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The Journal Gazette

Friday, March 23, 2018 5:40 pm

Purdue seeking Elite Eight berth

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

BOSTON — The Sweet 16 is finally here. Arguably everything Purdue has accomplished this season – a team-record 30 wins, a team-record 19-game win streak, a No. 3 poll ranking – has been a prelude to this game, and, if all goes well, this entire weekend.

The Boilermakers have now been to the Sweet 16 four times in the last 10 seasons, and as nearly everyone knows at this point, the first three of those trips ended in defeat. After getting manhandled by Kansas in this round last season, the Purdue seniors can right that wrong and send the Boilermakers to their first Elite Eight since 2000. For perspective on how long it's been since the Boilers reached the next round, Nojel Eastern was born in 1999.

Standing in Purdue's way is No. 3 seed Texas Tech, which has squeaked past No. 14 Stephen F. Austin and No. 6 Florida to reach this point. The Red Raiders do not have a lot of postseason success in recent memory. In fact the win over the SFA in the opening round was their first tournament victory in 13 seasons. 

The Red Raiders play an aggressive pressure defense that might best be described as "Illinois on steroids." If the Boilers advance to the Elite Eight, they will have earned it by making good decisions and moving well without the ball to create easy baskets. In one sense, the loss of Isaac Haas might actually help Purdue against a team like Texas Tech because it opens up the middle for drives to the hoop. Matt Haarms is much more active in the pick-and-roll game and his runs to the rim can be devastating, as they were against Butler.

This game might come down to whether Carsen Edwards can bounce back from his poor shooting performance against Butler in the second round. The sophomore guard is likely best-equipped to take advantage of Texas Tech's defense with hard drives to the rim, but he needs to hit a few from the outside to keep the Red Raiders honest. He hit a few long 3s against the Bulldogs but otherwise struggled and ended up 4 for 17. That won't cut it against the No. 4 defense in the country (per KenPom.com).

Despite a lot of doom-saying after Haas went down, the Boilermakers survived against Butler without him. Now with a full week to game-plan around Haarms and Jacquil Taylor on offense, they're perfectly capable of doing the same against Texas Tech and its undersized (though athletic) front line. For what it's worth, prediction website FiveThirtyEight.com gives Purdue a 62 percent chance to win.

What I'm watching for

Matt Haarms finishing around the rim: Haarms was able to get to the rim on drives almost at will against Butler and shot eight free-throws in the first half before the Bulldogs started switching screens. There were a couple of times he rolled to the rim on high pick-and-rolls that the Boilermakers either missed him when he was open or he missed a layup. If a few more of those shots fall, the Texas Tech defense is going to be in trouble.

Prediction: No. 2 Purdue 68, No. 3 Texas Tech 62

dsinn@jg.net