Hoosier State Hoops: Purdue Headed to NCAA Tournament

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The NCAA Tournament is finally here and the No. 3 seed Purdue Boilermakers are playing Thursday night at 9:50 PM against the 14 seed Conference USA Tournament Champions, Old Dominion.

Purdue, after losing to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, 73-69, will look to get their offense going as Carsen Edwards and the Boilers continue to struggle offensively. However, this Old Dominion team has two first-team Conference USA guards in Ahmad Caver and B.J. Stith, who both average 17 points a game. Stith was also voted as the Player of the Year in the conference.

Defensively, the Boilermakers will have their hands full with these two talented guards. hey will present Purdue some problems with their speed and that, to me, is a concern for the Boilermakers.

One area they have to get figured out is that they need Edwards back to being himself, though  Ryan Cline has to be better defensively for the Boilers. Cline has stepped up for this team throughout the season but a concern I have is his defense and the speed of Old Dominion could present some challenges.

Another thing to keep an eye on is that the Monarchs are motivated. Head coach Mike Jones has been battling with prostate cancer and this team is fighting for him.  This is also Old Dominion’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011 and will look to create the one shining moment.

In the front court, Purdue will need to be strong if they want to make a run in the NCAA Tournament and that will be led by Matt Haarms. I understand that Carsen Edwards is a first-team guard and Edwards has had a solid season individually. But, this is March, and March provides moments and it is more or less another season for teams because of what is at stake. Players have to keep improving their games in order  to make runs.

Since Feb. 23’s matchup against Nebraska, Haarms is delivering 13 points a game and is grabbing  6.7 rebounds a game. The rebounding numbers have to increase for Haarms in this tournament, especially when the backups for this team are Trevion Williams and Evan Boudreaux. Williams for Purdue has been averaging about five points and three rebounds which is not too shabby. Nevertheless, Williams has also been someone who has struggled to guard big guys who stretch the floor. This region provides teams such as Villanova and Saint Mary’s who have big guys that can stretch the floor and take the Purdue bigs out of the paint. Boudreaux, when he transferred from the Ivy League school, Dartmouth, averaged 18 points and nine rebounds a game, which is optimistic but he has not exactly panned out this season. Boudreaux, in his first year with Purdue, averages five points and three rebounds, which has not given them the boost needed. Boudreaux and Williams being effective in the tournament can help Purdue not only now but also in the future.

A player for Purdue that needs to be helpful for them is Aaron Wheeler. Wheeler’s stats are not going to necessarily grab attention (4.6 points and three rebounds), but he is a nice option for Purdue coach Matt Painter on the bench. Wheeler has a little bit more pop in his game with athleticism and quickness than Cline and starting small forward Grady Eifert. It will all be important against more athletic forwards in this tournament. Wheeler’s ability to make that top ten play will be needed for this Purdue team because they are playing regional games in Hartford Connecticut which is a 13 hour drive. That could lead to fans not being able to attend with that far of a traveling distance so the energy Wheeler provides could be a much needed spark.

Plenty of teams in this region have experience for Purdue when you take a look at Virginia, Tennessee, and Vilanova. That means the game plans need to be clear and players you might not expect much from need to be better as you get into the tournament. For the Boilermakers, that would mean getting back to what they were doing earlier in the season against Wisconsin on January 12. The Boilers from that game scored 80+ points that led them to a six game win streak. If they can get this offense to be consistent and balanced then I would not be surprised to see this team get to Minneapolis.  

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