Bubble Watch: Holding Steady
As J pointed out this week, the Boilers aren't out of the NCAA hunt yet, but I think we're all in agreement that they've got some work left to do. Joe Lunardi has Purdue as the first team in the Next Four out as of Thursday, which is significantly better than they'd been a few weeks ago, and dratings.com slots the Boilers as one of the #1 seeds in the NIT - they had Purdue as the first of the Last Four Out. (They seem to update weekly rather than daily, at least at this point in the season.) The good news is that there are opportunities to move up the list approaching soon; the bad news is that there are also must-win games on the schedule. Let's take a quick at where things are now, where I think they're going, and what lies ahead for the Boilers. I'll try to do this after every remaining game.
Current Status: Just Outside
Lunardi: #1 in Next Four Out
dratings: #1 in Last Four Out
kenpom: 54th (down 1). The win at Rutgers was exactly as you'd guess if you saw it. Purdue won as expected, but didn't quite show the difference in strength they should have. (40 minutes, gentlemen.)
RPI: 70th. No wins against top 25 RPI (Ohio State is 33rd), 8-4 in their last 12. There's potential here, but 70 is an awfully big number to carry into Selection Sunday. Fortunately, Purdue's conference RPI is 17 - this will drop a little with Nebraska and (edit: the other bad one) Rutgers still on the schedule, but there are better teams coming, too.
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- The Huskers have a killer schedule: at Purdue, at Maryland, Iowa, at OSU, at Illinois, Maryland. Their RPI should rise a bit from the strength of schedule, but they'll finish the regular season 13-17. If they beat Purdue, that would essentially end the Boilers' NCAA hopes.
- Indiana narrowly missed knocking off Maryland on the road. Unfortunately, that came after narrowly escaping Michigan at home. Indiana's got a favorable schedule the rest of the way, so a win in Bloomington would likely turn out to be a huge boost for Purdue. IU may not be a 20-win team, but if they do hit that mark, they'll have won a couple of big games down the stretch. They close at home against Iowa and MSU.
- Rutgers is terrible. Purdue needs to blow the doors off the Knights in Mackey.
- The loss in Breslin today doesn't hurt OSU that much; they're obviously an NCAA lock and also obviously have no shot to catch Wisconsin. They represent the other big chance for Purdue to notch a quality road win, with Indiana being the first. OSU has three easy games around the Purdue game, then finishes at home vs. Wisconsin. That game is big for Purdue if they sweep the Buckeyes: anything that boosts OSU would boost Purdue's quality of victory.
- The Spartans are far enough back in RPI that all this would represent is a road win. MSU is likely to finish 3-3 in their last 6; their win over OSU puts them in the group of teams behind Wisconsin that will be jockeying for two-round byes in Chicago.
- The Illini have picked up four straight conference wins, although only one was a quality win - in East Lansing on the 7th. Still, that plus the Baylor win (neutral site) have Illinois in with the Boilers as a bubble team, which makes the regular-season finale that much more important. A home loss to Illinois would almost certainly keep them ahead of Purdue in any discussion.
- Purdue's currently in a three-way tie for second. That would mean two byes: good if they've already got quality wins, bad if they need one to secure a spot in the field.
Toe the line: 11-7
Purdue splits, 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the road. Without a quality win on the road, the Boilers would need a favorable draw in Chicago that also gives them a shot at another neutral-site win. In a four-way tie with MSU, Indiana, and Iowa (who joined this group thanks to a home loss to Minnesota), Purdue would be third in that group. (Records among tied teams: MSU 3-1, Indiana 3-2, Purdue 2-2, Iowa 0-3.) That would give the Boilers the #6 seed, which again plays the 11-14 winner, one of Nebraska, Rutgers, or Northwestern. A must-win game followed by Maryland is not a favorable situation for Purdue, especially if we don't know how many spots will still be open on Saturday. I suspect they'd need to beat both OSU and Maryland (assuming OSU wins their Friday game) to get in, and even then it'd likely be an opening-round game.
An 11-7 record with a road win and a loss to Illinois is probably no better than the home/road scenario. If the loss is to Northwestern or Rutgers, that's bad.
Road win at Indiana: 12-6
Purdue stays 3-0 at home, but adds a win at Indiana. 12-6 puts them back into the second-place tie, but a 1-2 record against Maryland and OSU drops them to the bottom of it, with the Buckeyes keeping #2 and Maryland keeping #3. Purdue then faces #5 Michigan State on Friday, assuming the Spartans don't face-plant on Thursday. A win against MSU puts Purdue in the dance for sure; even a loss might not matter, especially if the Spartans upend Wisconsin on Saturday, because RPI would like the win in Assembly Hall quite a bit.
Road win at Ohio State: 12-6
Same as above, except now Purdue is 2-1 in that three-way tie, OSU is 1-2, and the Good Guys vault to the #2 seed. MSU and Indiana would be even for the #6 and #7, and I don't think it matters which one gets what. A sweep of OSU is good, but as above, better to get a Friday win and be certain than to lose early and have to wait.
Road win at Michigan State: 12-6
Purdue has the #4 seed, Indiana rises to the #5. This is probably the same as the Indiana scenario: Purdue's close but needs help. A Friday win does it, a loss has them waiting.
Road magic: 13-5 or better
Lock. A 21-win Big Tenteen team is dancing.
The only possible scenario that has Purdue losing a home game and still making the tournament is if the loss is to Illinois. That drops the Boilers to sole possession of 8th, which gives them #9 Michigan on Thursday. A win just advances them - Michigan's RPI is 83. Of course that leads to Wisconsin on Friday in a semi-home game for the Badgers. Painter will need all of his voodoo magic in that scenario, and I'm not convinced that even a win over UW would get that Purdue team into the tournament, not with such a weak finish. They'd probably have to win the semifinal as well. Two good neutral-site wins would do the trick.