The Purdue Boilermakers, led by future NBA stars, imaginary Player #1 and pretend Player #2, will not only make the Sweet 16, but even creep into the Elite Eight.
Look at these mind-blowing stats: Their top seven players are "led" by an experience laden Junior, Nemanja Calasan, a native of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He is averaging an astonishing 6.5 ppg in his 18.3 mpg in his only season in Division I basketball. Their only senior, Tarrance Crump, is averaging 4 points in 16 minutes. Their high scorer is E'Twaun Moore, a freshman, who lights it up for 12.7 ppg. Their best rebounder is Robbie Hummel, who hits the glass for 6.1 rpg. And their best assist man is Chris Kramer, who dishes out 2.9 apg.
This is an entire team full of roll players! No true superstar. The Boilermakers are all teammates, in the true sense of the word. Hummel, a finalist for the Oscar Robertson Trophy (National Player of the Year), is a very good all-around player (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 50%FG, and 86%FT), but nothing compared to the caliber of players he will see in the coming days or possible weeks.
Yet despite their lack of star power, they beat Wisconsin twice. That's right, the Midwest Region's No. 3 seed was beaten twice by this team. They know how to win against tough opponents in big games. They keep it low scoring, playing solid defense, and limiting their own turnovers, basically doing whatever it takes to end up on the right side of victory.
Free throws win NCAA tournament games. Three of their players average better than 83% from the line, while four of their high-minute men average 71% or better. At that crucial point in the game, up or down by only a basket, Coach Matt Painter knows who to put in to hit the big free throw.
During an 11-game winning streak, spanning January and the beginning of February, eight games were decided by eight points or less. FREE THROWS win the tight games and most NCAA Tournament games are tight. So look for Purdue to be sinking their freebees.
Obviously, coaching is huge in the tournament. Well, Purdue has one of the four finalists for the Naismith Award, the honor given to the best coach of the year. He has brought together this team of ragtag misfits, never allowing them to believe that they are just average simply because they lack the media sensationalism of the other Top 20 schools in the nation.
Yes, Purdue is a Top 20 school. Of course, that's according to the experts in the AP Poll. Purdue finished their season as the twentieth ranked team in the nation after reaching a peak of No. 17 earlier in the season.
I think the biggest advantage, though, is the fact they play in the solid Big Ten. It's not a stellar year for the conference, but at one point they did have four ranked teams, only losing Indiana out of the polls recently following Coach Sampson's most recent scandal.
However, Purdue did only finish one game behind Wisconsin, the eventual Big Ten Tournament champions. Any year you can finish with a 15-3 record in the Big Ten is a good year. And this is a good team. Not great, but good enough to beat the competition and make a run at Cinderella.
Baylor in the first round is a wonderful match up for Purdue. Baylor was the last team into the bracket madness, and they were very fortunate to be that last team. Maybe the Bears were given the nod due to the feel-good story behind the resurgence of this once disgraced basketball program. Regardless of how good they feel, they are still an 11th seeded Baylor team with little to offer in the way of competition for the Boilermakers.
Baylor has a wealth of experience, yes. But that experience is in losing. Their many upper classman have done a great job bringing the Bears back into the tournament for the first time since 1988, but their previous several years have been spent near the bottom of the Big 12, so don't expect too much of a challenge from the Bears.
The second round likely pits Purdue against Xavier (unless Georgia continues their magic run with another win), who brings a 14-2 conference record from the Atlantic 10. Xavier hasn't done much to impress, other than be another solid-type team.
Their competition in the Atlantic 10 hasn't readied them for the battles of the NCAA Tournament. Some of their more recent wins have come against Dayton, Richmond, Duquesne, St. Louis, and La Salle. That's not exactly the same as Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State.
Now, getting to the Sweet 16 would be a wonderful accomplishment for Coach Painter and his roster of roll players, but here comes the kicker: They will continue into the Elite Eight. Whether it is Duke, West Virginia, Arizona, or cough, cough, um...Belmont, Purdue matches up well. Obviously, Duke is the logical choice to come out of the Washington, D.C. sub-region, so what makes Purdue good enough to beat Duke?
Duke is a three point shooting team. They are an emotional team. They are...Duke. It's not very often that a streaky team will continue into the Elite Eight. J.J. Redick has long since left to be an NBA benchwarmer, so Duke doesn't have the freaky 60% three point shooting that they are accustomed to.
In fact, Purdue has three players shooting better than 43% from the three point line, while Duke only has one player shooting 43%. And, remember those free throws? Duke has two players shooting 84% or better, while Purdue has three in that category.
The Blue Devils have also shown a knack for getting into foul trouble this season. Their starting forwards, Kyle Singler and Lance Thomas, both average better than three fouls a game. That bodes well for Hummel, who should be able to stretch his 29 minutes per game, while his opponents sit on the bench complaining about the refs.
I must point out, though, that Duke picked up a coach several years ago that is pretty good this time year, a Mike Krzyzewski, that I'm sure you've heard of. That could also be a determining factor, but last time a coach was on the floor having that much of an impact, his red Indiana vest was kicked out of the game (sorry, Coach Knight).
So although nothing is guaranteed in this wonderful time of the year we like to call March Madness, the Purdue Boilermakers certainly look like they have what it takes to play towards the end of the month. They have finalists for both the Player of the Year and the Coach of the Year, as well as the greatest hodgepodge of teammates assembled this side of the Detroit Pistons, so it certainly looks like this tournament will be a success for the Boilermakers of Purdue.