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Purdue and the NCAA Tournament: What Will be Enough?

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We have a chance, at least.

Indiana v Purdue

Purdue’s NCAA Tournament hopes, illustrated:

Last night was butt-ugly, but Purdue won. It is on the happy side of .500 and still technically alive for a sixth straight NCAA Tournament bid. Obviously, there is still work to do, but there are a number of things working in Purdue’s favor:

NET ranking of 35 – The NET was a way to basically replace the old RPI, and it loves Purdue at the moment. Purdue’s old RPI would be a disqualifying 90, but the NET tankings have us at 35. A large reason for that is blowout wins over Virginia, Michigan State, and Iowa, where margin of victory carries a little more weight. Last season Ohio State got in with a NET of 55 and Minnesota got in at 61, so in terms of computer numbers, we’re strong.

KenPom ranking of 25 – KenPom has loved us all year, mostly because the defense (aside from a few outliers) has been strong. Purdue is still 17th in adjusted defense, has played a strong schedule, and one of the slower tempos in the nation keeps games relatively close.

Wins over fellow Bubble teams – If it comes down to a direct, on-the-court comparison to some fellow Bubble teams Purdue has a lot in its favor. It has the blowout win over Virginia, a pair of wins over Indiana, a win over VCU, and a win over Minnesota. Not all of those teams will get in, but some will and we will be close. If Purdue gets a few more wins and Indiana has a few more stumbles last night probably puts us ahead of them in the pecking order. Say Purdue is 18-15 on Selection Sunday and Indiana is 19-14. Who are they going to pick when our computer numbers are well ahead of theirs and we have a pair of wins against them?

Wins over definite NCAA teams – Michigan State, Iowa, and Wisconsin are definitely in. Virginia and Indiana are also currently on the good side of the Bubble. That’s six really good wins to have in our back pocket.

Not many bad losses – Purdue’s current problem is not bad losses. It only has one of them: at Nebraska. Even Texas has played its way back to the Bubble and it doesn’t look horrid (although a win in West Lafayette definitely helps them if it comes down to us vs. them for a spot). Purdue’s problem is the volume of losses. Of Purdue’s 14 losses, 12 have come against teams currently in the field. Only Texas and Nebraska would be out among them.

Admittedly, Purdue is about three possessions, not games, possessions, from being totally fine right now. It might even be two. What if Eric Hunter Jr. doesn’t turn it over at the end of regulation against Florida State (which would be a gigantic win right now since they are a projected 2 seed)? What if Trevion Williams takes an extra split second at the end of regulation or Purdue scores at the end of the first regulation in Ann Arbor? What if one of the two good looks at a three from Sasha Stefanovic goes down in Madison in the final minute?

Now admittedly, Purdue has had fortune favor it a few times at the end of games, specifically against Minnesota, at Northwestern, and against VCU, but Florida State, Michigan, Texas (up five with the ball and less than 3 minutes left in Mackey, a.k.a, winning time), and Wisconsin stand out as games where Purdue was agonizingly close, but couldn’t quite get it done. You’re never going to get all of those, but if Purdue has even two more right now and is sitting at 17-12 we would all feel significantly better.

Strength of Schedule – With all those games against NCAA teams or potential NCAA teams Purdue has played a ridiculous schedule, maybe the toughest of Painter’s tenure. KenPom’s AdjustedEM has it as No. 8 in the country. ESPN has it at No. 4.

Remaining Opportunity

As I said above, Purdue is still alive. It still has chances. Tuesday night at Iowa is a big one. The Hawkeyes are currently No. 29 in the NET, No. 22 in KenPom, and Purdue absolutely blasted them by 36 points a few weeks ago in Mackey Arena. A win in Iowa City gives Purdue another Quad 1 win (even though it might knock the home win down to Quad 2 since they would probably fall below 30). The Big Ten Tournament is going to be chock full of chances for Quad 1 wins as well. Since all of those games are on a neutral floor each game against a top 50 team would fall into Quad 1. Only Northwestern and Nebraska would not be on Quad 1 under those conditions.

