We’re finally here. All the wins this season, all the practices since July, all the effort has led to this moment. Like it or not, a single elimination crapshoot of a tournament defines college basketball. You can go 34-0, have a bad game, and be done in 40 minutes. You can also barely sneak into the tournament, catch fire behind Kemba Walker, and win a damn national title.
As Juan pointed out in our groupchat last night, this has been a season of runner-ups. Purdue was second in the World University Games back in August. In the Big Ten regular season we finished second by the smallest of margins, as if one thing of about a dozen had gone differently we win at least a share of a second straight Big Ten title (for example: Northwestern completely imploding at home vs. MSU). We finished second in the Big Ten Tournament, losing to a team we beat twice, but one that exposed many of the same flaws we have seen all year.
We’re currently 28-6. Only St. Mary’s, Gonzaga, and Virginia match us in wins. This will obviously change as conference tournaments play out this week since we’re done with ours, but if you had told me we would have 28 wins before the NCAA Tournament I would have taken it. In the six losses, three were decided on the final possession (Tennessee, Ohio state, Michigan State) and two more were within a possession inside the final minute. Only yesterday’s game was Purdue truly blown out. We will enter the NCAA Tournament with the most wins we have ever had pre-NCAAs. As a likely No. 2 seed we are position with our best chance since 1998 to go on a deep run.
Yes, there are questions. Four losses in the last 9 games after winning 19 in a row will do that, but the opportunity is there. That is all you can ask for. A few years ago Wichita State entered the tournament undefeated as a No. 1 seed and was bounced in round 2. Last season Villanova was dominant all year and also bounced in round 2. Conversely, we are at 5 years and counting of a team seeded 7th or worse reaching the Final Four. Anyone who says they know what will happen is lying. Purdue has a weakness in giving up offensive rebounds and teams that can exploit Haas defensively on the perimeter are trouble. We also have two very dynamic scorers in the Edwardi who can combined for 50+ in any game and a 7’2” monster that scores on 5 out of 8 field goal attempts. That’s before you add in a trio of 3-point shooters at or over 40% from long range in their careers. Purdue A-game offensively can rarely be match, and yesterday’s C- game still held us within 10 points against another really good team’s A game.
We have waited for this exact chance all year (and really, for many years). These next few games will determine how we feel about this year. Anything less than 2 wins will be considered a failure. Reaching a Sweet 16 will be, “great, but we still couldn’t move past that level”. Reaching an Elite 8 would be frustrating because we finally would eclipse the Sweet 16 barrier, but would come agonizingly close to the promised land again like in 2000 and 1994. Reaching a Final Four would be a victory and validate a lot of things. Anything beyond that is dreamland.
And this team can do it. We have seen what it can do when everything is working. I am not the only one that thinks they just look physically and mentally drained right now. Of all four recent losses the most frustrating was at Wisconsin, because we looked terrible and should have blown that team out. Instead, we were flat and it cost us a Big Ten title. Personally, I think this long layoff before the NCAAs will do this team a lot of good. Vince can heal. They can decompress. they can recharge in every way necessary.
And if I am wrong, well, I am wrong. It’s not like that hasn’t happened before. It will sting, and we have dealt with it. We’ll deal with the same old questions and the online meltdown among our fans (which, to be honest, I am exhausted from dealing with it) will get louder.
But this is the time. This is the opportunity. Over the next few weeks we’ll either experience the greatest joy from Purdue basketball we have felt in decades or once again have bitter regret.
As we approach the NCAAs, this team and its individual players are closing in on several milestones. This is what happens when you have four seniors that have played together seemingly forever. Here is what is at stake:
Regular Season Wins Record
Purdue won 29 games in 2010, 1994, and 1988. It has never won 30 games in a single season. Barring a 15 over 2 upset this year will match the school regular season wins record (and Purdue is 10-0 in first round NCAA games as a top 4 seed). Reaching the Sweet 16 gives Purdue its first 30-win season ever. Yeah, I know that would pale compared to a Final Four, but it is a neat little milestone.
Most Wins by a Senior Class
Purdue’s seniors are currently sitting at 102 wins in their 4-year careers. Only three classes have done better. The 2010 senior class of Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant won 103 games. The 2012 class of Ryne Smith, Robbie Hummel, and Lewis Jackson won 104. The 2011 class of JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore won 107. We would have to win the national championship to break that record, but I would find that acceptable. Sacrifices have to be made, I guess.
