We very nearly got to see this game twice last season. If not for an overtime loss to Tennessee in the Bahamas Purdue would have played Villanova in the Battle 4 Atlantis. We also would have played them in the Elite Eight had we beaten Texas Tech. Both games would have followed a memorable 79-76 loss to the Wildcats early in the 2016-17 season. That Gavitt Games contest in Mackey Arena is one of only four games Purdue has lost at home in the past four seasons, and it is the lone non-conference game.
Playing the Wildcats in march is obviously scary. They have won two of the last three national championships and have not lost on a neutral floor since being upset by Wisconsin in 2017. They are a true blueblood program that is well coached and dangerous even in a year where they are down from last season’s lofty heights.
This is going to be one of Purdue’s toughest tournament games ever.
From: Philadelphia, PA
Date: Saturday, March 23, 2018
Tip Time: approx. 8:40pm
Location: Hartford, CT
Arena: XL Center (16,294)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: No Line Yet
2017-18 Record: 36-4, 14-4 Big East
2018-19 Record: 26-9, 13-5 Big East
(Big East regular season and Tournament champions)
Opponent Blog: VUHoops
Series with Purdue: Villanova leads 3-0
Last Villanova Win: 79-76 at Purdue on 11/14/2016
Last Purdue Win: None
NCAA Tournament History: 43 appearances, 3-time National Champions
Coach: Jay Wright (447-172 in 19th season at Villanova, 569-257 overall)
If the pattern continues, Purdue is going to win. In the last five years during an odd numbered year Villanova has lost in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament. In an even numbered year they have won the national title. They are currently on a run where they have won at least 32 games in four consecutive seasons, but that will end this year because the maximum number of games they can now win is 31.
Purdue’s record for wins in a season is 30, set last year.
The run Villanova has been on is really incredible. They have been pretty much the elite of the elite for four years, so seeing them as a six seed is bizarre. They are merely “very good” as opposed to “title contenders” this year, and you cannot count out a team that is now 14-1 in the last four NCAA Tournaments.
They did not get off to a great start this year. They were drilled by Michigan at home 73-46 back in November and followed that with an overtime loss to Furman. They lost their first Philly Big 5 game since 1674 to Penn 78-75 and also lost at Kansas in their non-conference. They still recovered to win the Big East yet again, then run through the Big East Tournament. They have won that tournament three years in a row now and four of the last five. They have won the Big East regular season title in five of the past six years.
Villanova is led by senior guard Phil Booth, who is trying to go down as pretty much a college basketball legend at this point. He redshirted after three games during the 2016-17 season (still scoring 7 points against us before he was injured), but has played a major role on two national championship teams. He averages a career best 18.6 points per game with 3.8 assists and he is shooting 36.7% from three. He had 20 against St. Mary’s Thursday night with six assists.
Eric Paschall, a 6’8” senior forward, is also a guy that has been through everything. He sat out the 2015-16 championship season after transferring from Fordham, but had 11 points in the win over us in Mackey Arena. These guys were not the main focus of the last few seasons, but they have played critical minutes and have been through the wars. Rarely will you see players with this much experience in March anymore.
Collin Gillespie, a 6’3” sophomore guard, is the third player who averages in double figures at 11.1 points per game. He also shoots 39.4% from three. That is where this team is really going to test us. Purdue has struggled to defend the three against poor three-point shooting teams like Minnesota, Florida State, and Texas. For the Wildcats, EVERYONE can shoot the three. Only Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, a 6’9” center, has zero attempts among the regular rotation. Everyone else has more than 40 attempts from long range. They shoot it pretty well, too, at 35.9%.
The good news is that Villanova does not play with a lot of pace. They are fine with playing a slow, half-court oriented game like Purdue that wears down defenses. They haven’t scored more than 80 points since February 13 at Providence. Their defense has been solid, however. St. Mary’s played slow with them and didn’t crack 60.
These are two very efficient offensive teams. Per KenPom, Purdue is 5th in Adjusted Offense nationally and Villanova is 16th. On adjusted defense Purdue is 30th and Villanova is 78th. In adjusted tempo Purdue is 276th and Villanova is 333rd, so points will likely be at a premium.
These are the types of games Purdue needs to win if it is ever going to break through in March, however. They are not the same big bad Villanova of the past few seasons, but they are still really good with a ton of experience and an elite level head coach. They still have several players left that walked into Mackey Arena two and a half years ago and won. Not many people have done that. Where Purdue does have an advantage is size. Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams should have an advantage in the paint with Cosby-Roundtree as they best post player. Paschall also fouled out two years ago trying to defend Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. Saddiq Bey and Jermaine Samuels are versatile inside-out forwards, but Haarms and Williams have an advantage on the block.
There is also the health of Nojel Eastern to consider. After turning his ankle and missing the start last night he is obviously a question mark, and when we’re missing our best defender (plus an excellent rebounder) that is a huge minus.
The game two seasons ago was excellent as Purdue went toe-to-toe with an elite program. We have some advantages this time, but the experience of Villanova will be tricky to overcome.