It would likely mean a trip to Dayton and a play-in game just to make there real tournament, but would one more victory in the next two games get Purdue into the 2020 NCAA Tournament?
That’s the difference a single week can make. One week ago at this time Purdue was pretty much dead in the water after an uninspired home loss to Michigan. It was the extremely rare second straight home loss, the fourth loss in a row overall and Purdue was 14-14 overall, 8-10 in the Big Ten. We were staring down an embarrassing Wednesday game in the Big Ten Tournament.
The victory over Indiana, while it is always good to beat the Hoosiers, was hardly inspiring. Purdue did not play well and likely would have lost to anyone else by 15, but the Hoosiers were accommodating by going long stretches without scoring any points. That merely kept us alive. Then last night happened. Purdue got to play Iowa, and it really likes playing Iowa. We have now beaten the Hawkeyes twice by a combined 45 points and a third meeting next week is possible. It was a critical road victory that got us dreaming again.
Purdue is now 16-14 and the worst case scenario is 16-16 and likely 1 or 2 seed in the NIT, meaning at least two more home games as long as we keep winning in said NIT. We don’t play for the NIT, however. The bare minimum expectation each season is the NCAA Tournament. That goal is still very much alive, and I think two more victories clinches it.
Would one be enough, however?
First, let’s look at the teams we’re battling. In Joe Lunardi’s latest projection on Monday There were 16 teams hovering around the Bubble, with their current NET ranking:
Last Four Byes (avoiding Dayton):
Xavier (41), Indiana (54), Rutgers (32), USC (39)
Last Four In (playing in Dayton)
Cincinnati (51), Wichita State (43), Utah State (38), Stanford (25)
Last Four Out (likely No. 1 NIT seeds)
NC State (58), Richmond (42), Rhode Island (52), Mississippi State (53)
Next Four Out
Texas (55), Purdue (33), Memphis (63), South Carolina (61)
FTR, Chris Dobbertean of SB Nation has us in the “First Four Out” category at the moment with Wichita State, NC State, and Richmond.
This was the last projection, and it was before Purdue won at Iowa. Quite a few things happened last night. Texas won on a last second shot at Oklahoma, and they do have the head-to-head win against us in Mackey Arena. If it came down to Texas and Purdue for the last spot I would be fine giving it to Texas because they did beat us. Rutgers also beat Maryland, which I think secures them in the field above the “Last Four Byes” status.
Tonight Xavier goes to Providence and Indiana hosts Minnesota. Quite simply, we want both to lose, especially Indiana. Being Indiana aside, dragging the Hoosiers down to same the same Bubble level with us helps. Our NET is significantly better than them and the season sweep is a huge chip in our favor. If the final spot came down to Indiana and Purdue and the Hoosiers got in we should all be rightfully furious and storm the NCAA headquarters.
USC still has to go to a red hot UCLA team and Rutgers, who has been bad on the road, comes to Mackey on Saturday. Purdue can do itself a ton of favors by beating a fellow bubble team on Saturday at home. We haven’t been great at home, but there has to be some urgency here.
There are still others to consider. Cincinnati has a relatively easy game with Temple on Saturday, but a loss would be crippling since Temple is not a tournament team. Wichita State goes to Memphis tomorrow night in what might be an elimination game and still hosts Tulsa this weekend. Utah State is the #2 seed int he Mountain West Conference and could end up with their autobid. Stanford is at 15-13 Oregon State tomorrow and Oregon on Saturday. NC State hosts non-tourney team Wake Forest on Friday. Richmond goes to 21-8 Duquesne on Friday. Rhode Island hosts No. 3 Dayton tonight in what would be a huge resume boost if they won. Mississippi State hosts Ole Miss Saturday in their last regular season game. Texas hosts Oklahoma State on Saturday. Memphis hosts Wichita tonight in a huge game, then goes to #21 Houston. Finally, South Carolina goes to last place Vanderbilt this weekend.
As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts, but with last night’s win and a win Saturday at home I think Purdue barely edges itself into Dayton before coming to Indy. Would that win, and only that win, be enough, however?
