Over the past 16 seasons, Purdue has failed to represent one of the final eight in the NCAA Tournament, along with missing the Big Dance completely in five of those campaigns. Those horrors can finally be buried under Mackey Arena’s 50-year-old renovated surface with a win against one-seeded Kansas in the Midwest Regional Semifinals on Thursday.
While the four-seeded Boilermakers are five-point underdogs on some sites, like OddsShark, coach Matt Painter and Co. should feel as if they have the edge. Let’s breakdown why the Big Ten regular season champs will advance past the powerhouse from Lawrence, Kansas.
Between Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan and Isaac Haas, Purdue boasts one of the elite big men tandems left in the tournament. Plus, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan is easily the top player at his position, averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds thus far. With 6-10, 250-pound Landen Lucas presumably being the only player on the Jayhawks’ roster who can defend him, the Boilermakers can dominate in the paint if Lucas picks up a pair of early fouls.
Caleb "Big Balls" Swanigan pic.twitter.com/minW6MgHgL
— Barstool Boilers (@BarstoolPU) March 19, 2017
Considering the Portland, Oregon native is typically placed in the post on either end of the court, Swanigan’s ability to stretch the floor doesn’t bode well for Kansas, either. Plus, Haas, who shoots 58 percent from the field, is normally ultra-efficient if he catches the ball in the low post. He collected 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting against the Iowa State Cyclones in the Round of 32.
— Six Wins In March (@SixWinsInMarch) March 19, 2017
“I feel like we’re the best team in college basketball when we’re clicking,” Swanigan said.
Yet, despite their lack of size, Kansas is tied for No. 15 in team rebounding (40.5 rpg) among the programs playing during March Madness. Gang rebounding is evidently their strength, and 6-foot-8 guard Josh Jackson is known for his prowess on the glass, amassing 7.1 rebounds per game. If Purdue’s frontcourt isn’t able to create its sweet magic, coach Bill Self’s unit could limit them to numerous one-and-done trips, as well as wreaking havoc in transition. But let’s not suddenly expect the extraordinary from them.
In the backcourt, there’s no doubting Frank Mason III is the likely winner of the Naismith Player of the Year award, giving the Jayhawks the immediate advantage between the teams’ guards. Standing at 5-foot-11, Mason is so fearless for his size, attempting 37.3 percent of his shots near the rim while attacking the paint continuously in half-court sets and in transition. Moreover, he converts a rock-solid 56.4 percent from that area.
Frank Mason is better than you pic.twitter.com/2NExP6iV2k
— Barstool KU (@BarstoolKU) March 19, 2017
However, Swanigan and Haas’ presence changes things. Although Painter has predominantly gone with just one of his bigs on the floor for sizable stretches during the Big Dance, the two should see numerous stints together in order to disrupt Mason’s aggressiveness. If Purdue puts 6-foot-4 Dakota Mathias on him, that’s where the load will fall onto Jackson’s shoulders. He’s shooting an absurd 60.7 percent from the field in the tournament and could finally have his first breakout performance of March.
What Josh Jackson did today impressed me far more than any Andrew Wiggins that I saw at KU pic.twitter.com/Et3OFHPdgi
— Ry (@JustRyCole) March 20, 2017
On the flip side, 6-foot-8 forward Vince Edwards has asserted himself as well. Through the Boilermakers’ first two games, he’s one-upping Jackson with a 63.3 percent clip overall. Their matchup could turn out to be one of the best in the Sweet 16, both strong scoring options, with an obvious edge to Kansas’ freshman. The two can facilitate, too, averaging right around three assists apiece. Jackson is clearly the more explosive player, yet Edwards will cause him problems with his tenacious on-ball defense.
Hence, the game should be won from behind the arc. Purdue was tied for seventh in the country in three-point shooting (40.6 percent) during the regular season and Kansas finished just a smidge below, tied for ninth (40.5 percent). On top of that, each team has at least five players who hit a minimum of 35 percent of their attempts from deep. Look out for Jayhawks guard Devonte’ Graham, as he’s knocking down 61.5 percent of his threes in the tournament.
What separates the two is Swanigan and Haas’ play. If they’re as dominant as advertised, Kansas’ defense will be forced to collapse on the block, leaving deadly shooters like Mathias, Edwards and guard P.J. Thompson to pile on triples. Thompson also serves as a vital catalyst when he’s forced to create, averaging three assists, as well as less than one turnover, per game.
Entering a likely vicious crowd in the Sprint Center, located in Kansas City, Missouri, Purdue won’t be fazed with its undervalued roster. More importantly, Boilermaker fans won’t need to fantasize over the Brian Cardinal-led 1999-’00 team anymore.
“There’s no better feeling than going to a place where all the hostility is against you,” Edwards said, “and be able to get a win and hear silence as you walk out of the gym.”