It all starts tomorrow. As Purdue fans, we all enter cautiously optimistic with a small measure of dread. After all, things have not gone well for us in the NCAA Tournament in four decades. Hope springs anew each year, however, and that is what we have now: hope.
How far does that hope go? Actually winning the tournament is unlikely, but a good run for a team that won the Big Ten would be nice. To me, that means reaching the Sweet 16 for a third straight year. That plays to our seed and probably exceeds preseason expectations. A loss there would be frustrating, of course, as it would mean the “ceiling” some have proposed stays, so getting beyond that would be nice. Losing in the Elite Eight carries its own frustrations because it means we had a breakthrough, but still didn’t seize on a chance to reach a Final Four.
So what happens? I proposed that to the staff this morning, and here is what they had to say:
ODU doesn’t concern me. Purdue has been winning ugly all year. The game will be ugly. ODU will keep it intermittently close, and then Purdue will pull away late. But it seems the test of the season’s success will come against Villanova. Ouch. That’s a great coach, and a still dangerous team even in an off year. There’s going to be a lot of 3’s that game, so it might just come down to that. Who makes the most shots?
I think Carsen will find himself again, for no other reason, than he’s playing away from conference against guys who haven’t been defending him in three years. Throw that in with a Cline hot streak and Purdue’s got a chance to finally break through against Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
So here’s a firm prediction: Purdue gets to the sweet 16 for the third straight time. But Tennessee is a tough match up for us, and unless they get upset, it will be another loss in the Sweet 16. An impressive, almost unbelievable season considering how this one started.
Live by the 35 foot 3, die by the 35 foot 3. We’ll know exactly how this tournament run is going to go in the first half of the Old Dominion game. If Carsen gets amped up, like he did for the game in Texas, we could very realistically be a Final Four team, assuming that unlike the Texas game the rest of the team shows up. If he comes out shooting 35 footers and they are falling, this is going to be a lot of fun. If he comes out shooting 35 footers and they are clanging, I foresee a tough win over ODU and a second round flameout. With all that said, we all need to remember we are playing with house money at this point, and with expectations being pretty reasonable at this point, it would be so Purdue for us to just randomly make a run when none of us expected.
I’m always hesitant to make any big and bold predictions about the NCAA tournament. My brackets are always terrible. You just never know what’s going to happen from one game to the next so it’s best to follow that cliche of one game at a time. That being said this is a content business and we’ve got to have content to feed the beast so here I am making foolish predictions.
So much of what this team can do is contingent on Carsen Edwards. Is his back fully healed? As someone who has tweaked his back from time to time while running I know had badly even a small tweak can impact you. If Carsen has been struggling with this for some time it could explain his cold shooting throughout the last roughly month and a half. If he’s back to at Texas form Purdue could go a long way. If he’s more like 7-31 form this team will be in trouble.
I’ll take Purdue to get out of the first round and then to face an up and down Villanova team. I’ll take Purdue in that one to reach the Sweet 16 and then to face a tough Tennessee team in the chalkiest matchup possible here. Unfortunately, I’ll have to take Tennessee here unless Edwards can return to super human form. That means Purdue reaches the Sweet 16 again but fails to break through. But, like I said, predicting the NCAA Tournament is folly. It’s possible Purdue won’t even have to play Villanova, or Tennessee, or make it out of the first round. There’s truly one thing you can count on in March and that’s chaos.
Call me crazy, I guess. I have Purdue going to the Elite 8. There are a couple of reasons for this. Over the past few years, Purdue has always been an inside dominant team, but the NCAA tournament has always been a guard dominated tournament, well in terms for the recent years.
Purdue has two pretty good guards, Carsen Edwards coming off another All-American Season and Ryan Cline, who has shot near 50% from 3 since Big Ten play started. While Carsen has struggled, 2 of the last 10 have really been “Good Carsen”, an early exit from the B1G Tourney has given him another week of rest.
Hopefully the back is healed up. For a team that came in with low expectations from the fan base this season, after a 6-5 start, I believe this is the most ready team to push pass the Sweet 16, no major injuries are here. I have the Boilers to the Elite 8.
As always, I am wary. I am wary of Carsen’s back joining Haas’ elbow, Hummel’s knee, and Big Dog’s back as the latest out. Even then, Carsen has not been himself in the last 11 games. This Purdue team is like a finely tuned sportscar. Only Carsen can drive it. If he drives it correctly by getting everyone involved and hitting on his few open looks it can perform well. When he starts to push it too much everything can go wrong.
I honestly don’t know what to expect. This team is capable of playing beautiful basketball when Matt Haarms is operating the high screen, Trevion Williams is dominating the block, Nojel Eastern and Grady Eifert are getting the garbage buckets off of offensive rebounds, and Ryan Cline is hitting. Combine that with Good Carsen and Purdue can go a very long way. I can see us beating Old Dominion by a comfortable margin, beating Villanova or St. Mary’s, then finally winning a Sweet 16 game before putting a scare into Virginia.
I can also see Carsen going 4 of 23 in a first weekend loss. I really hate putting that much on one guy, but it is true. For better or worse, this is Carsen’s team. He is well overdue for a run of good play and hopefully the unfamiliarity our opponents have with him will help. I predict that he has at least one 30-point game as Purdue reaches at least the Sweet 16. If he has that 30-point game in Louisville we might be looking at the biggest game for Purdue basketball since 2000 on March 30th.