Folks, it is real and it is spectacular. North Texas is in the NCAA Tournament as a 13-seed and will take on a very good Purdue squad out of the tremendously powerful Big Ten conference. For reference, check out the KenPom top-40 and count how many Big10 teams you see.
Purdue was ousted in the Big 10 tournament by a good Ohio State team in overtime. They finished 20th in the polls and you can see the KenPom ranking of 13th below.
How To Watch
Friday, March 19th, 2021 – 6:25pm CT – Indianapolis, Indiana – Lucas Oil Stadium
Broadcasters: Tom McCarthy, Avery Johnson, AJ Ross
Radio (National): Westwood One — Sirius 85/check local affiliate
Radio: (Local) MGSN
NT are big underdogs in this one, as expected. The Boilermakers are the 4-seed and NT is the 13th. NT is the overall 52nd seed while Purdue is the overall 14th. Read more on the S-curve here.
Purdue hovered around the “Receiving Votes/Low Top 25” area all season until they hit a nice stream and won their final five games headed into the conference tournament, beating MSU, Nebraska, Pen State, Wisconsin, and Indiana. They dropped their first round matchup with Ohio State in the conference tournament in overtime.
The Purdue bigs Travion Williams, and Zach Edey split time and get a ton of touches and are very effective when they do get them. In fact Williams is second nationally in percentage of possessions used according to KenPom. In the handful of games I quickly watched to get a sense of them, you will see Purdue cross screen to get him on the block, use him in dribble-hand-offs, and let him feast on the offensive boards, where he is grabbing 16.8% of them.
He will get a lot of shots. If NT can make him pass out of the post and not shoot — well that will be a win. I imagine NT will approach the defense the same way they did the Tech/WKU series — not requiring Zach Simmons to defend solo for long stretches although he will have to hold his own.
NT basically does a lot of the same offensive work — the cross screens, post screens, etc — to get Zach Simmons in the post so the there should not be any surprise at their game plan, just a question on whether or not they can do so.
Zach Edey has some nice foot work and is a threat for being so big. He’s 7’4″ with good footwork — just enough to allow him to catch and spin and get off a quick hook or dunk. I mean, what else do you need when you are so big?
To keep teams from collapsing and just sitting in the post with their big men, Purdue likes to run marskman Sasha Stefanovic (.402 from distance on 122 attempts) through a series of screens on the backside, or have him come up for a little ghost screen-and-pop among other sets to spring him. They have a ton of action to keep the defenders occupied and unable to sit and wait. That is good offense and reason why they are one of the best teams in the country.
Mixing it up is freshman slasher/two-guard Jaden Ivey. He’s quick going right or left, and can finish at the rim with a nice layup package. If you are not careful, he will dunk on you.
That is the high-level. They surround their big men with capable shooters and shoot a decent enough percentage from three (33.5%)
Defensively, they are one of the best teams in the country in terms of efficiency. Their size inside can make it challenge to get high percentage looks inside and they don’t beat themselves defensively. They can be challenged at the bigs spots — Bell will likely get more open looks that he will need to knock down — because Edey will not step out too far to challenge the shots.
Quick Game Plan
We’ll discuss this more on the podcast but NT is going to have to shoot really well. Purdue is a good team and will get buckets inside and a nice clip. They have length at the wing spots and that will make it tough do run the normal sets. They will challenge Javion Hamlet and make him work for everything. He will have to continue to be special in this one.
The short version is that it is everything that Louisiana Tech and WKU tried to do but with a deeper, more talented team. NT will have the same kind of plan they did for Bassey and Lofton, but the Williams/Edey duo means NT will face an untiring onslaught against pretty much Zach Simmons.
NT will dig, and clog the paint and dare the Purdue shooters to make catch-and-shoot threes and that is fine, as long as NT is not fouling those shooters. I counted one foul on a three per game in the conference tournament.
Thomas Bell can step out against Mason Gillis, or Williams/Edey if McCasland decides to go small as he did in stretches vs WKU. That means there will be open looks for him– he’s a .371 shooter from there. Everyone will need to take the shots they get when they get them. Purdue is taller across the board — Only Isaiah Thompson is under 6’4″ while McBride and JJ Murray come in at below 6’3″.
That is not a gigantic factor, but memories of that UAB team that used its length to get in passing lanes and make shooters think twice come to mind. NT has to be the aggressor and make Purdue think about how much of a favorite they are. In NT’s favor is the fact that this squad has a lot of senior leadership while Purdue is a bit younger.
For Ivey, Gillis, and Edey, this is the first time this season that they have some real pressure on them. So far in this transition year they have been surprisingly good, which means when the team has struggled it has not come with the kind of complaining and scrutiny that usually happens with a team with expectations. That said, Williams, Hunter, and Stefanovic were on the team that made it to the Elite Eight vs Virginia.
Will We Win, Or Nah?
Look, I bleed green and can envision all kinds of scenarios that show NT winning. We have a good team! Javion Hamlet is a baller that just wins wherever he goes. That said, Purdue is deep, are coached by a good team, and have two big postmen that will eat up a lot of rebounds and make it difficult for North Texas.
Here is what a North Texas win looks like:
NT starts out fast, getting some easy buckets and Purdue starts turning the ball over or missing open shots. NT leads for a bit going into half where it is like 34-31 and the halftime show starts talking about the mistakes the Boilermakers are making. They will make a run but North Texas gets big threes from McBride, Bell, Reese, and Javion Hamlet proves to be unguardable. When Purdue needs big threes their guys not named Stefanovic throw up some clankers and you can see guys getting nervous. Purdue is supposed to challenge in this tournament and maybe make a run, after all. Those nerves mean passes that should not be made, or shots that should not be shot. NT takes advantage of that and makes free throws down the stretch to win.
What an NT loss looks like:
NT keeps it close, grinding it out with Purdue but cannot catch up after a 9-2 run sometime in the middle of the first half. Purdue seemingly keeps that lead for 30minutes until NT starts to press to make a run and they cut it to about 3. Then the Boilermakers make and adjustment and Jaden Ivey starts attacking the rim and getting fouled. The lead balloons to about 12 and NT cannot close the gap. Next thing you know there are just two minutes remaining and NT is still down 9 at best. People start praising the effort of this team, and previewing Purdue’s next opponent as you seethe at the broadcast.