Is Purdue an NCAA Tournament team?
It is a question that is going to be asked a lot over the next six weeks as the season winds down. We’re now halfway through the Big Ten season and we sit at 11-10, 4-6. Since it is my firm belief that no team with a losing record in conference play deserves an at large bid, my answer is no. We are not an NCAA team. If Purdue keeps splitting wins and losses we won’t be, either.
Say Purdue wins at Northwestern this weekend and wins its remaining home games. That means we’re 17-14, 10-10 headed to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. It is underwhelming, for sure, especially when we have been a 25-win team for three straight seasons, but those five home wins would include three from Quadrant 1 on the NET with Rutgers, Iowa, and Penn State all in the top 30. Wisconsin is also just outside of it at 31, so it is possible that the Boilers could be a 17-14 team with six quad 1 wins.
Would that be enough? Maybe. Would 11-9 or 12-8 be enough? Almost certainly. That would mean another win or two at Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, or Indiana, which would all fall on quadrant one. Unfortunately, this team has been completely incapable of starting well on the road (or when it starts well, like at Marquette, it cannot finish). I can see a win at Ohio State (a team that was hilariously overrated at No. 2 earlier) or Wisconsin (a favorable matchup for us in terms of styles), but winning at Iowa will be tough and winning at Indiana is laughable when this team cannot handle the smallest pressure on the road.
Ultimately, Purdue’s fate will not be decided because if the blowout loss at Illinois or the bad loss at Nebraska. It will be decided because of the subtle differences it has had in losses away from Mackey this year vs. when it has been able to hold on in previous years. This season Purdue has had good chances at Michigan, Marquette, Maryland, and Rutgers with neutral losses to Florida State and Butler where it at least had a chance despite severe flaws. It lost all of them. These are the types of games where Purdue found a way to win like last season at Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana, and Nebraska. In the 2017-18 season it was Rutgers, Indiana, Michigan, and Maryland where it found a way to win away from home. The year before that, it was Notre Dame, Ohio State, Maryland, Indiana, Penn State, and Northwestern.
That is what has been so frustrating about a year like this. I don’t think we’re a tournament team, but 1. There is still a great chance to play our way into it with only slight improvement, and 2. We’re a handful of possessions from 3-4 more wins and being fine right now. The fact we have played such a tough schedule (14 games against the first two quadrants in 21 games) will keep us alive all year, but the refrain remains the same: At some point, we have to win games like last night. We have to start better instead of falling behind by 15 or more to come roaring back. We have to have those late open threes from Jahaad Proctor and Isaiah Thompson, looks anyone would take, go down.
A 6-4 finish might be enough to get in. A 7-3 finish or better would definitely be enough. Unfortunately, when our longest win streak all season was a mere three games I am in the “I’ll believe it when it happens,” camp. There is no guarantee we get the five home games, either, as they are all against good teams. Right now the key is to get the next two. Northwestern is non-negotiable and the season is done with a loss there. Then we have to beat a difficult Iowa team at home. Get both and maybe, just maybe, it starts the long-awaited turnaround.
Bracket Matrix Consensus: 11 seed (Possible play-in game in Dayton)
Record: 11-10, 4-6 Big Ten
NET: 36 (Up 11 from last week)
KenPom: 24 (Up 3 from last week)
Tier 1 Wins (KenPom) Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75: 7 Michigan State (Home), 43 VCU (Neutral)
Tier 2 Wins (KenPom): Home 31-75 Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135: 32 Wisconsin (home), 48 Virginia (home), 39 Minnesota (home)
Tier 1 Wins (NET) Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75: 8 Michigan State (Home), 39 VCU (Neutral)
Tier 2: Home 31-75 (NET) Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135: 31 Wisconsin (home), 43 Minnesota (Home), 58 Virginia (home)
Bad Losses (sub-100 NET OR KenPom): at Nebraska (158 NET, 132 KenPom)
Green Bay Phoenix (10-12, 5-4 Horizon League) – NET: 237, KenPom: 229 – The Phoenix had a road split last week. They won at Cleveland State 78-74, but lost at Youngstown State 98-94 in overtime. No teams in their conference are in the top 100.
Texas Longhorns (12-7, 2-4 Big 12) – NET: 72, KenPom: 71 – Texas is bordering on “bad loss” territory because it was a home game drifting onto tier 3. They lost at home 69-67 to a ranked LSU team at home in the SEC-Big 12 challenge over the weekend in a game they really needed for their NCAA hopes. Right now we are their best win by far.
Marquette Golden Eagles (14-6, 4-4 Big East) – NET: 26, KenPom: 31 – Marquette lost at Butler Friday night 89-85 in a game that ended their win streak and Butler’s losing streak. This is a solid tournament team and the loss we had in Milwaukee was the opposite of our other ones. We started red hot in this game and saved our crappy play for the end.
Chicago State Cougars (4-18, 0-7 WAC) – NET: 353, KenPom: 353 – Will the Cougars win another game? They have a single Division I win this season and it was at SIU-Edwardsville, their first road win in over two years. This week they lost 85-53 at Cal-Baptist and returned to the very bottom of both the NET and the KenPom.
Jacksonville St. Gamecocks (9-12, 4-4 Ohio Valley) – NET: 250, KenPom: 248 – Jacksonville State had a split this week. They lost to Eastern Kentucky 81-77 at home but recovered to beat Morehead State 72-51. This is another conference that has no teams in the top 100.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams (16-5, 6-2 Atlantic 10) – NET: 33, KenPom: 43 – The Rams really helped us out this week with a pair of wins to solidify them as one of our two Quad 1 wins, and the only one away from Mackey. They won at LaSalle 76-65 and beat Richmond 87-68. As long as they keep winning this will be a very valuable win for us since it is out of conference away from home.
Florida State Seminoles (17-3, 7-2 ACC) – NET: 15, KenPom: 18 – Florida State was red hot until losing a close one at Virginia last night, which might help us even more since we have a big win over the Cavaliers and Virginia needed a great win to boost their profile. Florida State edged Notre Dame 85-84 on Saturday, but lost at Virginia last night 61-56
Virginia Cavaliers (14-6, 6-4 ACC) – NET: 56, KenPom: 48 – Virginia is starting to turn things around a bit with two big wins in the last week. They won at Wake Forest 65-63 in overtime before last night’s gigantic win against Florida State. They could really help us out by getting hot.
Ohio Bobcats (10-11, 2-6 MAC) – NET: 201, KenPom: 212 – At least we won on the road in Athens. Ohio has now lost 5 of 6 after losing to Akron 88-86 and Northern Illinois 61-59 this week.
Butler Bulldogs (15-4, 3-4 Big East) – NET: 9, KenPom: 15 – Butler ended a three-game losing streak with the Friday win over Marquette mentioned above, then beat Georgetown last night 69-64 on the road. They are still playing to be a top 3 seed.
Central Michigan Chippewas (11-8, 4-2 MAC) – NET: 182, KenPom: 190 – The Chips had just one game in the past week. They beat Ball State 71-66 before last night’s game was postponed.