Expect plenty of offense as one of these teams will break a lengthy Final Four drought
The Purdue Boilermakers and the Virginia Cavaliers do have some things in common. They both won their respective conference regular-season championship this year, they both received top-three seeds in this year's NCAA Tournament, they're looking to end their Final Four droughts (1980 for Purdue, 1984 for Virginia) and they're both looking for their first-ever national championship. But that's where the similarities end. Both teams thus far have surpassed Tournament expectations.
Purdue (26-9) has had a reputation of reaching the NCAA Tournament on a somewhat regular basis but struggles when trying to advance past the second round. Virginia (32-3), on the other hand, is still haunted by last year's shocking upset loss in the first round to No. 16 UMBC. Now they must face one another in order to write the next chapter and continue to make history for their programs. Very few expected both of these teams to reach the Elite Eight, but here we are and this game will be fun to watch with a trip to the Final Four hanging in the balance.
The Boilermakers easily defeated Old Dominion and defending national champion Villanova in the first two rounds, but they needed overtime to defeat Tennessee in the Sweet 16 on Thursday after blowing an 18-point lead. The Cavaliers, however, have been shooting at will in this Tournament as they easily dispatched Gardner-Webb in round one, edged Oklahoma in round two, and staved off a pesky Oregon team in the Sweet 16. These are two of the best offensive teams in this Tournament and they'll likely have to outshoot the other in order to advance.
South Region: No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers (26-9) vs. No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers (32-3)
Time: 8:49 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, Ky.)
Keys for Purdue
Guards Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline have been the driving force for the Boilermakers during their Tournament run. Edwards has been one of the top players in this year's Big Dance, as one of the nation's top scorers (23.8 ppg) has upped his production even more. He poured in 42 points in the win over Villanova in the second round and had 29, including the game-tying free throws to send the game into overtime and then six points in the extra session, in the victory over Tennessee.
Cline entered Thursday night's game averaging 11.7 points per game but exploded for 27 against the Volunteers. He was on target from the field all night (10-for-13, including 7-of-10 from 3-point range) and also came up big late, scoring 12 of Purdue's final 15 points in regulation. Both will need to score early and often to try to keep up with a Virginia team that is shooting 49 percent from the field during the Tournament.
The Boilermakers also will need some help from center Matt Haarms down low. He's averaging 14 points per game during the Tournament while shooting a crisp 69 percent from the field, and also averaging six rebounds per contest.
Keys for Virginia
The Cavaliers' backcourt trio of De'Andre Hunter, Kyle Guy, and Ty Jerome continues to pay dividends for this team. Collectively they've scored 106 of Virginia's 187 points in this Tournament. They are shooting 48 percent from the field (50-for-118) and 25 percent from 3-point range (15-for-60). These three are the keys to Virginia's success but they've gotten a little help from forward Mamadi Diakite, who is averaging a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) over the past three games.
The Cavaliers also are known for their defense, which will be just as important against a Purdue team that's averaging 82.3 points per game in this Tournament. After Gardner-Webb shot 44 percent in the first round, Virginia held Oklahoma and Oregon to a combined 37.1 percent from the field.
Even with Virginia's defensive reputation, this game should not lack for scoring considering how hot Purdue has been during their NCAA Tournament run. It's entirely possible that this contest will end up needing overtime to decide as well. But as effective, and at times explosive, the trio of Edwards, Cline and Haarms has been for the Boilermakers, the Cavaliers appear to have a little more firepower. Virginia was one of my Final Four picks so I have to stick with the Cavs, but it will be a close game as Purdue puts up one heck of a fight.
Prediction: Virginia 82, Purdue 80
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.