Purdue is a game away from the Final Four.
The last time this happened was my sophomore year in West Lafayette. We beat Dayton, Oklahoma, and Gonzaga in a classic broken bracket to be the higher seed in the regional final in Albuquerque. We faced off against Wisconsin for the fourth time that year and lost 64-60. We had beaten them in West Lafayette, but lost to them in Madison, Chicago, and Albuquerque. It was a frustrating end to a surprising run and probably the closest Gene Keady came to a Final Four.
Now we get to play a pseudo-home game in Louisville instead of out west. There was a partisan crowd in the YM Center even with a lot of Tennessee fans in attendance. Now that their tickets have flooded the market I fully expect it to be Mackey South even with Virginia being the No. 1 seed.
From: Charlottesville, VA
Date: Saturday, March 30, 2018
Tip Time: 8:49pm
Location: Louisville, KY
Arena: KFC Yum Center (22,090)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: Virginia by 4.5
2017-18 Record: 31-3. 17-1 ACC (ACC regular season & Tournament champions)
2018-19 Record: 32-3, 16-2 ACC (ACC Regular Season champions)
Opponent Blog: Streaking the Lawn
Series with Purdue: Series Tied 1-1
Last Virginia Win: 98-79 at Virginia on 11/29/2000
Last Purdue Win: 61-59 at Purdue on 11/29/2006
NCAA Tournament History: 23 appearances, 1981 and 1984 Final Four
Coach: Tony Bennett (251-89 in 10th season at Virginia, 319-122 overall)
Tony Bennett and Matt Painter are generally regarded as two of the best coaches in America to have never made a Final Four. One will make it tomorrow night. Bennett has built Virginia into a regular season National power, but has struggled mightily in March. This is only his second Elite Eight and he has the black mark of the worst NCAA Tournament loss ever coming last year vs. UMBC. Still, this is his fourth season of 30 wins in the last six. He also has four ACC regular season titles in that span. As if it wasn’t enough of a bad sign, he was an assistant on that Wisconsin team coached by his dad that eliminated Purdue in its last Elite 8.
Simply put, Virginia is the best of the best. Their defense gets it done, allowing a miserly 55 points per game, three points better than the next best team (Michigan). Aside from two regular season losses to Duke they only lost to Florida State in the ACC Tournament. Their defense is like a boa constrictor, and I would liken them to a team Ryan Cline is very familiar with: Carmel High School. Carmel has won three class 4A state championships, including one a week ago, by playing stifling defense and making very few mistakes with the game on the line.
They seem like an overwhelming opponent unless you have a Duke level of raw talent. In commons opponents they beat Wisconsin by 7, Maryland by 5, Florida State by 13, Virginia Tech by 22 and 6, Notre Dame by 27 and 6, but later lost to Florida State by 10.
This is not a team that is going to beat itself. Even its offense is efficient as hell rating second on KenPom in adjusted offense only behind Gonzaga. They have a very specific system that functions with ruthless efficiency on both ends of the floor.
Indiana native Kyle Guy (15.1 ppg) and De’Andre Hunter (15.2 ppg) lead them in scoring along with Ty Jerome (13 ppg). Those three guards are ruthlessly efficient, all shooting over 40% from three. If you foul them, they are going to hit free throws and they won’t turn the ball over. Mamadi Diakite, Jacks Satl, and Jay Huff are their top post players, but this is not a team with a strong inside presence. They rebound as a team (Braxton Key leads them at 5.5 rebounds per game) and take care of the ball. If anything, they are super Purdue in that they are a bunch of interchangeable parts where eight games average four points or more per game.
That’s what really stands out to me. This team is just so damned efficient on both sides of the ball. Duke beat them 72-70 by grinding it out and prevailing with superior talent. They won game two by shooting 62% from three on the road. Florida State beat them by shooting 56% from the floor and dominating the glass.
Purdue needs to win this game by hitting threes and speeding them up a bit. They are a team that is dead last in tempo in KenPom (353 of 353). Purdue is slightly faster at 263. You saw in their Sweet 16 game with Oregon that they are not afraid to grind it out and play in the 50s. It does not bother them at all. The thing is, it doesn’t bother us, either.
Cline and Carsen Edwards need to stay hot from three. Cline was incredible against Tennessee and played the game of his career. Edwards personally dispatched the defending national champions in round 2. We need them to be on while Matt Haarms keeps up his good run. Let’s not discount Nojel Eastern and Aaron Wheeler, either.
This is a matchup of two teams that play a similar style. Both teams are going to be tough and fight for every inch of the floor. Purdue has the superstar in Edwards, however. He might be the difference.