April 19, 2024

Purdue Boilermakers Are Being Seriously Slept on as a National Championship Candidate | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

Purdue celebrates reaching its first Final Four since 1980.

Purdue celebrates reaching its first Final Four since 1980.Nicholas Muller/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

While the Connecticut Huskies have been a wagon in their quest to repeat as the national champion of men’s college basketball, the Purdue Boilermakers remain on quite the train track to a redemption story that would have been unfathomable if it hadn’t already happened just a half-decade ago.

At this time last year, this team was still licking its wounds after falling flat on its face in a stunning first-round loss to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson. But just like the Virginia Cavaliers from five years prior—who leveraged the motivation from a historic loss to UMBC to turn around and win the first natty in program history—here are the Boilermakers, still dancing into the Final Four, on the verge of officially turning UVA’s miraculous coincidence into a trend.

Yet all anyone wants to talk about is Connecticut’s back-to-back attempt and NC State’s incredible journey to the point.

But for much of the first two months of this season, Purdue was the singular team to beat.

(Also, remember when we felt the same way about UConn for the first two months of last season?)

Zach Edey and Co. won that preposterously loaded Maui Invitational, going through three eventual Sweet 16 teams—Gonzaga, Tennessee and Marquette—to claim one of the most impressive MTE titles ever. Then, after getting clipped in overtime at Northwestern, the Boilermakers destroyed Iowa, beat Alabama in Canada and knocked off Arizona in Indianapolis in reclaiming their spot at No. 1 in the AP poll heading into the new year.

In the first half of January, though, UConn blew right past the Boilermakers in ascending to that throne of title favorite.

While AP Top 10 teams dropped games to unranked foes left and right—including Purdue getting smoked by 16 at Nebraska to lose its grip on the No. 1 spot in the polls—the Huskies became the lone bastion of hope; the one team that could be trusted, reeling off 14 consecutive wins during a two-month stretch without a loss.

Even when they did finally run into a red-hot Creighton-sized wood chipper in Omaha and got trounced by 19, they were already so far ahead of the pack that it hardly seemed to matter. They bounced back from that late-February misstep to enter the Dance on a seven-game winning streak—becoming the only major conference regular-season champion to also win its conference tournament—which made the NCAA tournament start to feel like a parlor game of UConn vs. The Field, with the vast majority of experts and analysts taking UConn.

But with just three games left to be played before crowning a champion, there is still an incredibly good Purdue team remaining in that dwindling field.

Were it not for UConn, Purdue would be leading the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.

Which makes sense, right?

Purdue's Zach Edey

Purdue’s Zach EdeyJamie Sabau/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Edey is the most unstoppable big man this sport has known in decades, and Purdue spent this offseason making damn sure its powerhouse in the paint was surrounded by more support than he had last year.

Not only did Edey get even more dominant than he already was, but a Boilermakers team that shot 32.2 percent from three-point range for the year—and 5-of-26 in that reprehensible, never to be forgotten first-round loss—blossomed into darn near the best perimeter offense in the country, carrying a 40.6 percent three-point success rate into the Final Four.

After shooting a combined 134-of-386 (34.7 percent) from downtown last year, Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer and Mason Gillis each improved drastically to a combined 170-of-377 (45.1 percent) this year while adding veteran Lance Jones to the equation. Freshmen Camden Heide (46.2 percent) and Myles Colvin (42.9 percent) have also been great from distance, constantly giving Purdue at least three, often four lethal weapons from the perimeter, leaving opponents stuck between a two-point rock and a three-point hard place when trying to decide whether to double Edey in the post.

Frankly, it’s hard to believe there is an offense out there more efficient than Purdue’s, with UConn holding a slight edge (126.7 vs. 126.4) mainly because of its lower turnover rate. (Not that Purdue is particularly turnover-prone, but Connecticut averages fewer than 10 giveaways per game.)

Purdue's Lance Jones

Purdue’s Lance JonesZach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Purdue is darn good on defense, too, as was the case last year.

Edey averages better than two blocks per game, but he impacts about a dozen others with his size at the rim. His ability to contest shots without committing fouls is second to none. And contrary to what the throngs of irrational Edey haters want to believe, it is, in fact, good, smart defense.

Adding Jones has been a big help on that end of the floor, too. The fact that he has turned into one of Purdue’s primary three-point shooters is kind of a bonus, as Matt Painter mostly scooped him up for his defensive intensity and veteran leadership.

Between that great offense and darn good defense, Purdue has an average scoring margin of better than 14 points per game, this despite facing one of the toughest schedules in the nation and barely even bothering to feed Edey in the post in the few games where they knew they wouldn’t much need him—AKA not running up the score as much as they easily could have.

Add it all up and Purdue is almost the second-most efficient team in the nation with an adjusted efficiency margin of 31.13, just a fraction of a unit behind Houston at 31.16. If the Boilermakers beat NC State on Saturday, there’s a good chance they’ll move ahead of the Cougars to set up yet another KenPom No. 1 vs. KenPom No. 2 national championship game…

Where the Boilermakers would be a considerable underdog against the Huskies.

Heading into the Final Four, Connecticut is -195 to win it all, compared to Purdue at +205. The implied odds there have the Huskies with a 66.1 percent chance and the Boilermakers at just 32.8 percent.

DraftKings has already posted a line for each of the four possible national championship games, too, where Connecticut would be a 5.5-point favorite with a -250 moneyline against Purdue.

That’s a little absurd, isn’t it?

Yes, Connecticut is very good and deserves a lot of respect, but doesn’t the same go for Purdue?

It’s outrageous to think that the Boilermakers—at 33-4, as Big Ten champs, after beating five Sweet 16 teams in nonconference play—would be as much of an underdog against Connecticut as Grand Canyon was in the second round against Alabama.

This isn’t some repeat of the 1999 national championship, when Duke was by far the highest-rated team in KenPom history, going up against a UConn team that had never even been to a Final Four before. It made sense that the Huskies were a 9.5-point underdog in that game.

Of course, UConn won that game outright as a nearly double-digit dog, and maybe in a few days Purdue can return the favor.