That is why, at minimum, beating Rutgers at home is critical. Obviously getting Iowa again would be a huge boost, but beating Rutgers likely gives Purdue the tiebreaker over the Scarlet Knights to avoid the dreaded Wednesday games. Nebraska and Northwestern are already locked in there and Minnesota at 7-10 is well on its way (especially since Purdue owns the tiebreaker with them). If Purdue finishes 9-11 (beating Rutgers, losing to Iowa) it would have the tiebreaker with Minnesota if it also finishes 9-11. It would also have the tiebreaker with Indiana at 9-11 and probably have it with Rutgers (currently 9-9, but with games against Maryland and Purdue). Rutgers and Purdue would have split in that case, but the next tiebreaker is record vs. the teams highest in the standings on down. Both teams would be winless against Maryland, but Purdue’s win over Michigan State if it finishes second could be the difference. Their win over Penn State could also be the difference. So, basically, we want Michigan State to finish second.

Right now Purdue is sitting in the 11 seed, slated to face Northwestern on the Wednesday. We need at least one win coupled with a Minnesota loss and either two Indiana losses or two Rutgers losses to get off of Wednesday. Two Purdue wins would obviously help more.

If Purdue stays on Wednesday, obviously a third win over Northwestern is non-negotiable. A loss to the Wildcats ends everything. Here are the following scenarios I see.

Purdue beats both Iowa and Rutgers – Purdue would then head to Indy at 17-14, 10-10 with five Quad 1 wins. It is probably out of the Wednesday games because of tiebreakers with Minnesota and Indiana (assuming Indiana loses one more) and may even be the 9 seed depending on tiebreakers with Rutgers. If Purdue loses its first game to a non-Northwestern/Nebraska team and closes at 17-15 it is going to have computer numbers in its favor. Teams have gotten in with an at large bid just two games above .500 before, but we would really be tempting fate.

I believe we would need one Big Ten Tournament win (assuming it is not against Northwestern or Nebraska) to feel secure in that scenario. Then we would be, at worst, 18-15. It might mean Dayton, but I think we’re in. If we stay on Wednesday we obviously have to beat Northwestern or Nebraska (most likely Northwestern) and that at least gives us another win for cosmetic purposes. Getting that and one more win guarantees 19-15, which I think would still be enough.

Purdue splits vs. Iowa and Rutgers – This has us trending towards Wednesday, but assuming we don’t lose to Northwestern or Nebraska that could end up helping very slightly. Even a cosmetic win helps then, but it almost certainly means a Thursday win would be non-negotiable. That would have us at 18-15 going into the Friday games and again, close to the Bubble. If we still manage to start in Indy on Thursday that is obviously a must-win, but would 17-15 going into Friday be enough? In this case (16-15, but avoiding Wednesday) I think Purdue needs a Thursday and Friday win to even be remotely safe. It seems like the 18-win mark, regardless of if we have to play on Wednesday, is the absolute bare minimum to even be in the discussion.

Also, any split of the next two wins means, at worst, 16-16 and an NIT berth.

Purdue loses to both Iowa and Rutgers – The NCAAs are basically gone at this point, and probably the NIT. You can get into the NIT with a losing record, but no one has done it yet. Purdue would be 15-16 and almost certainly locked into a Wednesday game at 8-12. You then have to win two games just to ensure a .500 record and likely NIT berth. Purdue would also have to win four games in four days, reaching the Sunday championship, just to crawl back onto the Bubble. At that point just win the autobid. It would also be unprecedented, as no team who has had to play on Wednesday has even made it to Saturday with three wins, let alone Sunday, mostly because your third game is against a fresh team while you have already played twice.

And don’t come at me with the “Let’s play in the CBI again to gain experience for next year and at least get a few home games”. The CBI is an abomination for a program of our caliber and playing in it in 2013 was a horrible idea.

The main point of this is that we are still (barely) alive. We likely need at least three more wins to even feel remotely safe. We might get in with just two, assuming they are both in the last two regular season games, but that is really tempting fate. It also won’t happen if Purdue plays like it has in the last five games because the only reason we beat Indiana is because they were a lot worse than us last night.

If I were to have any confidence in this last road game it comes from the fact that we did light Iowa up and won by 36 against them already. Sure, we’re likely not repeating that performance on the road, but can you get 75% of it on both ends and have it be enough? We don’t need to win by 36. We just need to win by 1. Anything else is gravy.

Despite everything, we at least still have a chance. That is what last night bought.

“Saw Gerrera used to say one fighter with a sharp stick and nothing left to lose can take the day. They’ve no idea we’re coming. They’ve no reason to expect us. If we can make it to the ground, we’ll take the next chance. And the next. On and on until we win or the chances are spent.” – Jyn Erso

(You’re damn right you’re getting two Star Wars references to book end this post because I am a gigantic nerd.)