Blythe Hastings ’23
Purdue is red hot as the Boilermakers are in a good position to earn the No. 1 spot in the NCAA tournament after silencing doubters from preseason. Purdue clinched the outright Big Ten Championship for the first time since 2017. Purdue defeated Wisconsin 63-61 on Thursday night to secure the outright Big Ten regular-season title plus what should be a sixth Big Ten Coach of the Year award for Matt Painter. Painter lost four of the top seven scorers from last season’s team, enrolled zero heralded newcomers, and still finds himself on the verge of winning the Big Ten by three games.
His best player, Zach Edey was ranked outside of the top 400 of his high school class. His starting backcourt consists of two freshmen, Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer, who were ranked outside of the top 90 of their high school class. Despite those facts, Painter’s Boilermakers have gone from unranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll to legitimate candidates to earn a No. 1 seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Purdue remains No. 5 in updated CBS Sports Top 25 and 1 in Daily College Basketball Rankings, where Houston is No. 1 for the 15th consecutive day. The Boilermakers will close the regular season Sunday inside Mackey Arena with a game against Illinois. Walking away with an outright Big Ten title is not something that is easy.
Purdue now has 25 Big Ten championships with 13 of them being outright and 12 of them being shared. So, Purdue now has not only the most conference titles, but they are also tied with IU and Ohio State for the most outright titles. Purdue started the conference season with an easy victory over who would turn out to be the worst team in the conference, despite yesterday’s upset victory over Rutgers, at home against Minnesota. After all the commotion of the early season tournaments, most assumed that this would be a roll, and it was. Next, however, came a matchup with a Nebraska team that has given a lot of folks trouble this year. It took overtime to get by the Cornhuskers and move Purdue to 2-0 in conference play. Purdue returned to conference play after the holiday break and faced their nemesis Rutgers. Purdue was ranked No. 1 at the time for the second straight season—and for the second straight season a Rutgers team took down the No. 1 ranked Boilermakers; it was a tough pill to swallow.
This Rutgers loss seemed to awaken something within this Purdue team as they would rattle off nine straight conference wins after this. That included tough wins on the road at Ohio State, at a jam-packed Palestra against a much-improved Penn State, a one-point victory in East Lansing against the Spartans, and a five-point victory over Hunter Dickinson and the Wolverines. That 9-game stretch also saw home victories over Maryland, Michigan State, and Penn State. It was this 9-0 stretch which basically won the conference for Purdue. Some of those wins were incredibly tough, especially the one-point victory over Michigan State in which Tyson Walker hit a go ahead shot with just 12 seconds left. Purdue went to their (future) All-American Zach Edey who delivered a bucket with just 3 seconds on the clock.