When the season started the goal was a No. 1 seed in the Midwest and a nice, cushy path from Indy to Chicago to New Orleans. Well, four buzzer beater losses later, we get Milwaukee and Philadelphia instead. While it is not the path we want, it is the path we are given. Purdue will be the No. 3 seed. It is still a lofty seed and a good spot. We avoid a #1 seed for the longest time possible, which is good considering Purdue is 0-7 in the NCAA Tournament all-time against a 1 seed. We’re still relatively close to home in the first and second rounds, as Milwaukee is the next closest venue to West Lafayette.
It is a tough path, so let’s meet the remaining teams in the region:
1. Baylor Bears – 26-6 – Purdue has a tough draw with the defending champs right here in our region, but only one team has successful repeated in the last 30 years: Florida in 2006 and 2007. That doesn’t necessarily mean Baylor is automatically losing. They finished 26-6 and their worst loss was to Oklahoma State, who finished .500. James Akinjo is a senior guard with a decorated career who leads the back court. They are a guard-oriented team, with only Flo Thamba as a guy that can match up to Purdue’s size. If they have a weakness, it is turnovers, as they average 12.5 per game. The good thing is that if we play them, we will be 40 minutes away from New Orleans.
2. Kentucky Wildcats – 26-7 – We know Kentucky will have talent. They’re Kentucky, after all. They have a bevy of five stars and no bad losses. The worst was by 4 at Notre Dame, a First Four team. Oscar Tshiebwe can hold his own as one of the best bigs in the nation against Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. He averaged 17.1 points and 15 rebounds per game. They have four other guys averaging in double figures, including a former Purdue target in Keion Brooks Jr. Tshiebwe is a great offensive rebounder and this is a very good offensive team, a huge concern for our lack of defense.
3. Purdue Boilermakers – 27-7 – We know what Purdue is right now. The offense can be lethal, but has been inconsistent at best since the Illinois home game. The defense can collapse. Sunday’s loss to Iowa came because of turnovers and free throws. If Purdue is only slightly better at the line it is probably 31-3 right now. We will go as far as the offense can take us, and it is my hope that the lack of familiarity opponents will have with us will help now that we’re out of the Big Ten. Purdue has the talent to win the region. We know this. Execution is the only thing standing in the way.
4. UCLA Bruins – 25-7 – UCLA was a Final Four team a year ago and, like Purdue, has been in the top 15 all season long. I really like point guard Tyger Campbell and wish we could have locked him down in recruiting. Johnny Juzang is an All-American and they are a top 10 team both offensively and defensively. This is a team loaded with tournament experience and only got better with the addition of Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson on the defensive end.
5. St. Mary’s Gaels – 25-7 – Purdue played and beat St. Mary’s in the 2012 tournament, but that was in the first round. Any rematch would be in the Elite 8 this year, and the Gaels could be there. They have a win over Gonzaga to their credit and they are one of the best defensive teams in the country. Their only loss to a non-tourney team was in conference to Santa Clara, and they played Wisconsin tough back in November. They are a balanced lineup with 6’10” Matthias Tass leading them.
6. Texas Longhorns – 21-11 – It’s Chris Beard, so that is enough to fear Purdue’s potential round 2 foe. Texas can North Texas us because they play nasty defense and they are one of the slowest paced teams in the country. They’ll try to lengthen possessions on both ends and are perfectly comfortable in a game in the 60s. They are not a strong three-point shooting team though, and the Edey/Williams duo in the paint should be a big advantage. Guard Andrew Jones is still around from the warm welcome he received in West Lafayette in 2019-20.
7. Murray State Racers – 30-2 – Murray State is arguably the best mid-major in the country not named Gonzaga. Their only two losses were to Easte Tennessee State and at Auburn. In terms of common opponents they have a 19 point win over Bellarmine. They are a very high scoring team that easily rolled most of their OVC opponents, and they would have been an at large team easily if they had not won the automatic bid. The 6’10” KJ Williams gives them size too, and he averages 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. This team could spring a second round upset of Kentucky.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels – 24-8 – Who wouldn’t want a rematch with UNC, because it would come in the Elite 8. Midway through the season the Tar Heels were sliding towards the tournament bubble, but they finished strong and easily made the field. They hung 84 points on Purdue, but Purdue dropped 93 in return. Dawson Garcia had 26 of those.
9. Marquette Golden Eagles – 19-12 – Marquette is another team we’re pretty familiar with, having played them a few times in recent years. They also have another certified Boiler killer in Shaka Smart. Seriously, this region has Chris Beard, Shaka Smart, the defending NCAA champs, blue bloods in Kentucky and North Carolina, and a 2021 Final Four team in UCLA. Justin Lewis leads them at 17 ppg.
10. San Francisco Dons – 24-9 – No, San Francisco does not still have vintage Bill Russell, so at least that is something in our favor in this region. They are a tough team making their first appearance in quite some time, and as an at large no less. Jamaree Bouyea averages 16.7 per game and is an experienced 5th year guy. Five of their losses are to Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.
11. Virginia Tech Hokies – 23-12 – The Hokies probably were not an NCAA team before running through the ACC Tournament, but they are here with the automatic bid and red hot. They are shooting nearly 40% from three and have the shooters to give us all kinds of problems. We also played them recently in the Charleston tournament early in the 2018-19 season, which was a narrow loss. At least Purdue is 3-0 vs. the ACC this year. They did lose to the same NC State team that Purdue beat.
12. Wyoming Cowboys – 25-8 or Indiana Hoosiers – 20-13 – If Purdue and Indiana met in the Elite 8 it might cause the entire state to catch fire. They should not have been an NCAA team since they had a losing record in a major conference, but they are here. As for Wyoming, They snuck in with an at large bid out of the Mountain West. Guard Hunter Maldonado scores 18 per game and they have s solid big in Graham Ike that can cause problems for a lot of teams.
13. Akron Zips – 24-9 – Akron started the year with a one point loss to Ohio State, so they have the talent to run with pretty much anyone. Ali Ali stands out as their lead wing, and it has been a while since a MAC team caused some noise. Ali is a local product from East Noble, so our Indiana guys are familiar with him.
14. Yale Bulldogs – 19-11 – Are the Bulldogs overseeded as a 14 seed? Purdue should have a tremendous advantage in the post, and Yale is not going to slow it down like North Texas did last year. Their best chance is to bomb away from three and pray.
15. St. Peter’s Peacocks– 19-11 – It would be a shock to see St. Peter’s in the Sweet 16. Purdue blew them out in the 2011 tournament, and that was their last appearance. They are a decent defensive team, but let’s be honest: it would be a tremendous upset if they beat Kentucky.
16. Norfolk State Spartans– 24-6 – Norfolk State has been the author of a 15 over 2 upset before, but a 16 over 1 is a tall order. They didn’t really beat anyone of note during the season, but you just never know sometimes.