Big Ten Tournament Is Purdue's Chance to Prove the Numbers WrongMarch 14, 2019
For the second time in three seasons, the Purdue Boilermakers earned a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. Matt Painter's team is ranked 13th in the AP poll entering the conference tournament and eagerly awaiting its fifth straight trip to March Madness.
Once the Big Dance arrives, the Boilers will be working to earn the program's third straight Sweet 16 berth for the first time since the NCAA tournaments from 1998 to 2000.
Considering all of the production that departed after last season―four starters who averaged a combined 48.8 points―2018-19 has been a commendable campaign for Purdue.
That word always shows up, doesn't it?
If only the Boilers could play a portion of the postseason in West Lafayette, because they haven't dropped a game at Mackey Arena all year. Purdue is 15-0 at home, averaging 79.7 points while giving up just 60.3. The Boilers have marquee wins at home over Michigan State, Maryland and Iowa, three NCAA tourney locks.
Unfortunately for them, every remaining contest―starting with the Big Ten tournament―will be at a neutral site. And Purdue has undeniably struggled elsewhere.
Painter's squad is only 6-6 on the road (69.7 PPG, 71.1 OPPG) and 2-2 at neutral sites (83.5 PPG, 76.3 OPPG). Although the Boilers are a more promising 6-2 in their last eight road contests, the six victories have included two overtime wins and two triumphs of three points or fewer.
Their margin for error is spectacularly thin.
Yes, completely discounting a roster that is 17-3 over the last 20 games would be foolish―especially one that has a superstar guard in Carsen Edwards. The junior is averaging 23.4 points and 3.0 assists this season.
The primary issue, though, is Edwards has been far less efficient on the road. He's shooting just 29.7 percent from three-point range and 33.3 overall compared to 36.6 and 42.5 at home, respectively.
Incidentally, he's knocked down 40.5 percent of his triples at neutral sites―again, where postseason tournaments are held. But of Purdue's four neutral-site opponents, Virginia Tech and Davidson rank second and 23rd nationally in opponent three-point attempt rate, and 11-21 Appalachian State just isn't a good team.
So, the truth is somewhere in the middle. And that's a concern.
Purdue doesn't have a second explosive scorer. Ryan Cline has reached the 20-point mark in three games, and Matt Haarms has topped it once. Last season, the trio of Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards and Dakota Mathias combined for 21 such games.
Can Carsen Edwards pull a Kemba Walker, who propelled 2010-11 UConn to Big East and NCAA tournament titles? During that remarkable 11-game stretch, he averaged 24.6 points.
Similar to that UConn roster, Purdue only has one other double-digit scorer. But Jeremy Lamb, after managing 9.6 points per game during the regular season, upped that average to 15.3 in the postseason. Is Cline or Haarms capable of doing the same?
If not, one shaky performance from Edwards would derail Purdue's hopes of advancing―at all―in either tournament.
Otherwise, he merely needs to repeat one of the greatest performances in college basketball history. No pressure.
Now, the Boilers must be respected.
They rank fifth offensively and 30th defensively in adjusted efficiency, per KenPom.com. Though Edwards last reached the mark in January, he has 30-point upside. Cline is a high-efficiency shooter for a scoring attack that knocked down the most triples in Big Ten play. Nojel Eastern is one of the league's top defenders.
Additionally, the team ranks 18th and 20th nationally in turnover and offensive rebound rate, respectively. The combination of protecting possessions and creating extra chances is terrific.
Purdue is more likely than not to advance through the opening game of both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. That's to be expected of a 23-8 co-Big Ten champion.
But the flaws are evident; the issues are clearly spelled on paper. The Boilers must show they're a better team than the numbers suggest when they hit the court this postseason.
Recruiting information via 247Sports. Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.