INDIANAPOLIS – Purdue is the 4th seed in the NCAA Tournament South Region and will take on 13th seed North Texas on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium at 7:25 p.m.
The Boilermakers earned their sixth straight berth in the “Big Dance” and are still looking for their first trip to the Final Four since 1980 after coming ‘oh so close‘ two years ago.
Four big contributors: Trevion Williams, Sasha Stefanovic, Aaron Wheeler and Eric Hunter Jr. remain from that Elite Eight team and head coach Matt Painter says they’ll lean on those juniors.
“I think anytime you’ve already played in an NCAA Tournament, that experience helps you,” Painter said. “Those four guys have not only played in an NCAA Tournament game, but they played in an Elite Eight game, they played in a Sweet 16 game. They’ve won a Big Ten championship, so they’ve had some big-time experiences that hopefully helps them.”
The Boilers will also need big performances from All-Big Ten freshman Jaden Ivey and Zach Edey if they’re going to make a deep run as the only representative of Indiana, the state hosting the whole tournament this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel like every game I’m a little overexcited, but I just play the game,” said Ivey. “Once I step on the floor, it’s ready to go to war. I’m going to be very locked in. I just know the main goal. I know where I want to go and where I want to end up at the end of the season.”
Purdue (18-9) enters the tournament winners of 11 of their last 15 games, but coming off a disappointing showing in the Big Ten Tournament, losing to Ohio State in the quarterfinals.
“It was a huge lack of communication,” Williams said. “You would think this far into the season, we would get over those small mistakes, but things happen and we just have to get better from it.”
Meanwhile, the Mean Green (17-9) is riding high after winning four games in four days to take the Conference USA Tournament and the league’s automatic bid.
The game will be a battle of two of the top defensive teams in the country. Purdue is ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency, while North Texas holds opponents to just over 60 points a game.
The Mean Green tries to slow the game up, but features four players averaging double figures led by Javion Hamlet (15.0 points per game).
The winner will take on the winner of the Villanova-Winthrop game in the second round. Baylor is the top seed in the region with Ohio State seeded second and Arkansas third.