Pundits Pooh-Pooh Purdue’s NCAA Chances At Own Peril
The national media is suffering from a case of selective amnesia.
That’s the diagnosis from your friendly neighborhood basketball doctor, who watched hours of NCAA Tournament selection analysis this week.
“Duke is a bad matchup for Purdue, especially in Madison Square Garden,” the drum beat begins. “Marquette is the kind of team that gives Purdue fits,” the lyric sings.
I have four numbers in response: 75-70 and 75-56.
The first set of numbers is the final score from Purdue’s comeback victory over Marquette at Mackey Arena on Nov. 15. The latter score was the championship game outcome of the Phil Knight Legacy over Duke in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 27.
“But Duke has improved since then,” sayeth several ESPN college basketball experts.
But a team that won its conference by three games and takes 29 victories into the NCAA tournament, led by the soon-to-be national player of the year, hasn’t?
To be fair, not everyone outside West Lafayette is discounting Purdue’s chances in the tournament.
Andy Katz, a contributor at Big Ten Network and NCAA.com, likes the Boilermakers over UCLA in a Final Four that also includes Indiana and Arizona.
“He’s a unicorn. There is no one like Zach Edey in the country,” Katz said. “He has taken his game … to another level.”
Matt Norlander of CBS Sports has Purdue reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1980, and reaching the title game before losing to Houston.
“I like this storyline: A No. 1 seed with the NPOY makes the Final Four. We don’t get that every year. Purdue has the best player in college basketball. It has terrific offense, great rebounding and plays with discipline,” Norlander writes.
“There are flaws; the Boilers might not get out of the first weekend thanks to that vicious 8/9 winner that will await. But Matt Painter is right up there among the top 10 coaches in college hoops. I think Purdue avoids Duke in the Sweet 16, which helps with the scenario I’m putting together here. I think Purdue can score on Marquette — and Marquette has major problems with teams that have size advantages. So here goes: I believe the Boilers end their March hex and finally break through to their first Final Four in 43 years, doing so with a heroic/dominant run from Edey in the process.”
Norlander’s colleague at CBS, Gary Parrish, also has Purdue reaching the Final Four before losing to Alabama.
CBS Sports is far more bullish on the Boilermakers than ESPN, whose long-term love affair with Duke (and LeBron James and the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox) is one reason why Big Ten fans won’t miss the former Worldwide Leader in Sports starting this fall.
Dick “Duke” Vitale and Jay Bilas, the former standout under Mike Krzyzewski, naturally picked the Blue Devils to go all the way.
Others to pick Purdue to reach the Final Four: Brian Hamilton, Dana O’Neil, Joe Rexrode and Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic. Brennan and Rexrode went even further, choosing the Boilermakers as their national championship selection.
It’s the fourth No. 1 seed in Purdue history and the first since 1996, a year that also saw the Boilermakers win the Big Ten by three games.
It’s possible that Purdue could play Fairleigh Dickenson, Memphis and Kansas State – the same three opponents it faced in 1988 at South Bend and Detroit. Boilermaker fans are hoping for a different outcome. Not until Virginia in the 2019 Elite Eight had a loss felt like a kick in the stomach than the stunning defeat to Kansas State that year.
With seniors Troy Lewis, Todd Mitchell and Everette Stephens, a lot of Purdue fans felt that 1988 would be the breakthrough year for a national championship. Mark Montieth’s book, “Passion Play,” does an outstanding job of chronicling the season and the aftermath of Kansas State.
Purdue center Zach Edey collected all 58 votes to become a unanimous Associated Press All-American.
With first-team selections also coming from The Sporting News, the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA), Edey gives Purdue consensus All-Americans with different players in back-to-back years for the first time. Jaden Ivey was a consensus All-American in 2022.
Edey also is the USBWA District V Player of the Year. Purdue swept District V honors with Matt Painter chosen coach of the year.