Most Wins in Three Straight Seasons
This crew has now won 81 games the last three years, and only the 2011 team won more in a three-year span. That team won 82 games, going 82-24. This team is 81-23 in the last 3 years. It also means that with a 25 win season next year (assuming we win our round 1 game where we will be heavily favored) Ryan Cline can leave Purdue with the most wins in school history.
Most Wins in Consecutive Seasons
Purdue has currently won 55 games the last two years. The 2009 and 2010 teams combined to win 56 games, so we are one short of this mark too. For the curious, 1987 and 88 combined to win 54, and 1994 and 1995 also won 54. 2010 and 2011 had a combined 55 wins.
Four 1,000 Point Scorers at the Same Time
Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, and Dakota Mathias are already there. Carsen Edwards needs 12 points to reach 1,000 for his career and give Purdue four 1,000 scorers on the same team at the same since for the second time ever. The 2010 team had JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and Keaton Grant all reach 1,000 career points. Technically, Grant passed the mark after Hummel was injured in That Game.
Carsen Edwards – As mentioned, Carsen needs 12 points for 1,000 in his career, so he will very likely hit it in our first round game. That would make him the 53rd Purdue player with 1,000 in his career. He currently has 628 points in the 2017-18 season, which is the 17th best individual season in Purdue history. Within reach is the sophomore points record held by Rick Mount, who had 683 points in his sophomore season (and remember, freshmen were ineligible back then). Glenn Robinson had 676 during his sophomore season, which was also his first year.
Dakota Mathias – Dakota already has hit a couple milestones. He passed the 1,000 point barrier a few weeks ago and yesterday he hit his 244th career three-pointer, moving him to No. 1 all-time in Purdue history ahead of E’Twaun Moore. Right now he is at 90 made threes for the season, trailing only Cuonzo Martin (91 in 1995) and Troy Lewis (100 in 1988) for most in a single season. Both are in reach. Dakota is also in the 1,000 points/400 assists club as the 8th member. He sits at 1,118 points, tied for 37th with Herm Gilliam. A lengthy tourney run can get him to 1,200, which would be 34th all-time.
Isaac Haas – Haas passed the 1,000 point barrier last year and a few weeks ago passed the 1,500 point mark. He is currently at 1,546, good for 21st on the all-time list. Can he get to 1,600? With a Sweet 16 run that would be possible, and it would put him comfortably in the top 20 all-time. John Garrett at 1,620 is probably the last player he can pass on the scoring list, and that is currently 15th.
Vince Edwards – Haas and Edwards are racing each other on the career scoring lists, but Vince is slightly ahead right now at 1,591 points. That is 17th in school history, and Jaraan Cornell at 1,595 is next. A good tournament run can get Vince into the top 15. Cuonzo Martin at 1,666 (currently 14th) is probably the limit, as Chad Austin at 1,694 and 13th would likely need a Final Four run. Should Purdue go that far Glenn Robinson (11th at 1,706) could be passed. Vince is already a member of the exclusive 1,500 points/500 rebounds/250 assists club. With two more assists he will join E’Twaun Moore as the only members of the 1,500-500-400 club. He also just became the 8th member of the 1,500 point/750 rebound club. He is currently 7th in school history with 755 rebounds, and would need a monster tournament to catch JaJuan Johnson in 6th at 854.
P.J. Thompson – I feel like I have to include P.J. on here, even as he is struggling on the court a bit. He started the season with an outside chance at 1,000 points, but now he needs 230 to get there. Considering he is at 241 for the entire season it is unlikely, but if we can just reach the national title game and he averages 38.33 points per game in all six games he is good. His brother had 44 points for Zionsville on Friday in a tournament setting, so I think we can count on the same from P.J. Also, this would very likely get P.J. the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding player Award. Sure, it seems unlikely, but what a story it would be for the least heralded member of our senior quartet to go absolutely bonkers for six games.
In terms of reachable milestones, P.J. needs 14 assists to become the 20th player with 300 for his career. Should he do so, Thompson, Vince, and Mathias would all be over 300 career assists at the same time, a first for Purdue. P.J. has also made 154 three-pointers, good for 11th all-time. For his career he is now slightly under 40% from three, which is still top 10 all-time.