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Non-Conference Opponents’ Update: January 10

Is it time to dream of a No. 1 seed?

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue has received a No. 1 seed three times in the NCAA Tournament. In 1988 Purdue choked in the Sweet 16 against Kansas State. In 1994 it reached the Elite Eight behind Glenn Robinson, but a sore back by the best player in college basketball prevented a Final Four. In 1996 Purdue was nearly the first victim of a 16 seed when it survived Western Carolina by 2 before losing in the second round to Georgia.

So Purdue is 0 for 3 in getting to a Final Four as a No. 1 seed. Still, it is the absolute best way to have a shot at a Final Four. The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and since then there have been 33 NCAA Tournaments. That’s 132 No. 1 seeds. In that time, 54 have gone on to reach the Final Four, so nearly 41% of the time a No. 1 seed goes on to the tournament’s last weekend. An additional 28 No. 2 seeds have advanced (21.2%). From there, it drops off to 15 No. 3 seeds and 13 No. 4 seeds. 20 of the last 33 national champions have been a No. 1 seed.

Of course, this makes sense. A top seed is rewarded with the easiest projected path, while a 4 seed (like Purdue was last year) has a tricky 4/13 game usually against one of the best low majors, then a close 4/5 game followed by the top seed. Obviously there is no guarantee that a No. 1 seed equals a Final Four (2008 is the only year in which all four top seeds made it), but it sure helps.

My point is that Purdue, as it stands today, has a real shot at earning a top seed. Chris Dobbertean of SB Nation already has us there. We’re very close on Bracket Matrix. This is a far cry from the people that felt the sky was falling and we would miss the tournament back after losing to Western Kentucky. We’re now one of the hottest teams in America and we have won 12 in a row. It is not like we have beaten the Sisters of the Poor and Blind, either. Purdue is the only team in America with five tier 1 RPI wins. Only Seton Hall and Kansas have as many as 4. In this 12 game winning streak Purdue has beaten six teams in the top 100 of the RPI, and Northwestern is just outside at 102. Purdue is 3-0 in true road games, and all three were over top 40 KenPom teams.

Purdue has not just been good, it has been good against tough competition. That’s why we have a shot at a No. 1 seed with 13 games to go. Yes, there is a lot of basketball to play, but we’re at least in position, which is a great place to be.

Purdue Boilermakers Profile

Record: 16-2, 5-0 Big Ten

RPI: 10 (Up from 14 last week)

KenPom: 4 (Down from 3 last week)

Tier 1 Wins (KenPom) Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75: 18 Arizona (neutral), 30 Michigan (away), 35 Maryland (away), 38 Marquette (away), 41 Butler (neutral)

Tier 2: Home 31-75 (KenPom) Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135: 40 Louisville (home), 71 Northwestern (home)

Tier 1 Wins (RPI) Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75: 24 Arizona (neutral), 50 Maryland (away), 27 Butler (neutral), 32 Marquette (away), 48 Michigan (away)

Tier 2: Home 31-75 (RPI) Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135: 34 Louisville (home), 41 Lipscomb (home) (Nebraska is just outside this category at 76)

Bad Losses (sub-100 RPI OR KenPom): None

SIU-Edwardsville Cougars (6-9, 2-2 Ohio Valley) RPI: 210, KenPom: 314 – It is not much, but Edwardsville won both games within the past week. They won 85-82 at Eastern Kentucky and 70-65 at Morehead State to move to 2-2 in their conference. They are at least 5-3 now in their last 8, but have work to do to get into the top 160 and tier 3.

Chicago State Cougars (2-16, 0-1 WAC) RPI: 309, KenPom: 346 – Chicago State played just once in the past week and it was a 97-60 home loss to New Mexico State, the best team in their conference by a wide margin.

Marquette Golden Eagles (12-5, 3-2 Big East) RPI: 32, KenPom: 38 – The Golden Eagles made a huge jump this week and solidified themselves as tier 1 team for the rest of the season. They won 95-90 in OT at top 50 Providence behind an astounding 52 points from Markus Howard. They lost 100-90 at Villanova, but beat Seton Hall (no. 8 in the RPI) last night 84-64. Those are the first two tier 1 wins for Marquette and it put them solidly in the Big East race as well as the NCAA Tournament.

Fairfield Stags (6-9, 1-3 MAAC) RPI: 201, KenPom: 210 – It was an 0-2 week for Fairfield. They lost 96-77 at Rider and 84-65 at Iona, so gone are the dreams of competing in the MAAC.

Tennessee Volunteers (11-4, 2-2 SEC) RPI: 15, KenPom: 15 – Tennessee came back to beat Vanderbilt 92-84 last night for a nice road win. They also beat Kentucky 76-65 over the weekend to give them a second tier 1 win. The Vols are a solid NCAA team now and far from a bad loss.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (11-5, 3-0 Conference USA) RPI: 53, KenPom: 59 – With a 112-87 win at Marshall the Hilltoppers are 3-0 in Conference USA and might have an at large NCAA case. The win over Purdue is certainly one that will help them in any at large argument, as they were the last team to do it.

Arizona Wildcats (12-4, 2-1 Pac-12) RPI: 24, KenPom: 18 – Arizona earned a split on its mountain road trip. They won a tough game at Utah 94-82 (a tier 1 win) before getting upset 80-77 at suddenly hot Colorado to break their own win streak. This week they host the Oregon schools and should make a big move to lead the Pac-12.

Louisville Cardinals (11-4, 1-0 ACC) RPI: 34, KenPom: 40 – Since we played Louisville in West Lafayette they need to do some work to get on that first tier. They lost at Clemson 74-69 over the weekend, but could move into the top tier with a win at RPI 29/KenPom 22 Florida State tonight. We want them to win tonight.

Valparaiso Crusaders (10-7, 1-3 MVC) RPI: 142, KenPom: 154 – Valpo extended its losing streak to four with an 80-71 loss at Bradley, but finally got an MVC win with an 83-72 home win over Southern Illinois. They are just 2-7 since losing at Purdue.

IUPUI Jaguars (4-11, 1-3 Horizon League) RPI: 286, KenPom: 277 – The Jags played their first Division 1 home game since December 6th last Thursday and it was a 70-65 loss to Illinois-Chicago.

Butler Bulldogs (12-6, 2-3 Big East) RPI: 27, KenPom: 41 – Butler has played one of the toughest schedules in the country with 7 games against tier 1 teams. They dropped a tough home game 90-87 to Seton Hall before losing at Creighton last night 85-74. They home win over Villanova still looks excellent, and the win out in Oregon over Ohio State now looks really good. They host Marquette Friday in a game that helps both teams.

Tennessee St. Tigers (6-9, 1-3 Ohio Valley) RPI: 225, KenPom: 225 – It was a split for Tennessee State this week. They beat Jacksonville State 67-60 before losing to Tennessee Tech at home 87-81.

Lipscomb Bisons (11-5, 1-0 Atlantic Sun) RPI: 41, KenPom: 124 – It is never going to be a great KenPom win., but Lipscomb is hanging on strong as a tier 2 win with a strong RPI of 41. They have a non-D1 win over Fisk last Wednesday 99-53 before starting conference play with an 86-71 win at Kennesaw State. At an RPI of 41 they are by far the strongest team in their conference with Florida Gulf Coast the only other team above 200 at 195. They are also the only team with a winning record in the Atlantic Sun.