten Tournament shouldn’t hurt that because they won’t be playing Rutgers.
Northwestern can still get a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament if they win, but they also need Maryland to beat Michigan State and Minnesota to beat Wisconsin.
If anything, I would like to see a Purdue win without anyone getting hurt. For Northwestern, they would like a win over the Champs that would remove even the smallest doubt about their profile.
From: Evanston, IL
Date: Sunday, March 5, 2017
Tip Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Location: Evanston, Illinois (8,117)
Arena: Welsh-Ryan Arena
Online: CBS Sports Live Video
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: No Line Yet
2015-16 Record: 20-12, 8-10 Big Ten
2016-17 Record: 21-9, 10-7
Opponent Blog: InsideNU
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 126-46
Last Northwestern Win: 74-65 at Purdue on 3/9/2014
Last Purdue Win: 80-59 at Purdue on 2/1/2017
NCAA Tournament History: Never Appeared
Rarely have teams sustained such gut-wrenching losses only to follow them with such euphoric victories. Last Saturday at Indiana it appeared the same old “God hates Northwestern basketball” was showing up. A 63-62 loss to the Hoosiers, especially this Indiana team that can’t get out of its own way, appeared to be a crippling blow. It was Northwestern’s fifth loss in seven games since reaching the AP top 25. More importantly, it was a game they had all but won before collapsing. With Michigan and Purdue coming to town it looked like two more losses and an early Big Ten Tournament exit might cruelly deny them the NCAA Tournament yet again.
Then Taphorn to Pardon happened. Everyone at Welsh-Ryan Arena completely and utterly Lost. Their. Shit. And really, can you blame them? I am a Cubs fan. I have been my entire life. When they merely made the World Series after beating the Dodgers in game 6 of the NLCS I collapsed on the floor of my living room heaving tears of joy. When they won the World Series it was like a weight was lifted. No matter what happens now, they won it in my lifetime. I don’t have the “will the EVER do this while I’m alive” hanging over my head anymore.
That has to be what it feels like to be a Northwestern basketball fan right now. Only five teams have been eligible for every NCAA Tournament since 1939 as a member of Division I: Northwestern, army, the Citadel, St. Francis (NY), and William & Mary. Both St. Francis and William & Mary have come close in recent years by reaching their conference tournament finals as regular season champions. Northwestern was different though. They are the only Power 5 team to never go. Not even once. For years it was because they were epicly bad.
Then Bill Carmody came along and they got agonizingly close. Unlike those other four schools, Northwestern has the luxury of playing in the Big Ten, where even a winning record in league play is usually good enough. Still, they hadn’t even done that in decades. Under Carmody, they were close. In 2010 they had overtime losses to Illinois and Indiana that kept them from going 9-9 and probably making it. In 2011 it was two more overtime losses (Michigan State and Ohio State in the B1G Tournament), a 1 point loss at home to No. 1 Ohio State, and two losses to lowly Penn State that had them at 18-13, 7-11. The 2012 season might have been the most cruel. There were three overtime losses and three more by 2 points or less in regulation. The bubble that year was such that if even one of those six games goes the other way they were probably in.
This year is different though. They had mostly gotten the job done. They got a good non-conference win over Dayton. They played Butler and Notre Dame close. They avoided tripping over the Penn States and Rutgers in conference play. They got the giant road conference win in Wisconsin. The Michigan game was the last test. They needed to win a close game with everyone on the line and got it.
What does that mean for Sunday? I have no idea. Purdue won by 21 in West Lafayette, but as Penn State and Iowa proved, winning by a lot at Mackey Arena does not guarantee anything on the road. In that game Caleb Swanigan dropped a 24 and 16 while Vince Edwards had 17. Purdue hassled them into 35% shooting, 14.3% from three, and aside from Byrant McIntosh no one did much of anything for them.
It should be a fun game because the metaphorical pressure is off of both teams. Purdue can relax just a bit knowing its conference fate is all locked up and a road loss to a top 50 team would not look horrid on its resume. Northwestern can rest because they got the huge win they needed. I expect both teams to play loose and have fun. We’ll see what happens.
Isaac Haas needs 11 points Sunday to become the 51st player in Purdue history to score 1,000 points.
Caleb Swanigan needs 93 points for 1,000, which would break a record if he got them all in one game.