Yes, that’s right the same Purdue team that lost to Indiana by 37 points on its home floor in late January.
Yes, the same Purdue team that finished the regular season with a 15-16 overall record, including 8-10 in conference action.
But if you ask any of the Big Ten coaches right now who they would be leery of in Chicago, I’ll bet you hear the Boilermakers’ name more than a time or two.
All of a sudden Purdue has caught fire.
A week ago it went to Madison and beat nationally ranked Wisconsin by double digits. Not only is it news when the Badgers lose in the Kohl Center under Coach Bo Ryan, but it’s front page news when they lose to an unranked team at home, especially by double figures.
Purdue followed that performance up by giving No. 7 Michigan all it could handle before succumbing to the Wolverines 80-75 in Mackey Arena.
You wouldn’t have been off base if you thought the Boilermakers would lay an egg to conclude the regular season at home against Minnesota, thinking they left everything on the court against the Big Blue. However, Purdue responded by pounding Minnesota, a team that is NCAA Tournament bound, by 16 points.
So Coach Matt Painter’s team will head to the Windy City later this week with plenty of momentum, thinking it can play with anyone it might face.
Without question, a favorable draw would help the Boilermakers’ cause immensely. They’ll either be the 7 or 8 seed and the difference between the two is immense.
This afternoon Purdue fans will be cheering hard for Ohio State to continue its sizzling play when it hosts Illinois. If the Buckeyes beat the Fighting Illini as expected, Purdue will be the No. 7 seed and meet No. 10-seed Nebraska in the opening round on Thursday.
However, if Illinois upsets OSU, Purdue would drop to the 8 seed and would have to face Minnesota for the second time in less than a week. If they were fortunate enough to get by Tubby Smith’s team, they would have a date with No. 1-seed Indiana. Playing the Hoosiers for a third team would be a nightmare scenario for the Boilermakers because they just don’t match up well at all with Tom Crean’s squad.
On the flip side, being a No. 7 seed would mean Purdue would face the second seed – either Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State – on Friday. It goes without saying how advantageous that part of the bracket would be for the Boilermakers.
Purdue has a little mojo going because junior guard Terone Johnson has been scoring in bunches and started knocking down outside shots and so, too, has sharpshooter D.J. Byrd. You couple that with the inside presence of 7-foot freshman A.J. Hammons, a star in the making, along with big man Sandi Marcius giving this team a lift and all of a sudden you have a pretty solid nucleus that can give teams fits.
I’m not saying the Boilermakers will still be standing after the quarterfinals, but they’re definitely worthy of keeping an eye on and potentially registering an upset or even two along the way.
Doug Griffiths is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association. Doug is a columnist/writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @ISLgriffiths and Facebook.