Even though Matt Painter is great, and Jaden Ivey is awesome, and Zach Edey is incredible, and Trevion Williams is outstanding, and that offense is amazing, I was hesitant on a recent episode of the Eye On College Basketball podcast to label Purdue one of the top eight national title contenders solely because the Boilermakers struggle so much defensively.
It was on display Thursday night.
Final score: Michigan 82, Purdue 58.
The Wolverines shot 51.6% from the field and 57.1% from 3-point range in the 24-point victory over Purdue. Consequently, the Boilermakers now rank 126th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com.
“When you get out-rebounded like we did, and then you get doubled up in turnovers, and you don’t shoot the ball well, then you need to be very, very good on the defensive end if you want a chance to win the game, and we obviously weren’t,” Painter told reporters afterward. “When you look at all those — poor shooting percentages, twice as many turnovers, they outrebounded us by 10, a lot of breakdowns defensively — you’re going to get beat pretty badly.”
Indeed you are.
The Boilermakers are so good offensively that they can beat just about anybody when they’re clicking, but their defensive issues are undeniable and have been for a while. A lot of people have said that anything short of Purdue making the Final Four this season for the first time since 1980 will be disappointing, and I get that sentiment. But the unfortunate truth is that teams that guard like this just do not make the Final Four.
Consider the following: Last season’s Final Four teams entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 10th (Gonzaga), 16th (Houston), 44th (Baylor) and 86th (UCLA) in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. In 2019, the Final Four teams entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 1st (Texas Tech), 5th (Virginia), 8th (Michigan State) and 45th (Auburn) in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. In 2018, the Final Four teams entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 5th (Michigan), 22nd (Villanova), 24th (Loyola Chicago) and 46th (Kansas) in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. In 2017, the Final Four teams entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 2nd (Gonzaga), 3rd (South Carolina), 22nd (Oregon) and 25th (North Carolina) in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. In 2016, the Final Four teams entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 7th (Villanova), 11th (Oklahoma), 14th (North Carolina) and 30th (Syracuse) in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
(I could keep going but you get the point.)
The bottom line is that the past five Final Fours have featured 20 teams, only one of which ranked outside of the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency heading into the NCAA Tournament, none of which ranked outside of the top 90. Again, Purdue currently ranks 126th. And the numbers are even more troublesome if the goal is to win a national title because the past five national champions have entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 5th (2019 Virginia), 7th (2016 Villanova), 22nd (2018 Villanova), 25th (2017 North Carolina) and 44th (2021 Baylor) in adjusted defensive efficiency. Again, Purdue currently ranks 126th.
So keep this in mind as the season progresses — and especially when it’s time to fill out brackets. Only a fool would suggest there’s no chance Purdue can make the Final Four guarding this way because crazy things sometimes happen, but there’s no getting around the fact that teams that guard this way tend to get eliminated short of the Final Four.
Purdue is down to No. 10 in Friday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings. The Boilermakers’ next game is Sunday at Maryland on CBS.
Top 25 And 1 rankings
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism