#5 Purdue Boilermakers vs #12 Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans
Thursday, March 17, 4:30 pm ET
On Thursday afternoon, fifth seeded Purdue will open NCAA Tournament play after completing the regular season with a strong record of 24-7. Coach Matt Painter’s squad has gathered a head of steam as of late and appears to possess team momentum after racing all the way to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament. Opposite the Boilermakers will be 12th seeded and upset-minded Arkansas Little Rock. The Trojans boast an impressive mark of 29-4, and last week became champions of the Sun Belt Conference with a championship victory over Louisiana Monroe. Little Rock will be making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2011 and will look to improve upon its 1-4 all-time record. Purdue will appear in the Big Dance for the second consecutive year after a couple down seasons. The Boilermakers own a 35-27 all-time record in NCAA Tournament play.
Matchup to Watch
Will Arkansas Little Rock’s frontcourt possess the manpower to slow down Purdue’s AJ Hammons? The Boilermaker senior center is playing the best basketball of his Purdue career at the most opportune time for his time. Hammons was named to the All-Big Ten First Team this season and responded with dominating Big Ten Tournament play, most notably a 27 point 11 rebound performance versus Michigan. In order to upset the Boilermakers, Little Rock must prevent Hammons from establishing good position on the block and limit good inside looks for Purdue’s big men. The Trojans have two forwards taller than 6’10” on their roster, both of whom will likely guard Hammons at some point during the contest. Arkansas-Little Rock must receive solid and productive minutes from its frontcourt players to have a chance at ending Purdue’s NCAA Tournament run early.
X-Factor for Purdue
Rapheal Davis and Vince Edwards must come to play for the Boilermakers. Purdue is at its best when Davis and Edwards both are aggressive and in attack mode. With Purdue already possessing a strong advantage inside, Purdue’s perimeter play can put the Boilermakers over the top. If Little Rock opts to pack the paint against Purdue’s offense, dribble penetration from Davis and Edwards may mean plenty of open outside shots for Purdue. If those shots are falling and Hammons, Haas, and Swanigan are dominating down low, it will be excruciatingly tough for the Trojans to guard Purdue in all facets.
X-Factor for Arkansas-Little Rock
Arkansas-Little Rock will need its three pointers to go down. The Trojans are shooting the three at an impressive 39 percent clip for the season. Although Purdue is very good at guarding the perimeter, it can be vulnerable against strong-shooting forwards. Little Rock will need to runs sets designed to draw Purdue’s frontcourt men away from the basket. Because they are a quick team, the Trojans will need to exploit Purdue’s lack of team speed. If Arkansas-Little Rock has a hot shooting night from three point range, it will be able to stay in the game and potentially upset the Boilermakers and send them home early.
Purdue’s season total of turnovers currently sits at 401, representing the problems the Boilermakers have had at times of taking care at the basketball. Purdue has done a much better job as of late, but Arkansas-Little Rock will undoubtedly aspire to hound Purdue’s guards and employ a handful of defensive schemes for Boilermaker big men in order to force Purdue to turn the ball over.
Arkansas-Little Rock is not to be taken lightly. The Trojans shoot at a high clip from beyond the arc, and are capable of giving Purdue fits at the guard positions. Little Rock will not be lacking confidence, having won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament convincingly. However, Purdue appears to be peaking at just the right time, having won six games of its last seven, with all the victories coming by double digits. Purdue’s best players are playing exceptionally well and the complementary players such as Thompson and Mathias are contributing solid minutes. In order to win, Purdue must continue to impose its will from inside the paint. In the end, I believe Purdue will pull away from the Trojans. Although Little Rock is an impressive team, the Boilermakers appear to be a squad on a mission. I’ll take Purdue by the score of 77-63.
Purdue University 2018