Submitted by Richie Baccellieri on Monday, January 9, 2017 at 3:57 PM
Away from the spotlight of the NFL playoffs, a plucky basketball team from the Midwest made its own statement on Sunday afternoon. The Purdue Boilermakers stepped up and beat Wisconsin 66-55, easily covering the short (-2) spread on their home floor and emerging as an early team to beat in the Big Ten. If you don’t have the Boilermakers on your national radar—and with their odds still 50-1 to win it all, not many do—then it’s time to put them there.
Purdue has been a steady winner under head coach Matt Painter. They’ve made 8 of the last 10 NCAA Tournaments, but have only advanced as far as the Sweet 16 twice, and even there the most recent time was 2010. Painter played for Gene Keady, an excellent coach through the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, but another case of one who did better than in the regular season than in March.
So it’s understandable that college basketball bettors aren’t jumping all over Purdue’s national championship odds, but this team has all the pieces necessary to be a value darkhorse in the NCAA Tournament.
The Boilermakers can shoot the three-ball. As a team they shoot over 40 percent. To put that figure in perspective, Reggie Miller, one of the greatest three-point shooters of all-time and current TNT analyst also shot 40 percent from behind the arc. Doing it as a team? That will space the floor.
What’s more, you can’t key in on one particular shooter with Purdue. Dakota Mathias is the best, making half of his treys, but P.J. Thompson and Vince Edwards also hit at rates higher than 40 percent. A defense can’t guard them all.
The defense really can’t guard them all when we haven’t even gotten to Purdue’s best player. Caleb Swanigan is in the low post and in a league where conversations about big men start with Thomas Bryant at Indiana and Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Swanigan is rapidly emerging as the best of them all. He averages 18 points/13 rebounds per game—which is precisely the stat line he delivered against a good Badger team on Sunday.
Purdue also has wins over Notre Dame and Ohio State. The Boilermakers’ only losses are a close one to Villanova, a seven-point loss to Louisville and an overtime defeat against Minnesota, another team that’s threatening to shake things up in the Big Ten.
I’m not making the case for the Boilermakers as an elite team—they rank 27th in offensive efficiency and 22nd in defensive efficiency and while those numbers are solid, it’s not that of the nation’s best. If the NCAA Tournament were a best-of-seven affair, even suggesting the notion Purdue could go all the way would be silly.
But we all know very well that March is the time of the value darkhorse. In Purdue we have a team that can shoot the ball and space the floor for their best player down low. They have good lineup balance, but still a clear identity in that Swanigan is the go-to guy. That’s a good formula and as long as that price sits on the board at 50-1, it seems worth at least a modest investment.