NCAA tourney preview: No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Vermont
Depending on whom you ask, the Boilermakers could be a Final Four team … or out of the Big Dance after the first weekend. Purdue has been unceremoniously dumped after one game from the last two NCAA tourneys, blowing late leads in losses to Cincinnati in 2015 and to Arkansas-Little Rock last season.
Will this year be any different for a program that hasn’t won an NCAA game since 2012 and was one-and-done in this year’s Big Ten tourney?
What makes the Big Ten regular-season champs a threat is their inside-outside balance. Matt Painter’s squad has an array of sharpshooters from the perimeter led by Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline. Focus on defending the arc, and the Boilers can go down low to Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan. The 6-9, 250-pound sophomore is an indomitable force who refuses to be outworked. Just call him “Mr. Double-Double.” He also is known as “Biggie” and needs one more double-double to own the Big Ten’s single-season record with 27. Isaac Haas is another massive option in the paint, a 7-2, 290-pound monolith. But for all the hype Purdue gets for its size—and it is impressive—the guards will dictate how far the Boilers march in March.
Players like diminutive P.J. Thompson and the Edwards boys (Carsen and Vincent) are big keys to success for the Boilermakers, who are looking for their first Sweet 16 berth since 2010. Purdue looks like a lock to win one NCAA game. And it should reach the Sweet 16, where No. 1 Kansas figures to be waiting for the Boilermakers. Purdue’s ride probably will end there.
No. 4 Purdue vs. No. 13 Vermont (Thursday, Milwaukee, Midwest)
Matt Painter’s NCAA record: 8-9
Last NCAA appearance: 2016, lost to Arkansas-Little Rock in first round
Key player: Vincent Edwards. The 6-8 junior needs to play well if Purdue wants to make a run. Edwards has shown he can be a star. Did you see him in the finale at Northwestern when he scored 25 points? But Edwards also can vanish, like he did in a win at Maryland when he scored zero points in 29 minutes. Which Edwards will show up in March? Dialed-in/motivated Vince? Or dispassionate/uninterested Vince?
Key number: +13, Purdue’s scoring margin, which is No. 1 in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers average 80.1 points (second in the league) and allow 67.2 (fifth in the Big Ten).
Know Vermont: Vermont enters the NCAA Tournament owners of the nation’s longest winning streak at 21 games. The Catamounts sport an efficient offensive attack, averaging 73.6 points and shooting 49.6 percent. Anthony Lamb, a 6-6 freshman, leads Vermont in scoring (12.6) and rebounding (5.4), while Payton Henson (6-8, 215) averages 11.4 points. Junior point guard Trae Bell-Haynes was the America East Player of the Year after averaging 11.1 points and 3.8 assists. This team lacks size but could be dangerous if it gets hot from the perimeter.