Travis Miller of Hammer and Rails emailed me to start the week asking about a Q&A ahead of the first round tournament matchup between 13 North Texas and 4 Purdue in the South Region. Keep an eye out for MGN’s answers to the following questions over on their site.
1. I am completely unfamiliar with North Texas and Purdue hasn’t played them since the only meeting way back in 1970. What is the history of your basketball program?
2. I saw you guys were somewhat of a surprise winner of the Conference USA Tournament. Did you guys get hot at the right time or play to preseason expectations?
3. What style of play do you guys have?
4. Purdue’s strength is in the post with Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. How do you hope to match up with them?
5. What will it take to get your program’s first NCAA Tournament win
Meanwhile, I emailed him five questions and here are his answers:
MGN: Purdue has a rich basketball history and has been consistent under Painter — Why have they not broken through into the Final Four?
H&R: A lot of it has been via horrific luck. We last went to the Final Four in 1980 and I can come up with a ton of reasons we haven’t been back since. 1988 we had arguably the best team in school history, but blew a double digit lead in the Sweet 16 to a Kansas State team we had blown out in December. In 1994 we had the No. 1 overall pick and National player of the Year in Glenn Robinson, but he injured his back between the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games and was a shell of himself after he had destroyed Kansas in the Elite 8 vs. Duke. In 1996 we choked in round 2 as a No. 1 seed. In 2000 we had the misfortune of losing to Wisconsin in the Elite 8 for a third time in the four games we played them that year. Even worse, we had played the other three Final Four teams that season (Florida, North Carolina, and Michigan State) and beaten two of them. In 2010 Robbie Hummel injured his knee as we were steaming toward a 1 seed. In 2011 he hurt the same knee again before the season, we still earned a 3 seed with two NBA draft picks, but got run off the floor by VCU in their magical run. 2018 was Isaac Haas, our virtually unguardable center, breaking his elbow in our first round game. 2019 was the miracle Virginia play. It honestly feels like we’re snakebitten in March. 2010 and 2019 hurt the most, especially 2019. We were literally as close as you can come without making it in 2019, and being in the building for it hurt me even more. Carsen Edwards delivered the most impressive basketball performance I have seen in person and came within 2 tenths of a second of beating Virginia virtually by himself. That final play of regulation could only happen to Purdue, and every time I see the replay I spot the back of my head on press row doing a surrender cobra.
MGN: What does it look like when Purdue struggles this season?
H&R: We are hot and cold from three. That is really the one element missing from Purdue being “very good” to “downright terrifying to anyone.” We are very inconsistent from long range with some pretty good shooters. Sasha Stefanovic is a guy that can get hot and knock down 5-6 threes, but in our loss to Ohio State last week we struggled to get him open. Brandon Newman and Isaiah Thompson can hit some threes off the bench too, but Newman has struggled since going for 29 against Northwestern and Thompson has struggled all year. Jaden Ivey is improving from long range and is fearless. Mason Gillis and Aaron Wheeler have shown the ability to hit from outside. I feel like it is only a matter of “when” not “if” Purdue starts to improve and be consistent from three. It will probably be next year, but we have seen the early indications of it. Once that becomes consistent instead of every couple of games Purdue will be one of the best teams in the country.
MGN: The Big Ten has been just about the best league in basketball the last three seasons — Is that the TV contract money helping recruiting, or just the normal ebb and flow of conference supremacy or something else?
H&R: I think this year it was due to the amount of talent and experience returning. Luka Garza, Ayo Dosunmu, Trevion Williams, Trayce Jackson-Davis, Kofi Cockburn et al were excellent players last season and all came back. For the most part the league only got better because it had so much returning talent. You also have some excellent coaches in the league. Tom Izzo is Izzo. Painter is now the second longest tenured coach in the league and has Purdue ready to finally break through to the Final Four. Chris Holtmann is great at Ohio State. What Steve Pikiell has done at Rutgers is nothing short of astounding. Archie Miller deserves a lifetime contract because he can’t beat Purdue. Between coaching and experience the league has never been in better shape.
MGN: How far can the Boilermakers make it in Indianapolis?
H&R: This team is already way ahead of schedule. I knew we had talent, but we play five freshmen major minutes and have no seniors on the roster. We were 16-15 last year and both of our expected seniors (Matt Haarms, now at BYU and Nojel Eastern in limbo) transferred out early. ew knew we were going to be young and I felt just making the tourney would be the goal. Things turned around in our second half comeback at Michigan State. We came back from down 19 to win on a last second shot, and that changed everything. We also learned from an early loss at a bad Miami team where we blew a 20+ point lead. This team has been improving every week and I feel like we even left a 2 or 3 see don’t he table with last minute losses at Miami, Minnesota, Maryland, and last week’s OT loss to Ohio State. I think the goal is to play to our seed and reach the Sweet 16. That sets the stage for next year when maybe, just maybe, we can finally reach the Promised Land because everyone returns (again, no seniors) and we add two top 40 national recruits. The next two seasons we’re going to be a monster.
MGN: What is the game plan for NT?
H&R: We run our offense through Trevion Williams and Zach Edey. Tre struggled a bit int he last few regular season games but was pivotal int he comeback vs. Ohio State to force OT. When he gets going he can deliver a 25-12-5 and just be unguardable. Edey is really coming into his own and had amazing footwork for a 7’4″ guy playing basketball for only his third year. Then you have Jaden Ivey. Oh my lord is this kid going to be good. He is fearless. He can score on the drive or hit from three. he has insane athleticism. Even better, he has an edge to his game. He plays with emotion. He looks to dunk on people and make the big play. He reminds me a lot of Carsen Edwards, only taller and more athletic. He is already good, but he is gonna be amazing in a year or two. He is only a freshman but already said, “I am making everything in my suitcase to stay in Indy. I plan on staying until April. Purdue fans would die for this kid. He has that, “I am taking this game over right now and there isn’t a thing you can do about it” edge to him.
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