The 7-4 junior center from Toronto needs 14 points and 27 rebounds to become the first player in NCAA history with 750 points, 450 rebounds, 50 blocks and 50 assists in a season. Assists became an official NCAA statistic in 1983-84.
Edey leads the nation with 26 double-doubles, is second in rebounding at 12.8 per game and sixth in scoring at 22.3 points.
He also is a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, given annually to the nation’s top center. He is the fourth Boilermaker to be a finalist, joining A.J. Hammons (2016), Isaac Haas (2018) and Trevion Williams (2021).
Edey is expected to become the second position award winner recognized by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Carsen Edwards won the Jerry West Award in 2018 as the nation’s top shooting guard.
History says Purdue has better than a 50-50 chance to end its Final Four drought.
By sweeping Rutgers, Ohio State and Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament, the Boilermakers became the 10th team in league history to capture the regular season and tournament titles. Five of the previous nine reached the Final Four (Michigan State in 1999 and 2019, Wisconsin in 2015, Ohio State in 2007 and Illinois in 2005). …
Purdue’s 15th NCAA Tournament berth under Painter ranks him eighth among active coaches. He is by far the youngest of the eight at age 52. The next youngest are Bill Self of Kansas and Mark Few of Gonzaga, both of whom are 60. …
Westfield’s Braden Smith, the reigning Indiana Mr. Basketball, is in pretty good company as the fourth freshman in Big Ten history with at least 330 points, 140 rebounds and 140 assists in a season. The other three are the legendary Magic Johnson at Michigan State (1978), D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State (2015) and the Buckeyes’ JaQuan Lyle (2016).
Smith was impressive in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal win over Ohio State. He scored 14 points on 5 of 5 shooting from the field and 2 of 2 at the free throw line. Smith also handed up five assists and grabbed five rebounds.
Moving on up
Purdue commitment Kanon Catchings of Brownsburg has been elevated 100 places to 17th in the 24/7Sports college basketball recruiting rankings for 2024. That leap puts Catchings among the site’s 21 five-star players.
“A 6-foot-8 forward who has skill, length, fluid athleticism and feel for the game … Kanon Catchings is just scratching the surface of how good he can be,” 24/7Sports states. “He has a pretty jump shot out to the 3-point line, is a versatile scorer who can play as a big wing or a floor stretching four man and he’s gaining more and more confidence each time he hits the floor.
“Few players left as big an impression on the 247Sports staff as Catchings did this winter, and it will be a bit of a surprise if he doesn’t see his national profile explode during the upcoming spring and summer months.”
With the exception of Michigan (J.J. McCarthy) and Maryland (Tua Tagovailoa), the Big Ten will see massive changes at quarterback for the 2023 season.
Athlon Sports’ Steve Lassen ranks potential Purdue starter and Texas transfer Hudson Card eighth and possible new Indiana quarterback Tayven Jackson 13th in his pre-spring practice quarterback rankings.
“With Purdue losing Aidan O’Connell, landing an experienced quarterback was a priority for new coach Ryan Walters and coordinator Graham Harrell,” Lassen writes. “Card certainly fits that mold, as he brings 22 games of snaps (and five starts to West Lafayette). During his stint with the Longhorns, Card threw for 1,523 yards and 11 touchdowns to only two picks. His completion percentage was solid (65 percent) throughout his career in Austin.”
Jackson comes to Bloomington from Tennessee.
“With Dexter Williams on the mend from a serious knee injury suffered in late November, Jackson should start for the Hoosiers in ’23. The Indiana native ranked as a four-star prospect in the ’22 signing class and returns to his home state after seeing limited action in three games at Tennessee. Jackson doesn’t have a ton of experience (just four pass attempts), but there’s intriguing upside for co-coordinators Anthony Tucker and Walt Bell to develop.”
Kenny Thompson is the former sports editor for the Lafayette Journal & Courier and an award-winning journalist. He has covered Purdue athletics for many years.