Tennessee hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 2010. Purdue hasn’t made it to the Elite Eight since 2000. Thursday night, one of those teams will make it back there.
No. 2 seed Tennessee (31-5) will take on No. 3 seed Purdue (25-9) at 7:29 PM Eastern in Louisville, Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night. The two teams have never faced each other in the postseason, but they played early in the regular season last year. The Vols won that match-up in overtime, 78-75, in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
While the Vols returned the vast majority of their players from the team that beat Purdue last season, the Boilermakers are a drastically different team.
Purdue returned their top scorer from last year’s squad in Carsen Edwards, but they lost four senior starters to graduation. This year, the Boilermakers have two seniors and two sophomores starting alongside Edwards. One of those seniors, Grady Eifert, is a former walk-on who has started all 34 games for Purdue this season.
To get to this point, Purdue has beaten No. 14 seed Old Dominion by a score of 61-48 and then took out the reigning national champions, No. 6 seed Villanova, by a score of 87-61. Tennessee survived an upset bid from No. 15 seed Colgate, 77-70, then won 83-77 in overtime against No. 10 seed Iowa after giving up a 25-point lead in regulation.
Now, these two teams will face-off with a chance to make it to the Elite Eight.
Here’s everything you need to know when Tennessee and Purdue play in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night.
A Top-10 Scorer
Purdue features one of the best scorers in college basketball. Junior guard Carsen Edwards dropped 42 points on Villanova in Purdue’s second round win over the Wildcats, and he’s averaging 23.6 points per game this season. That’s the 10th-best average in Division I college basketball, and he’s one of only eight players this season to score over 800 points.
I did an extensive write-up on Edwards and what the Vols need to do in order to frustrate and slow him down, but that’s no easy task.
Edwards has scored 20 or more points in 25 of Purdue’s 34 games this year, and he’s eclipsed the 30-point mark six times. His 42 points against Villanova wasn’t even the first time he’s scored 40 points in a game this season. He went for 40 points back in December when the Boilermakers lost to Texas.
The one downside to Edwards’ game is that he’s not usually very efficient to get to his high scoring totals. He’s definitely a volume shooter, and he averages 19.3 field goal attempts per game but makes less than 40 percent of his attempts. He’s taken 20 or more shots in a game 15 different times this season. For comparison, Admiral Schofield has only attempted 20 or more field goals three times all season for the Vols. He’s the only player on UT’s roster to do so this season.
The 6-foot-1 guard shoots a lot of three-pointers. He’s attempted 347 threes this year and has made 120 of them. He’s also really quick and can cut to the basket very effectively. Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden, and Jordan Bone will all need to bring their defensive intensity on Thursday if they hope to slow Edwards down.
But What About the Rest?
Purdue isn’t just Edwards’ show, though he’s definitely the focal point of the team.
The Boilermakers have a lot of length outside of Edwards, starting three guards/forwards who all measure in at 6-foot-6. Purdue also has 7-foot-3 sophomore center Matt Haarms from the Netherlands who was on last year’s roster when Tennessee and the Boilermakers played. Haarms is third on the team in scoring (9.4 points per game) and second in rebounding (5.4 rebounds per game).
Behind Edwards in terms of scoring is senior guard Ryan Cline. He’s a dangerous three-point shooter who is making 40.6 percent of this three-pointers this season, and he’s averaging 11.7 points and 3.4 assists a game. He was just 1-of-11 from three against Old Dominion in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but he bounced back and was 4-of-8 from distance against Villanova.
Former walk-on Grady Eifert is even more deady from distance, connecting on 43.6 percent of his threes. He doesn’t attempt nearly as many, though, only shooting a little over two three-pointers a game.
As a team, Purdue is good at hitting threes, making 36.8 percent of their triples on the year. They also like to attempt a lot of three-pointers, averaging 26.9 attempts from three per game. The only team the Vols have faced this season who have attempted more threes on the year is Auburn.
Purdue also plays really good defense and rebounds well. Teams are only scoring an average of 66.1 points against the Boilermakers, and they average 37.3 rebounds per game with 11.9 of those coming from offensive rebounds per game. Teams are only averaging 31.7 rebounds a game against Purdue.
Tennessee, meanwhile, averages 37.6 rebounds a game as a team but gives up 34.1 rebounds per game to opponents.
As good as Purdue looked against Villanova, they looked somewhat lackluster against Old Dominion in the previous game. That’s actually been a pattern all year for the Boilermakers.
Purdue started the season with a 6-5 record, but they ended up going 17-3 to close out the regular season. But then the Boilermakers lost their first game of the Big Ten Tournament to Minnesota, and they looked less than stellar in a lot of their contest against Old Dominion.
On the year, Purdue has proven one thing: They’re capable of playing exceptionally well, but they’re also capable of putting up some stinkers.
According to Haslemetrics.com, Purdue ranks 341st out of 353 Division I basketball teams when it comes to consistency. But the Boilermakers’ two best performances of the season according to Haslametrics’ efficiency ratings have come in the month of March, and one of them was in their game against Villanova. Purdue does have one of their five worst performances of the season coming during this last month of play, though. Their 73-69 loss to Minnesota back on March 5th was their third-worst performance of the season.
Tennessee hasn’t been the model of consistency themselves, coming in at 207th in that metric. But they’ve also had two of their best performances of the year come in the month of March (3/5 vs. Mississippi State and 3/2 vs. Kentucky) and only one of their worst performances of the year coming in this past month (SEC Tournament Finals vs. Auburn).
Right now, Purdue does have a lot of positive momentum, though, ranking ninth in that category according to Haslametrics. The Vols rank 240th in that regard. But momentum can change in an instant.
Slow It Down
Though Purdue likes to shoot a lot of threes and has a high-volume shooter, they don’t generally run at a fast past on offense.
According to Ken Pomeroy, Purdue ranks 267th in adjusted tempo, and their pace ranks 314th in Haslametrics. The Boilermakers average just under 66 possessions a game. Tennessee averages about 68 possessions a game, which is much closer to the norm.
The Vols have faced three teams this season who have a tempo of 250th or lower according to Ken Pomeroy, and they went a combined 6-1 against those three schools. Tennessee went 2-1 against Kentucky (274th), 2-0 vs. Missouri (318th) and 2-0 vs. Florida (345th). Against teams ranked 200th or lower in tempo, the Vols are 8-1 this season.
Purdue’s Matt Painter doesn’t get talked about often when it comes to some of the better coaches in college basketball, but he’s been highly successful during his run as the Boilermakers’ head coach.
This year marks the fourth time since 2009 that he’s taken Purdue to the Sweet Sixteen. Purdue hadn’t been to the Sweet Sixteen since 1999 before he helped lead them there in 2009, and he’s helped the program recapture some of the prestige they had in the 80s and 90s under Gene Keady.
In his 14 seasons at Purdue, Painter has gone 320-158 overall and has been named the Big Ten Coach of the Year four different times, including this current season. He’s coached seven different NBA draft picks, including two first-round selections. His Purdue squads have averaged 27 wins per season over the last four years.
Painter is still young in the college coaching world, only turning 48 last August. But it’s clear that he doesn’t get the attention he deserves, and he’ll be trying to help Purdue get to their first Elite Eight in nearly two decades on Thursday night.