For the #3 seed Purdue Boilermakers and Coach Painter, March has been a month of empty promises, of almost theres, of hunting the promised land, long rebounds, and subsequently, every time to this point, the ultimate disappointment.
It’s cliche to mention the unmentionables anymore. The floater against Virginia. Haas’s elbow against Cal St. Fullerton. North Texas. Chris Beard. Since 1980, the Purdue Boilermakers have been collecting ghosts and skeletons and disappointments and filling their closets.
They’ve succeeded and won, a lot, and each win itself seems to add a certain weight. At what point does each win become enough? How many more Big Ten Championships do they need to fill the void?
One of the greatest conflicts at the heart of horror movies is how to vanquish a monster for good. Whether it’s Hollywood’s demand for sequels or the ability of evil to reincarnate itself, for as long as our heroes have been facing bad guys they’ve been searching for the instruments to end them for good: silver blades, wooden stakes, and magic potions. In the end, we usually learn that the weapon is only as important as the wielder, as important as the story itself, your story, and my story, too, that good must overcome evil for the sake of us all.
But, of course, March is not a horror movies no matter how many nightmares it’s given you. It’s a sports story. Often times cruel, often beautiful, all at once and different for so many, but it is a sports story and narratives are told in digits and digested and displayed in great swarms of people making great bursts of noise where the bad guys are the good guys depending on the color of your shirt and the stickers on the back of your car.
Purdue will be at least a 16 point favorite in this game according to DraftKings. In the terms of March Madness, that makes Yale the Cinderella on Friday and Purdue the Bad Guy.
Maybe I’m feeling sentimental because like any guy my age, Scott Hall had quite the impact on my barely pubescent self. And with his untimely passing this week, his tremendous line at his WWE Hall of Fame speech is still ricocheting around in my head:
Hard work pays off.
Dreams come true.
Bad times don’t last.
But Bad Guys do.
And maybe, maybe what we’re missing here is that March isn’t for the heroic or noble. Maybe, just maybe, to beat the monster you have to become the monster. No more the Coach everyone loves. No longer the lovable losers.
I don’t know if you can play defense with chairs, but perhaps there’s a metaphor there. Maybe Purdue can be the team that brings the pain this tournament and never apologizes for it.
What better way to establish that than a squash match?
Now onto the basketball.
The Ivy League Tournament champion, Yale, is going to have an uphill battle, literally. Purdue’s biggest player, Zach Edey, is a 7’4” space carver who is the nation’s best offensive rebounder, a deadly pick setter, and always trying to dunk. He is 295 lbs. That’s 75 lbs. heavier than Yale’s primary post presence, EJ Jarvis, who also gives up 8” to the Canadian big man.
Yale has struggled to defend inside all season, lacking any real rim protection. They’re allowing teams to shoot 51.1% from inside the arc, the 233rd best mark in the nation. Purdue’s 55.9% shooting from 2-point range is the 15th best in the country. Purdue’s outside shooting has slumped towards the end of the season as teams have adjusted to Purdue’s all-around shooting dominance by allowing their bigs to try and hang in the paint with Purdue’s two-headed center rotation one on one.
But those were Big Ten schools with Big Ten centers used to banging against skilled bigs and defending Coach Painter’s intricate offense of off ball screens and big man lobs.
Yale only has three players on their roster over 6’7: the aforementioned EJ Jarvis, 6’7”, 215 lbs., Jr. Isaiah Kelly, and barely used So. Yussif Basa-Ama who is 6’8” and 200lbs.
Size isn’t everything is a lot like saying money isn’t everything. That’s all well and good if you have it, but for those without any of it, it sure seems like a lot.
Even if Yale survives in the post (They won’t), they’re going to be caught with an even more unenviable task - trying to slow down Jaden Ivey. Ivey is college basketballs best all-around athlete with the ball in his hands. He’s a night hawk streaking down the court, faster than anyone else on the court and able, as Coach Painter said a few days before, to change the math on the court in fast breaks. One, two, or three players might be ahead of him to start a transition, but he’s so blur-fast that by the time he’s put the ball on the court twice he’ll be by them and alone at the rim.
In his only NCAA tournament game as a true freshman, Ivey scored 26 points. He’s evolved so much since that time that he’s now a near lock to be a top-5 pick in the NBA. Purdue has seen what it can do with a dominant guard showing in the NCAA Tournament.
For Yale, their miraculous late season turn around culminating in an Ivy League tournament championship landed on the shoulders of their often shooting lead guard, Azar Swain. He’s averaging 19.2 points a game on 35% shooting from three. He is a shot maker, capable of hitting pull ups from deep, fade aways inside, and everything in between.
He’s playing the best basketball of his career at the moment. He put up 22, 25, and 23 points in his last three games.
While Purdue has struggled against scoring guards, Eric Hunter Jr. has been Purdue’s most improved player over the last half of the season. His defense in particular has been impressive as he’s taken on the task of guarding the best perimeter player of the opposing team. He held Big Ten Player of the Year Johnny Davis to 5 of 12 shooting on March 1st.
If Yale has any chance, Swain will probably need to eclipse even his twenty points a game mark. They are at a sizable disadvantage at every position.
For Purdue, it won’t be enough to just win. They need to dominate. They need to announce themselves as the bad guys.
Basketball GameDay Vitals
|St. Peter's Peacocks
|Record: 21-11, 14-6 MAAC
|St. Peter's Peacocks
|Record: 21-11, 14-6 MAAC
|Jersey City, NJ
|Wells Fargo Center (19,500)
|Purdue by 12.5
|Date & Time:
|Friday, March 25, 2022, 7:09pm ET
|NCAA Tournament History:
|4th appearance. This is the first season they have won a game. 2017 CIT Champions
|Series With Purdue:
|Purdue leads 1-0
|Last Purdue win:
|65-43 in Chicago, IL on 3/18/2011 (NCAA Tournament First Round)
|Last St. Peter's win:
|Shaheen holloway (63-55 in 4th year at St. Peter's)