It has been nearly 40 years since the Purdue Boilermakers have made the Final Four. In 1980, with Lee Rose at the helm and a 6-seed attached to their name, the Boilermakers beat Duke 68-60 to move on to the biggest stage in the sport. It was the school’s second Final Four appearance (1969), and Purdue fell just short of a shot at the title with a loss to UCLA.
Now, head coach Matt Painter and crew are on the precipice of returning to the final weekend of college basketball with just the highly-efficient Virginia Cavaliers standing in their way. Purdue battled past Tennessee in one of — if not the — most exciting game of the NCAA tournament so far, getting 29 points from Carsen Edwards and 27 from Ryan Cline in an overtime win.
Everything that Purdue does well was on display against the Vols. Purdue only turned the ball over eight times, assisted 16-of-34 made baskets, and picked up five blocks and four steals against the tough and physical Tennessee squad. They shot 54 percent from the field and went a blistering 15-for-31 (48 percent) from three, led by Cline’s masterful 7-for-10 performance beyond the arc.
Edwards was only slightly less efficient, going 8-for-22 from the field (5-for-14 from three) and adding eight points from the free throw line (the only place Purdue really struggled as a team, going an atrocious 16-for-33). So far in the tournament, Edwards has posted games of 26, 42, and 29 points. Coupled with his 30-point performance in Purdue’s loss to Texas Tech in last year’s tournament, Edwards is in some elite company.
Purdue currently ranks fifth in offense in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency rankings, and they’re a squad that does a lot of things really well. As a team, they’re shooting 37% from three and take nearly 40 percent of their shots from downtown. If it’s not Edwards (35 percent) or Cline (42 percent) getting you from deep, it’s Grady Eifert (44 percent).
When they go inside, you better have a plan for the 7’3 Matt Haarms and the 6’9, 280 Trevion Williams. Haarms had 11 points against Tennessee, executing slips behind the Volunteer defense and providing an easy target for Edwards, Cline, and point guard Nojel Eastern. Painter likes to run a variety of sets, making the Boilermakers difficult to scout and prepare for. Haarms will pull his defender out to the top of the key, and although he wasn’t credited with but two assists against the Vols, his screens freed up Edwards for good looks from outside.
Edwards is notoriously a volume shooter, but when his looks don’t fall, Haarms and Williams are savvy offensive rebounds. The latter had four of the team’s 11 offensive boards against the likes of Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, and Kyle Williams, and Purdue turned those into 10 second chance points in a tight game.
Against Virginia, which boasts the No. 3 defense and offense, Purdue will have to hit shots from outside to put the pressure on the Cavalier offense to match. If the shots aren’t falling, cleaning up the boards is a must. If the Boilermakers can get everything clicking against Virginia’s stingy defense (which just held Oregon to 49 points), Purdue can reach the pinnacle in college ball after nearly four decades of waiting.