Conference: Big Ten (At-Large)
Record: 25-7 (14-6)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 4 (Midwest)
How they got to the Big Dance
Purdue started its season off as most major-conference teams do: with a few cupcakes, an inter-league challenge and a tournament somewhere warm and sunny. After rolling Southern Indiana and McNeese State, the Boilermakers dropped a heartbreaker 79-76 to a defending national champions, then-No. 3 Villanova, in the Gavitt Games. Purdue traveled to Mexico right before Thanksgiving to win the Cancun Challenge. A seven-point road loss to then-No. 14 Louisville in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge dealt Purdue its second loss of the season and last of 2016.
Purdue started conference play with a convincing 22-point home win over Iowa before dropping an overtime game at home to Minnesota. After a one-point win at Ohio State and an 11-point defeat of then-No. 13 Wisconsin at home, Iowa took down the then-No. 17 Boilermakers in Iowa City. Purdue responded by winning four of its next five before traveling to College Park to battle then-No. 17 Maryland — and what a battle it was. Maryland led by as many as 12 and by three with under a minute to play. After Melo Trimble missed a jumper, Justin Jackson fouled Carsen Edwards with two seconds on the clock. Edwards knocked down both free-throws to give Purdue a one-point lead and ultimately the win.
The victory propelled the Boilermakers to win six of their final seven en route to its Big Ten-best 23rd conference championship and the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
The Boilermakers are the best and most complete team in the Big Ten. Purdue has a 56 percent effective field goal percentage, good for No. 16 in the nation, and is ranked No. 17 in defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Purdue’s big three of Caleb “Biggie” Swanigan, Isaac Haas and Vincent Edwards is about as dominant as they come as each player averages over 12 points per game. Carsen Edwards and sharpshooter Dakota Mathias average 10.2 and 10.1 points per game respectively, giving the Boilermakers a well-rounded scoring attack. Purdue boasts a plus-13.5 point scoring margin and shoot free-throws at 77 percent as a team.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
While Swanigan, Haas and Vincent Edwards for a formidable frontcourt, a backcourt that consists of some rotation of freshman Carsen Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline may not be enough to power the Boilermakers deep into the Big Dance. One constant from most Final Four teams is exceptional guard play, and this team may not have the pieces. If the Boilermakers run into a team with enough size to matchup with and contain their bigs, they could be in trouble. Purdue also turned the ball over more times per game (13) this season than its opponents did (12).
Player to watch: Forward Caleb Swanigan
Swanigan’s 25 double-doubles lead the nation this season and are one short of the Big Ten record set by Brad Sellers and Jerry Lucas, who did it three times. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound sophomore forward also led the conference in scoring (18.9 ppg) and rebounding (12.6 rpg), becoming just the eighth player in conference history to do so. He also shoots threes at 44.9 percent, an astounding number for a player his size, and knocks down free-throws at a 79.2 percent clip. Simply put, teams aren’t likely going to be able to completely stop Swanigan. They should only hope to contain him.