Well, the other shoe finally dropped for Purdue. The Boilermakers have not fixed the issues that plagued them last year, which were severe enough to make them just the second No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament history to lose in the first round.
They suffered another loss to unranked Nebraska on Tuesday, falling 88-72. The Cornhuskers excelled at the three-point line, which was the same way Northwestern took down the No. 1 Boilermakers earlier this season. When Zach Edey is able to be eliminated from the equation on a play — i.e., when Purdue’s opponents avoid the paint — it’s anyone’s game.
Purdue has wins over Arizona, Marquette, and Tennessee this season, all highly-ranked teams. It’s not that the Boilermakers aren’t good — it’s that they don’t have the juice to win the games they should be winning. If there is a way to remove the impact of Edey, there is a way to beat Purdue. In fact, when they took Edey out of the game after his second foul, Nebraska went on a 16-2 run to close out the first half. That should tell you just about everything you need to know.
The Boilermakers have relied too heavily on him for the past several years. Recruiting has taken a hit, though their incoming 2024 class is a good sign. The last four recruiting classes at Purdue have ranked 72nd, 30th, 41st, and 37th at 247Sports. But right now, it’s all about one man, which means that Purdue is wasting the one man.
You can’t win a championship with a single star surrounded by mediocrity, and the Boilermakers are robbing Edey of his full potential in college ball. Of course he’ll be moving on to the pros soon enough, but Purdue has wasted arguably the best talent they’ve seen in years by not surrounding him with the right kind of help.
Edey averages 21.8 points per game. The next two highest scorers, Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith, combine to average 23.9. Edey averages 10.4 rebounds per game. The next two best rebounders, Smith and Trey Kaufman-Renn, combine to average 9.7 per night. Purdue will lose in the early rounds when it gets competitive again this season, even though ESPN’s Bracketology currently projects them as the top overall seed in the 2024 tournament.
Here’s the recipe to beat Purdue: Make some shots from the outside, force Edey to be a playmaker instead of a force, and draw a few early fouls from him for even more time on the bench. You’ll even out the playing field, and it’s easier if you can throw big bodies at the defensive block.
Illinois came within five of Purdue when Edey was limited to just 10 points scoring, but he still grabbed 15 rebounds. Marquette came within three and was cold from the perimeter, where a few shots made all the difference.
There is a recipe, and it’s because the Boilermakers get theirs against teams with no hope. They are No. 2 in KenPom efficiency on offense, and No. 17 in defense. But so much of that comes against the Jacksonville’s, Eastern Kentucky’s, and even Maryland’s in conference play.
The Big Ten is only the fourth-best conference in the country this year, but there’s not a game on the schedule you’d think they couldn’t lose. And that’s simply not the mark of a No. 1 team.
When Virginia became the first team to lose as a NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed in 2018, they followed it up with a national championship the following season. Don’t expect the same from Matt Painter’s group, because they just don’t have the depth or talent outside of the best player in the country to get there.