In roughly one week Purdue will be tipping off its 2019 NCAA Tournament run. The games officially start just after noon next Thursday, and some time on Thursday or Friday we’ll be playing some small conference autobid winner. Bracket Matrix continues to have us as a solid three seed, meaning we would open against a 14 seed. Even if we drop to a 4 seed no one is getting an at large bid as a 13 seed, so we’re playing an autobid winner regardless.
This has been a familiar position for Purdue of late. In 2017 we were a 4 seed and faced America East winner Vermont. Last season we went to the other coast and faced Big West winner Cal State Fullerton. Both games resulted in double digit wins, with Purdue pulling away late against Vermont and last year… we know what got pulled.
One factor to consider is teams that win autobids as a surprise out of other conferences. If a team under .500 steals an autobid it is almost certainly headed to Dayton. That can move some teams that would normally be a 16 up to a 15 and 15s up to a 14. We saw something similar in 2011 when we played a really bad St. Peter’s team that was somehow a 14 seed. Iona (17-15) and North Dakota State (18-15) are almost certainly 16 seeds, while NDSU won the Summit league that probably would have gotten Mike Daum and South Dakota State at least a 14 seed.
So who is up this year? Here are some possibilities.
Northeastern Huskies – 23-10 – CAA Champion – Northeastern won the CAA Tuesday night, eliminating what would have been a very intriguing matchup. They beat top seeded 26-7 Hofstra featuring Jacquil Taylor, who has had a great year after graduating and transferring to the Pride. He’ll at least get another game or two in the NIT, but Northeastern has had a solid season and was the regular season runner-up. They beat Hofstra in two of the three meetings, but are 0-5 in Quad 1 games. We had a chance to scout them too, as they played in the same Charleston Tournament we were at. They beat Alabama before losing to Virginia Tech and Davidson. Their best wins are probably the one over Alabama and two over Hofstra.
Liberty Flames – 28-6 – Atlantic Sun Champion – Liberty is a solid team that might even move up to a 12 on the right bracket. They knocked off favored Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun title game but have a NET ranking of 60. Their two Quad 1 wins were over Lipscomb and they also won at UCLA by 15. This is a solid team that could give us quite a game.
Northern Kentucky Norse – 26-8 – Horizon League Champion – This is a somewhat familiar opponent, as we opened the 2013-14 season with a way-too-close 77-76 win over them. That was probably a bad sign, as we finished that year 15-17 and they were only in their second season at the Division I level. They made the tournament in 2017 (their first year of eligibility) and pushed Kentucky before losing 79-70 in a 2/15 game. They won the regular season title last year and played in the NIT, so this is a good, experienced team. They have played a very weak schedule with only two games against the top two Quad, losses to both Cincinnati and Central Florida. They did beat Wabash College by 40, however.
Those three teams have already clinched automatic bids and will definitely be in the Tournament. The following are teams favored to win auto bids:
Vermont Catamounts – 26-6 – Could we see a 2017 rematch? It would mark the third time in four seasons we would play them after beating them in Mackey in 2015-16 and in the 2017 Tournament. They are 0-3 in Quad 1 games, losing to Kansas, Louisville, and Lipscomb, but they are a very solid 75 in the NET rankings. They just need to win at home against UMBC on Saturday and they are in. Josh Speidel is still on the roster too as a redshirt sophomore recovering from a traumatic brain injury four years ago.
UC-Irvine Anteaters – 27-5 – The Anteaters won the Big West regular season title with an impressive 15-1 record, losing only to Long Beach State. They play tonight in the Big West Quarterfinals in a virtual home game in Anaheim and have won 13 straight games. They made the 2015 tournament and lost to 4 seed Louisville 57-55.
Old Dominion Monarchs – 23-8 – The Monarchs are favored to win the Conference USA bid as the regular season champion, but this was a wild league with a 4-way tie in second at 11-7. ODU was just 13-5 in a pretty weak conference, so anything can happen here. Purdue beat ODU 61-39 in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament during the 2015-16 season.
Montana Grizzlies – 23-8 – The Grizzlies are a solid team out of the Big Sky and probably the only one that can get above the 15 seed line from that league. They are the proverbial big fish in that small pond with 11 NCAA appearances, 10 since 1991. They have only won a game twice, however, in 1975 and in 2006.
Ivy league Winner – Playing the Ivy League winner scares the hell out of me because they are all smart teams that don’t make mistakes and play a specific style. Yale and Harvard shared the league title at 10-4 each and will play with Princeton and Penn in the 4-team Ivy league Tournament. Yale has the best rating at 86 in the NET with a win over Cal in China, Miami in Miami, and a double-OT loss at Memphis. Harvard has a very good win at St. Mary’s.
Sun Belt Winner – Georgia State and Texas State are the two best teams here, while Georgia Southern and Texas-Arlington were all near the top of a fairly even league. Georgia State has a nice win over Alabama and smacked around Tom Crean’s Georgia team 91-67. Texas-Arlington lost Indiana by 14.