I’m an optimistic person by nature. I always believe in the best of human nature. I believe that we as a society will always move forward. I’m clear eyed enough to see the bad in the world, to see the troubles, to see the bad people, but I’ve always believed that there are more good people than bad in the world and that ultimately the good will bear out.
Maybe that’s why each year when the bracket comes out I take a look and think that Purdue could do it. That this is the year for them. This is finally the year I see Purdue not just get to the Final Four, but to win the whole damn thing and hang a banner. If things are going to work out for Purdue a few things are going to have to go just right.
For one, that big man in the picture that goes along with this story needs to continue to play like the best player in the country. I know that in recent decades the college game has moved away from the big center and focused much more intently on guard play. I’m not naive to that fact, but there haven’t been that many players like Zach Edey in college basketball. He’s a nightmare of a matchup for anyone who faces him. Some teams might have a big man who can match up with him just based on size, but those same teams don’t have a big man with the skill and touch that Zach Edey possesses. If Edey continues to average over 20 ppg and over 12 rebounds per game it bodes well for Purdue in general.
From a statistical standpoint Purdue has been great on both ends of the floor all year. If you trust KenPom for your statistical analysis, and I do, you’ll see that Purdue is just one of 10 teams with an adjusted offensive efficiency plus adjusted defensive efficiency less than 50. Is that the end all be all? Can we just shut it down and give the prize to one of those teams? Probably not, but those teams all have a dang good shot. Purdue currently sits at 7th in adjusted offense and 26th in adjusted defense. Of the 16 teams in the East region Purdue is the only one to meet those criteria. That gives me hope.
Want one more reason that Purdue can be the team to cut down the nets in April? They’ve responded to every challenge this year. They headed out to Portland and took down a murderer’s row of teams. West Virginia? Done. Duke? Done (and in Purdue’s region). Gonzaga in Portland for basically a home game? Done. They played Marquette who turned out to be a powerhouse and took them down as well. Does this guarantee that Purdue could beat these teams for a second time if they played? Not at all, but defeating Ohio State and Penn State three times apiece gives me hope that it’s possible. They won the Big Ten conference by three games. They won the Big Ten Tournament for just the second time in program history.
Now, the depressing part of the article. If you want to stop reading at this point I wouldn’t blame you. I know this is the thing that no one wants to read about. That no one wants to discuss. That no one wants to think about. But we have to prepare. 68 teams enter March with only one getting to walk out the champion. Setting aside the absurdity of a single elimination tournament used to crown the best basketball team in the nation you can see that there are any number of pitfalls a team could face.
Number one for Purdue though? That would be three point shooting. Purdue has to have it. When Purdue plays with confident and efficient three point shooting they are nearly unbeatable. Of late though Fletcher Loyer has really been struggling to find his shot and he’s not alone. Sure, guys like Brandon Newman, Ethan Morton, and David Jenkins Jr. have all stepped up, but can they be consistent across the next six games? Without consistent three point shooting teams can sag down onto Zach Edey, throw 2-3 bodies at him, and hope that he can’t do enough to carry Purdue across the finish line. Without help from behind the line it might not matter if Edey scores 30 a game.
That leads me directly into the second thing to keep an eye on if you’re a Purdue fan. How is Zach Edey officiated? Does he get to play basketball and show off his skill or is he forced to survive a Rugby scrum each and every time he gets the ball. If Zach Edey comes out bruised and bleeding each game with no free throws to show for it Purdue could have a difficult time. It’s a scary thought that so much of Purdue’s game relies on the officials but I’m heartened that the officials in the tournament can’t be as bas as the Big Ten officials. Right? Right!?! Right...
There you have it folks. That’s why Purdue could win the whole thing. And also why they can’t win the whole thing. Like I said at the top though, I’m an optimist. After taking an afternoon to look at the draw for Purdue in the East I don’t hate it. There’s never a good bracket to find yourselves in after all. You’re always going up against the best teams in the country it’s just a matter of matchups and your own play. I believe that Zach Edey provides Purdue a matchup problem for nearly everyone in the country. If Purdue can take advantage of that with improved shooting like we saw in the Ohio State game the sky is the limit for Purdue. If not, well, let’s not talk about that anymore.