Thursday night, one team will be heading back to the Elite Eight while the other will be heading home.
No. 2 seed Tennessee (31-5) and No. 3 seed Purdue (25-9) will face-off in Louisville, Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday at 7:29 PM Eastern. The two schools have never played each other in the NCAA Tournament before, but they’ve played each other four times in the regular season and have split those four meetings.
Purdue defeated No. 14 seed Old Dominion 61-48 in the first round and then blew out the reigning national champions, No. 6 seed Villanova, by a score of 87-61 to get to the Sweet Sixteen. Tennessee survived an upset bid from No. 15 seed Colgate 77-70 in the first round then gave up a 25-point lead to No. 10 seed Iowa in the second round before winning 83-77 in overtime to make it here.
Now, it’s time for the two teams to face each other.
Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing numbers heading into the Tennessee vs. Purdue Sweet Sixteen match-up on Thursday.
Tennessee has only won one time ever in the Sweet Sixteen. The Vols have gotten this far in the NCAA Tournament seven times before this year (five times since 2000), but they’ve only ever advanced beyond this round once, and that was in 2010 when the Vols took down two-seed Ohio State 76-73 to face five-seed Michigan State in the Elite Eight.
The Vols last made it to the Elite Eight nine years ago, but it’s been much longer for Purdue since they’ve advanced beyond the Sweet Sixteen. The Boilermakers’ last appearance in the Elite Eight was in 2000. They’ve made it to four Sweet Sixteens since then, but they’ve lost every time. This year marks Purdue’s fifth Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2009.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes hasn’t made it to the Elite Eight since 2008. The last time he made it beyond the Sweet Sixteen as a head coach was when he helped guide his 2007-08 Texas Longhorns squad to the Elite Eight in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. Barnes has made it to the Elite Eight three different times as a head coach, but it’s been over a decade since he last got there.
All-time in the NCAA Tournament, No. 2 seeds have gotten better of a No. 3 seed 39 of the 63 times the two have played. In last year’s tournament, two-seed Purdue lost to three-seed Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. Dating back to 2013, two-seeds are 4-2 against three-seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee has only ever played a No. 3 seed once before in the NCAA Tournament, and they lost in a blowout to that three-seed. The Vols were a two-seed in the 2008 tournament and met with No. 3 seed Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen. The Cardinals proceeded to demolish the Vols by a score of 79-60.
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Purdue is just 1-2 when they’ve played No. 2 seeds. Their lone win came as a 10-seed against two-seed Miami in the second round of the 1999 tournament. In 1994, No. 1 seed Purdue lost to No. 2 seed Duke in the Elite Eight, 69-60 (in Knoxville, nonetheless), and No. 10 seed Purdue lost to No. 2 seed Kansas 63-60 in the second round of the 2012 tournament.
Purdue head coach Matt Painter has never beaten a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament. This stat was first brought to my attention by @SmokeyVol on Twitter, and I looked up the specific instances myself. Purdue lost to No. 1 seed Florida in 2007, to No. 3 seed Xavier in 2008, to No. 1 seed UConn in 2009, to No. 1 seed Duke in 2010, to No. 2 seed Kansas in 2012, to No. 1 seed Kansas in 2017, and to No. 3 seed Texas Tech in 2018.
Rick Barnes hasn’t had a great deal of luck against top-three seeds in the NCAA Tournament, either. He’s gone just 1-5 against teams seeded in the top three seeds in a region in his 32-year career. His lone win over a three-seed or better came in 2002 when his Texas squad defeated No. 3 seed Mississippi State. Otherwise, he’s lost every time he’s faced a three, two, or one-seed. He lost to No. 1 seed Minnesota with Clemson in 1997, then he lost to No. 2 seed Oregon at Texas in 2002, to No. 3 seed Syracuse in 2003, to No. 2 seed Duke in 2009, and to No. 2 seed Michigan in 2014.
Purdue’s leading scorer, Carsen Edwards, can light up the scoreboard. He’s averaging 23.6 points per game this season and just scored 42 points against Villanova in the second round over the weekend. He’s scored 20 or more points 25 times during this season, meaning he’s gone over the 20-point mark in 73.5 percent of Purdue’s games this season. The Boilermakers are 19-6 when he scores at least 20 points.
Edwards also really likes to shoot the ball. He’s the very definition of a volume shooter. The 6-foot-1 guard is attempting 19.3 field goal attempts per game, and he’s shot the ball 20 or more times in 15 games this season. But he’s not been very efficient with those attempts, and Purdue tends to struggle when he jacks up a lot of shots. Edwards’ team is only 9-6 when he attempts at least 20 field goals in a game this season.
In contrast to Edwards, Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield has only attempted 20 or more field goals on the season three times. He’s the only Vol on this year’s roster who has shot the ball 20 or more times in a single game. The Vols are 1-2 when Schofield shoots the ball 20 or more times in a game.
Purdue as a team likes to shoot a lot of three-pointers. In 34 games this year, the Boilermakers have attempted 914 threes, which is an average of 26.9 threes attempted per game on the season. Purdue has made 36.8 percent of those threes, which is in the top-75 of college basketball. The only team the Vols have faced this season that has shot more threes on the year was Auburn. As a team, the Tigers have attempted a whopping 1,113 three-pointers, which is 30.1 attempts per game.
The Vols, meanwhile, have had 862 three-pointers attempted against them this season. That’s the 26th-most in Division I college basketball this season. Teams are taking an average of 24 three-pointers against Tennessee this season, and they’re making 34.3 percent of those shots.