For the first time since 2010, the Purdue Boilermakers will play on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. They advanced after their close victory over No. 5 Iowa State 80-76 this past Saturday. Now, the Boilermakers will look to pull off the upset against one of the most impressive teams in the Tournament thus far, the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks.
In their round of 32 game, the Jayhawks flattened No. 9 Michigan State 90-70. In the first round, Kansas cruised to a 100-62 win over No. 16 UC Davis. Any concerns about how Kansas would respond after its opening Big 12 Tournament loss to TCU has been erased in the first two NCAA Tournament games.
Midwest Region: No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers (27-7) vs. No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks (30-4)
Time: 9:39 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: Sprint Center (Kansas City)
Spread: Kansas -5
Keys for Purdue
Sophomore Caleb Swanigan gets a ton of credit for the Boilermakers’ success in the Tournament and deservingly so. The Naismith Player of the Year finalist is averaging 18.6 points and 12.6 rebounds in Purdue’s two wins. But if Swanigan and company are going to pull off the upset, they will need Vince Edwards to be a big part of the team’s game plan.
In two games, Edwards is averaging 21 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. There were times throughout the season where Edwards would disappear in games, most notably in the Big Ten Tournament overtime loss to Michigan. Purdue needs Edwards to continue his strong play against a talented Kansas team.
Keys for Kansas
The Jayhawks have the luxury of boasting two of the best players in the nation in senior Frank Mason III and freshman Josh Jackson. Mason, a Naismith finalist in his own right, is averaging 20.8 points, 5.2 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game as a Swiss Army knife-type of player for Bill Self’s team. Jackson, a star freshman who was suspended for the Big Ten Tournament loss to TCU, is second in both scoring (16.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg), and looked quite impressive in the win over the Spartans on Sunday.
If Kansas can get Devonte’ Graham (13.3 ppg) involved as well, it could be a long night for Purdue. Although the Jayhawks are full of top-heavy talent, they’re not as deep as some teams. If Mason, Jackson or Graham get into foul trouble, that could spell trouble for KU.
Kansas also will need Landen Lucas to continue to crash the boards. He leads the team with 8.6 per game this season and has posted double-doubles in each of the first two Tournament games.
While Purdue has Caleb Swanigan, one of the most productive and reliable big men in the nation, the Boilermakers don’t have the same amount of firepower that Kansas has on its roster. Expect Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson and Devonte’ Graham to hit some three-pointers, get to the foul line and score in bunches.
It will be difficult for Purdue to match Kansas’ scoring output unless it can get the key Jayhawks in some early foul trouble. The Boilermakers should keep the game close in the first half before KU pulls away for the victory.
Prediction: Kansas 91, Purdue 76
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
(Top photo courtesy of @BoilerBall)