First, some good news. A win on Saturday means we avoid a potential horrific loss to Northwestern or Nebraska in a Wednesday game in Indianapolis. That would have us at 10-10 and, with the handy tiebreaker over Indiana, we would avoid Wednesday altogether and send the Hoosiers there in our place. We also clinch avoiding Wednesday with one Indiana loss in their final two games.
From there, our seeding in the Big Ten tournament still needs to be determined. We would likely be the No. 9 or No. 10 seed, depending on how the tiebreakers shake out with 10-10 Rutgers (after a hypothetical Rutgers loss in West Lafayette). We would be 1-1 against each other, and the next tiebreaker is record against the highest team in the standings on down. Since the conference title has yet to be decided, that could be a mess. Our win over Michigan State gives us an edge, but their win over Maryland gives them an edge. Both of us split with Wisconsin, while they split with Illinois and we lost both to the Illini. Michigan and Ohio State could also slip to 10-10 with us and Rutgers, but it is safe to say that we would not do well in that 4-way tiebreaker with a combined 1-4 record against those three teams. There even exists a scenario of a 5-way tie for 7th through 11th place where Michigan, Ohio State, Rutgers, Purdue, and Indiana all finish 10-10 in a gigantic cluster.
So, assume either the 9 or 10 seed. We would likely be playing Michigan or Ohio State. The good news is that any victory would be a critical Quad 1 neutral court win. The bad news is we were 0-3 against those two and looked really bad in two of the games. Iowa or Penn State could also still fall to an 8 or 9 seed.
Really, the 5 through 11 seeds are an absolute mess right now and if we had just taken care of business at home or not lost in Lincoln we would be in a better spot. The good news is that any win, in my opinion, would clinch an NCAA bid for us as a fifth Quad 1 victory. We currently have four such wins: Michigan State, at Iowa, at Indiana, and at home against Wisconsin. Ironically, we both gained and lost a Quad 1 win last night, as we knocked Iowa from 29 to 35, moving the home win over them into Quad 2 since it is outside the top 30.
It would really, really help if Iowa can get back in the top 30 and if Wisconsin (currently at 27) can stay there. VCU is also sitting at 60 and if they got into the top 50 it would be another win since it was on a neutral floor, but the Rams have stumbled with 7 losses in their last 9 games including an overtime loss to Duquesne last night. They need to make a serious run in the Atlantic 10 tourney to help us. There is also still Virginia. They are sitting at 48 in the NET. They play at Miami tonight (likely win) and host Louisville this weekend where a win would be a huge boost and possibly give them a share of the regular season ACC title if Florida State loses one of its last two games.
The final consideration is bid thieves. Teams like East Tennessee State (NET 40), Stephen F. Austin (NET 80, but with a ton of wins, including one at Duke), Liberty (NET 69) and Yale (NET 65) are all in one bid leagues that could steal a bid as an at large if they suffered a narrow conference tournament loss. ETSU has the best case, but you also have the Mountain West, where anyone aside from Utah State or San Diego State winning the conference tournament would be a thief.
Those are all things beyond our control. What matters is Indianapolis. If Purdue loses its first Big Ten Tournament game (assuming it also beats Rutgers Saturday) would it still be enough? There is a precedent for teams only two games over .500 overall getting in. Villanova was 16-14 against a difficult schedule in 1991 and got in as an at large 9 seed. Georgia was also 16-14 and got in back in 2001. Villanova had five wins over ranked teams. Purdue happens to five wins over teams currently in the top 25 (Virginia, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa x2). Our NET would likely be on the happy side of 40 (currently 33) and last year teams Ohio State (55) and Minnesota (61) got in.
If you go by the NET rankings of the supposed 16 Bubble teams (8 getting in, 8 NIT bound) Purdue is in very good shape with the third highest rating. That is going to be pretty stable with one more win. No one has ever gotten an at large with 15 losses, but no one with 15 losses will have had as strong of a profile as Purdue, either. In the end, a win on Saturday might barely be enough, but it would still be a very good idea to win that first game in Indianapolis. Otherwise, it will be a long 72 hour wait from Thursday to Sunday.