Sometimes forgotten amidst all the “bubble” talk this time of year is a simple fact: if a team wins enough games, it doesn’t have to worry about being on the bubble.
One of the most intriguing teams of the bracketology season has been Purdue, with its year full of peaks and valleys. Rather than leaving the decision in the hands of others, though, the Boilermakers have been taking big steps towards going out and grabbing an NCAA bid, and they did so again Thursday night with a 67-63 win at Indiana to complete a season sweep of the rival Hoosiers.
Purdue came into Thursday night’s game with a huge size advantage and took every advantage of it. The Boilermakers hammered IU on the glass 38-21 and scored 40 points in the paint and in all 57 of their 67 points in the paint or from the foul line.
The dominance inside was so thorough that Purdue was able to withstand a lousy night from outside. The Boilermakers were just 2 of 18 from three-point range.
More importantly, though, Indiana made just five three-pointers. The Hoosiers aren’t going to beat anyone inside right now, so if they can’t hit from deep, they become very beatable.
Purdue’s resume is one that rightfully has a lot of questions. At-large teams shouldn’t be losing at home to Gardner-Webb or North Florida-no excuses. Nor should they have losses in abundance to teams below 100 in the RPI, and Purdue does-a total of five sub-100 losses on a season.
It’s becoming increasingly likely, though, that enough has been done to outplay those slip-ups. The Boilermakers are now 9-5 against the RPI top 100, including 9-2 against teams ranked 26-100. While that number could be reduced pending some future results (three of those wins are over teams ranked 96-100), most likely a high conference finish, 6-6 road/neutral record and now a sweep of Indiana will trump those bad losses, most of which came earlier in the season.
Watching Purdue early this season, the gut feeling was those early losses truly were disappointing because this was a team that had a lot of talent inside showed a lot in wins over teams like BYU and North Carolina State. Coach Matt Painter has a lot of size and a lot of talent inside, but it’s also a young team that needed some time to find consistency. A manageable conference schedule has helped, but there’s little doubt the Boilermakers have asserted themselves as one of the top teams in the Big Ten, and that will almost certainly guarantee their first NCAA bid in three years.
- The other biggest game from Thursday night took place at the same time as Purdue-Indiana. SMU rallied from a 33-25 halftime deficit to defeat Temple 67-58. The Mustangs are not a pretty team to watch, but at 22-5 now, they’re heading to the NCAA Tournament barring something unforeseen. For Temple, this was a missed opportunity to all but sew up a spot in the tourney. The Owls have work to do.
- Utah and Oregon State played a game that may have set the sport back five years. In a game with 84 total points, a 47-37 Utes win is the equivalent of a blowout. For those who think somehow the shot clock was at fault for a game like this, the reality is even with a 30-second clock, the score on this one is maybe something like 52-41. Really think that’s progress? Also, Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle described the game as “physical” afterwards. Exactly how does a “physical” game end up with a combined 25 fouls? Watching from courtside and on TV, officials appear to be getting even lazier as this season goes on.
- On the other hand, we thankfully have teams like Gonzaga that have never been afraid to give their offensive players freedom to, you know, play offense. Kyle Wiltjer outscored Oregon State and nearly Utah, too, himself on Thursday, racking up 45 points in the Bulldogs’ 86-74 win at Pacific. Wiltjer was 15 of 22 from the field, 7 of 10 from three-point range and 8 of 9 from the stripe. One of the truly outstanding performances by a Division I player this year.
- Dayton edged a game St. Joseph’s team 68-64. Kendall Pollard racked up 22 points and eight rebounds and the Flyers hit just enough three-pointers (10) to offset 23 points each by Isaiah Miles and DeAndre Bembry. The Hawks now have eight losses by five points or less.
- Maryland got 26 points from Melo Trimble in a tough 69-65 win over Nebraska. The outcome may have been different if the Terrapins hadn’t shot 22 of 25 from the line. Also in the Big Ten, Iowa blew out Rutgers 81-47.
- Mississippi got another star performance from Stefan Moody, who scored 29 points and hit eight three-pointers as the Rebels rallied from a halftime deficit to win at rival Mississippi State 71-65. With Jarvis Summers scoring just six, Moody carried his team, which continues to pull out close games in the SEC.
- Any final hopes of a regular season resurgence by Connecticut are done after Memphis dumped the Huskies 75-72. At this point, UConn is just staying out of a preliminary round game in the AAC tournament, which it hosts and still just might be the favorite to win. At least the Huskies don’t have to worry about getting passed in the standings by Tulane, which followed up its win at Cincinnati with a dud, losing at home to Central Florida 69-55. Odd stat: the Green Wave is 14-11 this year but has lost five straight at home.
- Corey Hawkins returned to the UC Davis lineup for the first time in nearly three weeks and was magnificent with 26 points as the Aggies completed a season sweep of Long Beach State with a 65-58 win. Hawkins was 9 of 13 from the field and 6 of 8 from three-point range, and UC Davis has 20 wins for the first time as a Division I member.
- Louisiana Tech needed overtime before beating UNC-Charlotte 83-82. Alex Hamilton scored 29 for the Bulldogs, who are starting to separate from the field in Conference USA. Tech is two games up on UAB and 2 1/2 ahead of Western Kentucky after the Blazers defeated the Hilltoppers 71-66 in a matchup of former Sun Belt rivals.
- St. Francis (N.Y.) has had a terrific season and is 19-4 since a 0-5 start to the year. The Terriers have clinched at least a tie for the Northeast Conference title, leading the league by three games with three to play after a 70-54 win over Fairleigh Dickinson. Jalen Cannon had 27 points and 15 rebounds and St. Francis finished with a brawny 57-24 rebounding advantage.
- Delaware continues to be a pest in the CAA. The Blue Hens have now knocked off three of the top four teams in the league after defeating previous leader UNC-Wilmington 70-59. Though just 8-18 on the season, it’s a team to keep an eye on in the conference tournament.
- Louisville guard Chris Jones has been reinstated from his suspension of one game by coach Rick Pitino. Jones will play Saturday against Miami (Fla.).
- Good story by Gene Henley of the Chattanooga Times Free Press about the Southern Conference, where basketball attendance is up this season despite losing Davidson, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State to conference realignment. The league is one that has gotten it right with realignment, adding programs that make sense for the conference, including two-East Tennessee State and VMI-that are former SoCon members.
Tonight’s Menu: Seven games on tap, including a full Ivy League slate
Cleveland State at Wisconsin-Green Bay (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Two teams tied for second in the Horizon, just one game back of Valparaiso. One would think the Phoenix have too much firepower for the Vikings, but CSU just hasn’t gone away.
Hartford at Albany (7 p.m. EST, ESPNU) Fresh off its first loss in the America East, the Great Danes get a much deserved TV date against a Hartford team that has slid to the middle of the conference pack.
Penn at Harvard, Cornell at Yale, Princeton at Dartmouth, Columbia at Brown Harvard and Yale are both 7-1 and at least 2 1/2 games ahead of everyone else in the field. Princeton (4-3) and Cornell (4-4) are the only two teams with any kind of chance of catching them, but you may be able to write off the Big Red if they lose to the Bulldogs.
Iona at Marist (9 p.m. EST, ESPNU) Any time you get a chance to watch the entertaining Gaels you should take advantage.
Have a great start to the weekend.